How to treat bamboo for outdoor use? This is a question many homeowners and garden enthusiasts ask themselves when they consider using this versatile plant for their outdoor projects. As a natural and renewable resource, bamboo is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood materials. However, bamboo requires some special care to survive the harsh elements of the outdoors.
In this article, we’ll explore some effective methods for curing bamboo for outdoor use, so you can unleash your creativity without worrying about its durability.
Overview of Bamboo Uses in the Home and Garden
Have you ever heard of bamboo being referred to as the “poor man’s timber?” Don’t brush it off as just another anecdote, though. Because in reality, this bamboo species has been used for centuries due to its strength and durability, among other valuable attributes. They are aesthetically pleasing, and bamboo products are also eco-friendly and sustainable. Below are some of the most common uses for bamboo in the home and garden.
1: Bamboo Construction
If architects and builders are not already taking advantage of bamboo’s properties, maybe they should. Bamboo can be crafted into various flooring options, walls, roofing, and other construction and home decor materials. You can cut the bamboo’s fibers, flatten them, and then compress them to create boards and slats with incredible strength and resiliency to withstand wear and tear. Bamboo expands and contracts less than wood, which can also be used to make long-lasting furniture.
2: Bamboo as a Food Source
Bamboo (the shoot variety) is edible and a healthy component of many traditional Asian dishes, salads, and soups. When picked and cooked correctly, bamboo shoots produce a delicious crunch and subtle flavor that mixes well with curry, sautéed vegetables, and other dishes.
3: Bamboo-made Textiles
Bamboo fibers are infused with cotton to produce textile materials with a nice, silky drape perfect for making soft and comfortable clothing. Bamboo fabric manages moisture better than cotton and can protect a wearer from UV radiation better than most other fabrics. The textile industry mostly used bamboo in the production of blankets, bedsheets, and pillowcases.
4: Bamboo in Landscape Design
In the garden, bamboo has taken on landscaping roles beyond serving as an ornament. Bamboo can create an impenetrable and resilient hedge or even be implemented as a sturdy and long-lasting trellis. When dry and hollowed out, the grass can be used as drainage pipes and water conveyance tunnels. Bamboo can also be utilized as a decorative element, standing tall and proud along a garden path or creating a relaxing and shady canopy above an outside gazebo.
5: Miscellaneous Bamboo Uses
Did you know that bamboo charcoal can be utilized as a natural air purifier? It’s antifungal, anti-bacterial, absorbing odors that might harm pets and humans. Additionally, bamboo skewers are perfect for grilling foods, bamboo toothbrushes are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic toothbrushes, and use bamboo pellets to create pet bedding.
Understanding Bamboo’s Weather Resistant Properties
So before we start on how to treat bamboo for outdoor use, we need to understand how this material reacts in different weather conditions and temperatures.
👉Components of Bamboo
Bamboo is a type of grass that grows rapidly, making it a sustainable choice for products such as outdoor furniture. Bamboo cells are composed of natural fibers called lignin and cellulose, making them durable and strong. These fibers create a barrier that prevents water, fungus, and insects from penetrating the bamboo structure. Since bamboo absorbs little water, it can maintain its shape and resist warping over time, even when exposed to the elements.
👉Light but Rigid
Bamboo may seem fragile at first glance, but it’s actually one of the strongest materials available in the market. The tensile strength of bamboo is stronger than steel, thanks to its long fibers, making it a rigid and flexible material. It isn’t brittle like wood, so it doesn’t crack or split as readily and responds much better to temperature changes. This aspect of bamboo makes it an ideal material for outdoor furniture as it can withstand the weight and handle the movement of people.
👉Natural Resistance to Insect Infestation
Bamboo has evolved with various protective mechanisms to fight off insects and fungi. It contains bamboo-kun, a naturally occurring antimicrobial agent that inhibits the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Thanks to its natural resistance, bamboo doesn’t require chemicals to protect it from wood-boring insects, mold, or other pests. This makes bamboo a safe and eco-friendly option for outdoor furniture.
From the hot and humid tropics to cold and dry steppes, bamboo grows in various climates, making it a versatile material that is adaptable to most weather conditions. It doesn’t corrode under UV exposure or become brittle in cold weather, making it perfect for temperate climates. Bamboo resists swelling from water absorption in areas with high humidity, making it resistant to mold and mildew. This aspect of bamboo makes it ideal for outdoor furniture.
Bamboo is a sustainable material because of its fast-growing and renewable nature. It grows quickly, so farmers can harvest bamboo poles every few years without worrying about depleting the resources. Unlike many other kinds of wood used for outdoor furniture that require toxic chemicals to ward off problems, bamboo is grown responsibly and organically, making it a great eco-friendly choice.
Reasons for Bamboo Treatment
Now that you know the basics of bamboo and its weather-resistant properties, it’s essential to understand why you should treat it for outdoor use.
✔️Protection from Elements
Bamboo is a durable and robust material that can withstand most weather conditions. However, it’s still vulnerable to moisture and sunlight. Bamboo can fade, crack, and weaken when exposed to the elements for an extended time. Treating bamboo with a protective sealer can help repel water and UV rays, enhancing its longevity.
