Hello fellow readers,
Recently Katie of Piscataway NJ shared her ‘horrible backyard dilemma.’ Her home was once her Dad’s which peaked my curiosity. How could her Dad’s backyard be so horrible? It turns out the neighbor’s bamboo has taken over.
At first glance bamboo seems appealing. Its tropical looking, creating a feeling of being on vacation, and spreads quickly offering a fast screen. Spreading quickly is an understatement. This stuff spreads like wildfire unless you contain it from the get-go.
Bamboo is in the grass family (Poaceae) and is native to all but Europe and Antarctica. Only 3 species are native to the southeast; though over 200 of the 1400 species worldwide are cultivated in the United States.
The stalks of bamboo (called culms) are connected by rhizomes which are underground stems. There are clumping and running forms of bamboo. As you would guess, the clumping form are less ambitious spreaders with their clumping rhizomes only spreading one to several inches a year. The running forms, which are more cold hardy hence most common in these parts, also spread by rhizomes but by several feet a growing season.
The American Bamboo Society (ABS) claims bamboo is not invasive if planted and managed properly. They recommend running bamboo be planted with an 80 ml thick polyethylene barrier as concrete can crack and metal barriers have seams easy for bamboo to penetrate. Barriers should be 24 to 30 inches deep, deeper in loose or sandy soil, and should be 2 inches above grade to inhibit rhizomes from jumping over.
Even with barriers, annual rhizome pruning is important to prevent spread. The period when new shoots form is only a few weeks each spring. Cut shoots you don’t want with a spade or saw. Or, if new shoots are surrounded by lawn, mow over them.
Once established removing bamboo takes digging out; likely a backhoe the equipment of choice. Cutting bamboo to the ground over and over to deplete the energy stored in the rhizomes can work but it will take years. The ABS does not recommend using chemicals to kill bamboo due to environmental damage. In fact, some say bamboo does not respond well to any herbicide currently available.
Bottom line – Like anything else in life, if you neglect bamboo it will grow out of control. ‘But properly managed,’ the ABS writes, ‘a clump or grove is a beautiful sight to behold.’ Garden Dilemmas? firstname.lastname@example.org