Before you shake your head, and say “you should have known better”, let me just say that I did know better, and I still planted bamboo in my front yard.
Sure, I heard all the horror stories about how hard bamboo is to contain, and how difficult it is to remove once it takes hold. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. It’s not something to include in your landscaping without a great deal of forethought as well as a bit of fearlessness.
In defense of myself, I plead insanity. I couldn’t help myself. I just love bamboo!
A few examples of my obsession with bamboo include a section of a bamboo maze from a book I created for Dover Publishing, a railing on the second story of a themed fort in our backyard and the logo for my graphic design company.
It all started about ten years ago, when I set my mind to replace a dying photinia hedge that served as a sight and sound barrier to the traffic in front of our house.
I decided that a bamboo garden would be really cool. The garden included some great moss covered rocks, four types of bamboo and various ornamental grasses and flowering plants.
Even as I dug the holes for the root balls, I knew this day would come. It was inevitable.
But during the first five years, as the plants grew and filled in the area, I enjoyed my little garden. The difficulties of bamboo had definitely been blown out of proportion. As I watched the plants swaying in a gentle breeze, I could see why bamboo was a symbol of serenity. And in no time the garden took the place of the hedge.
But soon enough I discovered, firsthand, the darker side of bamboo. It started innocently enough. The bamboo extended its territory, almost imperceptibly, as spikes broke ground just outside the perimeter of the designated garden area. No big deal. Then the series of events took a maniacal turn. A sprout appeared in the middle of the lawn, some 15 feet from the edge of the garden. How did that get there?
Trying to remove the roots leading back to the original bamboo turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. Not only did the sod need to be removed around the roots, but the roots themselves were buried as much as a foot underground. Furthermore, the roots were hard to cut or pull out and had spread out in all directions. And once the roots were removed and the trenches filled in, it was only a mater of time before it would all happen again. Bamboo does not like to be confined.
This summer I was able to successfully dig up and transplant two flowering bushes that had been enveloped and obscured by the bamboo jungle.
At some point I plan on instituting a more permanent solution, but for now, I just dig areas of the lawn up when necessary to slow the advance of the jungle.
The Good News
If you are considering bamboo in the landscaping (or at least were before reading this article), I would urge caution. However, bamboo does have some really nice things going for it:
- Besides being attractive, this relative to grasses is in most cases a hardy evergreen (although they regularly drop a portion of their leaves), so you can enjoy it all year long.
- Established plants are drought tolerant. They don’t need to be watered all the time. I tested this out during a 50 day rainless period this summer by carefully watering the other plants in the garden, but for the most part avoiding the bamboo. It didn’t seem to make much difference. One of the varieties did curl its leaves a bit, but that was about it.
- As mentioned above, bamboo tends to grow fast. If handled correctly this does not have to viewed as a curse. How many times have you landscaped an area, only to wait for years for the plants to fill in the space?
- There are several ways to manage bamboo growth. It is, however, better to plan this out and implement it before you plant the bamboo, rather then wait until you have a serious problem.
- The easiest way to manage bamboo is selecting a variety that has less of a tendency to spread. Bamboo is placed in two basic growth categories, clumping and running. Clumping bamboo produces short rhizomes near the base of the plant. I have a clumping bamboo in my back yard next to a pond. In the eight years I have had it, this plant has grown considerably taller and filled in, yet the space it occupies is barely double what it was when I planted it. I would bet I don’t need to say much about the behavior of running bamboo at this point.
I hope I have painted a clear picture here about the potential for bamboo to be both magnificent and disastrous. My own experience has lead me to regard it as a little of both (or maybe a lot of both). So as you weigh the evidence and consider whether or not bamboo is right for you, you may very well be caught in the bamboo dilemma.