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WICHE: Fear not, bamboo can be controlled

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Unless you’re a bamboo enthusiast, most of us ignore the options out of fear or ignorance.

By Jeneen Wiche

Most of us have learned to fear bamboo. I used to think that the only good place for them was in planting beds that were smack-dab-in-the-middle of parking lots…no chance of a runner reaching your garden in that case.

It’s the horror stories that stick with us. We usually only hear about the invasive claims about bamboo and how it escaped a neighbor’s yard only to take over your prized perennial bed.

Well, anything left unchecked can become a problem, and there are ways to contain invasive bamboos; and some that don’t even need it.

So it seems, unless you’re a bamboo enthusiast, most of us ignore the options out of fear or ignorance.

We should start to reexamine the idea of using bamboo in the garden. But first let’s be armed with what varieties to choose and how to control them if we fear being over-run.

Basically, there are two different categories of bamboo: runners and clumpers.

Bamboos that have running rhizomes are considered leptomorphic, and these are the species that have the potential to be more invasive. The types of bamboo that have a tendency to be most invasive include the Sasa and Indocalamus species.

Stay clear of those unless you have a larger area that is in need of a steadfast ground cover. And, consider the fact that these clumps often attract starlings as an evening roost…this alone deters me!

The clump-forming bamboos are pachymorphic and are less invasive and easier to contain, depending on the growing conditions. Poor soil that stays on the dry side and a shady location are good growing conditions if you want to slow the spread of bamboo.

A common bamboo in Kentuckiana gardens that is easy to grow and maintain (contain) includes Pleioblastus variegates, also called arundinaria. It reaches 2 to 3 feet and has variegated green-and-white foliage (this is not to be confused with arundo grass).

Controlling bamboo can be done in several ways. As I mentioned above, don’t plant it in an ideal environment.

Bamboo will do well enough in dry shade, which will act as a growth inhibitor making the planting less invasive. Simply keeping the edges of the bamboo planting mowed also is a great method for containment.

If you plant yellow groove bamboo or equisetum (loved by many because of their colorful culms, or canes but feared by more because of their rampant running behavior), use a more permanent containment approach.

These bamboos should be planted in an area where they cannot extend their runners beyond a certain point, edged by a driveway, walkway or building. If this is not available in your landscape, then plant in a container so that it cannot escape the bounds of the pot.

For larger areas bamboo enthusiasts suggest driving metal edging around the planting. Sink the edging at an angle, about a foot deep, so that the runners cannot radiate out of the designated area.

Often, the question comes in on how to get rid of a patch of bamboo that has already grown above and beyond the desired effect. Ironically enough, the suggested control method encourages us to first fertilize the bamboo bed to encourage additional growth.

The idea behind this approach is to encourage as much growth as possible so we can exhaust the bamboo and then starve it out.

Getting rid of bamboo takes commitment. Herbicides don’t work, so don’t waste your money. Instead keep cutting back what emerges and fertilize a couple of times to encourage additional growth.

Then cut it back again before it has a chance to photosynthesize and feed itself. Likewise, in a planting bed that you do want to keep, pinch any new growth that emerges from outside of the desired planting area, and it will help to contain the planting.