Bamboo is naturally pest-resistant, but termites and insects can infest it over time. Treating your bamboo with the right solution can prevent these annoying bugs from destroying outdoor furniture or decor. Your bamboo can stay looking fabulous for years to come.
Another benefit of treating your bamboo for outdoor use is that it’s easy to maintain. Sealing or staining bamboo effectively creates a barrier that makes it less susceptible to stains and easy to clean. You can spend more time enjoying your outdoor space instead of worrying about keeping your bamboo fresh and clean.
Treating your bamboo enhances the natural beauty and aesthetics of your outdoor area. For instance, you can add a pop of color by staining it in a warm coastal hue or create a glossy sheen with a clear protective coating. Depending on your preference, you can customize your bamboo to create a stylish and elegant ambiance in your outdoor space.
Investing in high-quality bamboo furniture or decor pieces can be costly, depending on the size and design. Treating your bamboo can be a cost-effective way to extend the life of your bamboo and protect your investment. Good quality sealers or stains can add years to the life of your bamboo, reducing the need for frequent replacements, which can save you money in the long run.
Treating your bamboo for outdoor use is essential for its durability, pest control, maintenance, aesthetics, and cost-effectiveness.
How to Treat Bamboo for Outdoor Use
Here, I’ll be sharing some insider tips on the most effective ways to protect and preserve bamboo items so that they can withstand the elements and last for years to come.
1: Water Leaching
Water leaching is one of the most simple and effective ways to prepare bamboo for outdoor use. This method involves soaking the bamboo in water for a period of time, which removes any unwanted chemicals and sugars that can cause the bamboo to decay over time. Simply submerge the bamboo in a bucket of water for 2-3 weeks, changing the water every few days. Once the sugar has been fully removed, the bamboo can then be left to dry in the sun for a few days.
Fermentation is another treatment method that can help to strengthen bamboo for outdoor use. This method involves soaking bamboo in a solution of water and natural yeast, which helps to break down the starch content in bamboo and replace them with natural sugars that can help to prevent decay. After fermentation, the bamboo can be left to dry and treated with a sealant to protect it from the elements.
3: Smoke and Heat Treatment
Smoking and heating are two methods commonly used to improve bamboo’s durability and water resistance. Smoking involves exposing bamboo to smoke for an extended period, which can help preserve the material and give it a unique appearance. Heating bamboo can also be effective, as it helps dry out any moisture trapped inside the material, making it less prone to decay over time.
4: Salt Water / Sea Water Immersion
Saltwater immersion is another common method to protect bamboo from the elements. Submerging bamboo in saltwater or seawater can help to prevent decay and protect against insects and other pests that may be attracted to the material. In order to use this method, submerge the bamboo in the water for several hours, then remove it and let it dry in a well-ventilated area.
5: Boric Acid Treatment
A boric acid solution is a natural insecticide and fungicide that helps control pests and mold. Mix one pound of borax boric acid in one gallon of water to make this solution. Soak the bamboo in the solution overnight, then let it dry out in the sun. Once the bamboo is dry, seal it with clear penetrating epoxy to protect it from moisture.
6: Boucherie Method (Pressure Treating)
This method involves placing the bamboo in an airtight vessel and then applying pressure to force a wood preservative into the bamboo. The preservative can be CCA (Copper Chrome Arsenic) or ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quaternary). Many bamboo suppliers use this method to treat their bamboo products. Pressure-treated bamboo is highly durable and can last for years.
Whatever methods you choose, make sure to prioritize regular maintenance to keep your outdoor bamboo items looking and functioning at their best.
The Drying Process
After treating bamboo for outdoor use, you must dry it before using or storing it thoroughly. This is important as any moisture left over can cause the material to warp and decay over time. Below are the steps you need to take for successful drying:
🌞Choose the Right Bamboo Stalks
The first step in drying bamboo is to choose the right bamboo stalks. Selecting mature bamboo that has already gone through its growth cycle is essential. These bamboo stalks are dry and strong, making them suitable for outdoor use. After you have selected your bamboo stalks, you need to remove the leaves and branches carefully. Once you have pruned the bamboo, wipe it down with a clean cloth to remove any dust or debris.
🌞Cut It into Sections
The next step in drying bamboo is to cut it into sections of the desired length. Once you have cut the bamboo, you need to expose the bamboo to direct sunlight. Place the sections of bamboo on a flat surface, like a concrete patio, and let them sit in direct sunlight for several days. The sunlight will dry the bamboo and remove any remaining moisture. During drying, it’s essential to rotate the bamboo every few hours to ensure that all sides are exposed to the sun.
🌞Store in a Dry, Protected Area
Once the bamboo is dry, you’ll need to store it in a protected and dry area. A shed, garage, or covered patio are all excellent options for storing bamboo. During storage, keeping the bamboo off the ground and stacked vertically is essential. It helps to prevent bending and warping in the bamboo stalks.
Another important factor to consider when drying bamboo is the weather. Humid conditions can slow down the drying process, resulting in mold growth. Therefore, if you live in a humid climate, you may need to use a dehumidifier to help speed up the drying process.
