Bamboo gardens can be truly enticing and provide all sorts of benefits.
It’s that you learn how to contain bamboo roots before you plant it. With this plant you’ll create protective habitat for songbirds that’s filled with all sorts of mites and other edibles they crave. You’ll create an evergreen privacy screen, fast. You’ll enjoy the unique, raspy sound of canes brushing together. You’ll potentially have an unending supply of hardy stakes and edible shoots.
But, is it your best option?
Bamboo, particularly running forms but also some clumpers, can become highly invasive – no matter what you read about how to contain the roots. Installing root barriers may help keep some varieties contained, but as we learned the hard way, they do break down over time.
Even when it is installed in sturdy planters, it can escape!
When your bamboo does make a break for it, what do you do then?
Years ago we adopted a few shoots of an unknown variety of running bamboo to add to our garden as a privacy screen. We thought we knew exactly how to contain bamboo. So, we trenched the bed, lined it with sturdy bamboo barrier, and planted the shoots. Within a couple of years, we had a lush privacy barrier. About a year after that, we discovered the bamboo had escaped the barrier, which we’d been advised by the nursery to seal with an industrial, double-sided tape.
Bamboo barrier only works for so long…
Part of knowing how to contain bamboo is realizing it won’t stay contained forever. Fortunately, we had been vigilant about monitoring our contained bamboo every growing season, so we caught the runaway early. With a little digging, we were able to re-contain the bamboo roots — this time using a metal strapping system. Unfortunately, that only did the trick for another couple of years.
Bamboo barrier plastic will break under the expanding pressure of growing roots.
At this point, our bamboo had been growing for nearly a decade. The root barrier was completely full of compacted roots that supported the lush privacy screen blocking our neighbor’s bedroom window. So, our choices were to keep our privacy screen by completely digging out the existing barrier, trenching again and installing a completely new barrier that we’d have to continue monitoring and repairing into the future. Or, remove the invasive bamboo, plant something else and give up our privacy for a few years.
When you remove bamboo & start over…
But, before we could put in the new plants, the bamboo had to go, and that was no small task.
What if you inherit it from a neighbor?
Our dear friend and enowned moss gardener, Norie Burnet, faces exactly this issue on one side of her garden. Her neighbor created a stunning Asian-influence garden, complete with a large stand of timber bamboo. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much of anything to contain the bamboo’s root system. (And, frankly, timber bamboo is probably going to bust through just about any root barrier fast. This stuff is tough.) So, throughout the year, she digs, kicks, breaks and cuts down huge shoots that threaten to grow right into her driveway and garden beds. Left unchecked, she’d probably have it popping through her home’s foundation too.
It’s no small task, but by staying on top of the succulent young shoots, she avoids having to cut down hard, towering canes later. She hasn’t eaten the shoots, but with the right preparation*, they could become part of her diet. So there’s that potential positive, which is heavily outweighed by the extreme negative of this plant’s maintenance requirements.
What about putting it in a container?
If you’ve planted bamboo into a container, like a livestock trough (shown above) or decorative pot, be sure to elevate the bottom of the trough so that you can easily inspect the drain holes a couple of times a year and cut out any runners that poke through. Left unchecked, you’ll soon find baby shoots coming up all around your filled container, and clean up will be a nightmare. Imagine that giant rootball shown above, but this time it’s inside a metal pot rather than a plastic liner.
*Be sure to thoroughly research fresh bamboo cooking preparations before consuming any part of it.