Control of Running Bamboo

          The question of control is one that always comes up within a few short minutes whenever bamboo is discussed. There are all sorts of horror stories of bamboo "taking over" an area. While it is true that running bamboo can be very invasive, most of the problems seem to stem from poor site selection or lack of knowledge as to control methods. Bamboo is often used as an ornamental in landscaping projects and as a hedge for privacy or sound barriers.

         Bamboo can be controlled in a small area (a normal city yard) simply by mowing or stepping on the young shoots. New shoots could also be used for culinary purposes and cooked, much like asparagus. Keep in mind that running bamboo only puts up new shoots for a short time each year, and when they are "shooting", the new plants are very fragile and easy to destroy. To really slow the spread of the rhizomes, the grove can be root pruned at any time. (Best time seems to be in the fall or early winter). This is done with a sharp, narrow spade (8" wide, flat spade works quite well) by "trimming" the rhizomes on all sides, which need to be controlled. Push the shovel straight down to its maximum depth so as to cut through any rhizomes encountered, (8-10 inches is usually sufficient). Keep moving the spade one width at a time to the right or left, cutting a line until all the rhizomes have been cut. Yes, you may miss a few, but you can get them next year. You do not have to dig up the whole root system and rhizomes. Once you have severed it from the mother plant AND cut off any new shoots, you will have deprived it of all food sources and it will die off.

         If you are putting in a new bed of running bamboo, (or controlling an old grove for that matter), a ground barrier can be used. This can be concrete, metal, or very heavy plastic, but it needs to be at least 18 inches deep and 24 inches is better. (Heavy plastic means 30-60 mils or so -- very tough material; a normal trash bag is less than 1 mil). If a solid barrier is used, it is much better if it can be tapered outward at the top (30-45 degree taper or so): when the extra roots come to the surface and try to go over the top of the barrier, they can be pruned off like any other extra part of a plant. Bamboo does not normally run under a driveway nor will it attack the slab of a house. Bamboo will not grow into water. A creek or fishpond will prevent growth in that direction.

         Do not forget there are many types of clumping bamboo, which do not run and will stay in a fairly small area. There are also very low growing types, which can be used a ground cover and grow best in shade. Bamboo can be trimmed to a desired height to form a beautiful hedge. Pruning the branches forces bamboo to become "bushy". Bamboo does not have to be allowed to stay at full height or left messy. There are many cold hardy bamboos that are evergreen and will provide you with a beautiful green landscape all year long. Care for your bamboo and it will supply you with pleasure, beauty and material to use for many purposes.

For more information about bamboo contact
The Bamboo Arts and Craft Network