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Bamboo Garden Woes

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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.

bamboo garden screen

Bamboo makes a beautiful, evergreen privacy screen, but is it really the best choice?

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!

bamboo garden in trough

Bamboo planted in troughs creates an evergreen privacy screen fast, but at what cost over time?

When your bamboo does make a break for it, what do you do then?

Broken bamboo barrier

Even the sturdiest barrier will eventually breakdown. Then what?

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.

bamboo roots

Over the years, the bamboo root mass continued to expand. Eventually, the plastic couldn’t stretch enough to accommodate the robust 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…

Replanted bamboo garden

A small Hinoki cypress and other plants are beginning to fill in where the bamboo once thrived. Yay! New plants. Boo! Lost privacy.

But, before we could put in the new plants, the bamboo had to go, and that was no small task.

bamboo root mass

After several years contained in a barrier, this is what the compacted bamboo root ball looked like.

Bamboo harvest

Making the most of a bad situation, we cut down a huge supply of bamboo stakes before removing the root system. And, we spread a tarp to salvage clean soil before digging into soil filled with invasive roots.

Removing bamboo

Of course, cutting down the stalks exposed our neighbor’s bedroom window. Bye-bye privacy screen.

Removing bamboo garden at the roots

Two strong guys had to dig down several feet to remove the contained roots.

Bamboo garden removal tools

Root removal tools: Sawzall, hatchets, rock bars and pikes. A shovel and trowel just won’t cut it!

What if you inherit it from a neighbor?

Timber bamboo forest

Timber bamboo forests are gorgeous — until they rapidly spread unchecked.

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.

Timber bamboo shoots

Timber bamboo “trees” begin as succulent shoots that gain height very fast.

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.

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