Drying bamboo is a crucial step in preparing it for outdoor use. Proper drying removes all moisture from the bamboo stalks, which helps prevent mold growth and preserves bamboo’s longevity. It is essential to choose mature bamboo and expose it to direct sunlight for several days. After drying, storing the bamboo in a dry and protected location is key to maintaining its integrity.
Common Mistakes When Using Bamboo Outdoors
It is clear to you now how to treat bamboo for outdoor use. However, there are still some common mistakes to be aware of when using bamboo outdoors.
Mistake #1: Not Treating the Bamboo for Outdoor Use
Bamboo is a natural material susceptible to weather damage, pests, and rot. If left untreated, outdoor bamboo decorations or structures will start to deteriorate quickly, and you’ll spend more money on repairs or replacements. To avoid this, always treat your bamboo with a protective coat that is waterproof and insect resistant. Apply the coat before and after installation, and reapply the coat every one or two years, depending on the climate in your area.
Mistake #2: Overcrowding the Bamboo Plants
It’s common to plant bamboo too close together, especially if you’re trying to create a natural privacy screen. But, overcrowding can hinder the growth of the plants, causing them to compete for nutrients, water, and space. It can also make them more vulnerable to pests and diseases. To ensure healthy growth and natural beauty, plant bamboo at a distance that allows them to grow and spread naturally while maintaining adequate space between each plant.
Mistake #3: Not Trimming Your Bamboo Plants
Bamboo can grow rapidly and tall; if left unchecked, it can quickly overwhelm any outdoor space. Not trimming or maintaining your bamboo plants can make them unruly, unmanageable, and unsightly. To avoid this, prune your bamboo regularly to manage its height and density, especially during the growing season. Pruning also helps to encourage new growth, and it improves the quality and strength of existing shoots.
Mistake #4: Choosing the Wrong Type of Bamboo for Your Climate
Not all types of bamboo are created equal, and some may not survive in your location’s climate. Some species thrive in humid, tropical climates, while others prefer cooler climates with less rainfall. Before choosing the type of bamboo to use outdoors, research the species that do well in your region. Choosing the wrong type of bamboo for your climate can cause your bamboo decorations or plants to wilt, die, or become stunted.
Mistake #5: Not Protecting Your Bamboo Structures from Direct Sunlight
Bamboo structures, such as gazebos, canopies, and fences, can be highly susceptible to sun damage if not protected. Exposure to direct sunlight can cause the bamboo to split, fade, and become brittle. To avoid this, consider adding a shade cloth or roof to your bamboo structure or planting other trees and plants that offer some shade to your bamboo. This way, your bamboo structure will remain in excellent condition for longer.
Be sure to avoid the common mistakes mentioned above, and remember to treat, prune, protect, and choose the right type of bamboo for your climate.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will bamboo last outside?
Bamboo is a durable material that can withstand weather exposure, but its lifespan will depend on the quality of the bamboo and the conditions it’s exposed to. Bamboo can last up to 20 years without rotting or warping, provided it’s treated and cared for correctly. Applying a protective coating or finish can help prolong its lifespan.
What is the best varnish for bamboo?
Polyurethane varnish is a popular choice for bamboo as it provides a tough, scratch-resistant finish that can withstand harsh weather conditions. It’s also easy to apply and gives bamboo a glossy finish. However, if you prefer a more natural finish, you can opt for a boiled linseed oil that protects the bamboo from the inside while giving it a nice sheen.
What oil is best for outdoor bamboo?
Teak oil is an excellent option for outdoor bamboo as it contains natural oils that penetrate deep into the bamboo fibers, providing long-lasting protection against water and UV rays. It’s also easy to apply and maintain. Other oils to consider are tung oil and linseed oil.
What is the best exterior finish for bamboo?
An oil-based exterior wood stain is one of the best exterior finishes for bamboo. It provides excellent protection against water, UV rays, and fading. But if you’re looking for something more eco-friendly, you can opt for a water-based varnish that contains minimal amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Why is my outdoor bamboo dying?
There are several reasons why outdoor bamboo may be dying, such as improper watering or exposure to harsh weather conditions. Other factors could include pests, fungal diseases, or nutrient deficiencies. It’s essential to identify the cause of the problem to determine the appropriate solution.
Why is my outdoor bamboo dying?
There are several reasons outdoor bamboo may die, including improper watering, pests, and diseases. Some common signs of a dying bamboo plant include yellowing leaves, wilted stems, and stunted growth. In order to keep your bamboo healthy, it’s important to plant it in well-draining soil, water it regularly, and avoid over-fertilizing. Additionally, inspect your bamboo regularly for signs of pests or diseases, and treat them immediately if necessary.
Fortunately, you can treat bamboo outdoors with a simple rot-resistant treatment to preserve its look and lifespan. Apply a sealant or protective coating to keep moisture out and keep your bamboo out of direct sunlight to prevent fading, as mentioned above. It’s essential to remember that the key to keeping bamboo in top shape is consistency, so make sure you keep up with the maintenance schedule. With a little care and attention, your outdoor bamboo space can be a stunning addition to any backyard.