Danny Flanders

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Fountain Bamboo
Yes it's pretty. But if you aren't careful it can take over your yard.

Looking for the perfect privacy screen for shielding your back yard from nosy neighbors? For many, the quick -- and I do mean quick -- solution is bamboo.

Big mistake.

Bamboo, which technically is a giant grass, is one of the world’s most invasive plants. Once established, it is literally next to impossible to control. The sprouts that shoot up from the ground each spring can grow 12 inches a day! The underground roots of common running “fishpole” bamboo, which can easily reach 15 feet tall, can travel as far as 20 feet or more from the original clump.

There’s no denying bamboo makes a pretty exotic screen. And with its slender form, it is seemingly ideal for tight urban spaces. Yet, in no time new shoots will appear outside its planting space, creating a maintenance nightmare.

If you simply want to control its spread, it's best to create a barrier, though sometimes even that doesn’t work. Dig a trench two feet deep around the clump and insert 24-inch-wide aluminum flashing, leaving several inches of it above ground to prevent its roots from climbing over. Still, know that bamboo has been known to run even below concrete barriers and resurface on the other side, so this is no guaranteed fortress.

If you really want to get rid of all your bamboo, brace yourself for being a vigilante. As soon as the first sprouts emerge in spring, knock them back to ground level using a shovel and continue for several weeks while the shoots are tender and before they become woody and tough. Then, using a paintbrush, apply the strongest recommended strength of Roundup to the cuts. Finally, keep an eye out throughout summer for those stubborn renegade runners.

So is all bamboo evil and therefore must be destroyed? Not at all. Some clumping (vs. running) varieties are not invasive at all. Still, to be safe, it’s best to use them in container gardens, which make great accents and focal points, especially the popular black bamboo varieties. Be aware that most clumping bamboos are not cold hardy, so it’s best to treat them as annuals. The Fargesia genus provides some of the hardiest clumpers, and one cultivar in particular, ‘Green Panda,’ reaches 6-8 feet, so when planted in a group it makes an excellent screen (Plant bamboo in spring, not fall, to avoid winter burn on plants).

If you’d like to avoid bamboo altogether, consider a few alternatives for screening, such as the grassy-like Carex, or sedges and evergreen conifers such as ‘Green Giant’ thuja, “Emerald Green’ arborvitae and Leyland cypress.

And just to set the record straight for all you indoor gardeners, that “Lucky Bamboo” that became all the rage several years ago . . . it’s not a bamboo at all but a dracena.

Ah, the wonders of this mysterious grass continue to run rampant!

16 Comments About this Article

  • Noah Bell
    Not to mention they showcase an 'invasive' bamboo with a photo of... Fargesia nitida, which is a very tight clumping bamboo. In response to the article, as noted in the first and second paragraphs, bamboo can spread out from the initial planting site. However the control methods outlined in the fifth paragraph are not at all appropriate. The best way to contain a running-type bamboo is actually to edge the plant twice a year; late summer and mid-fall. The rhizomes are naturally shallow and if you sever them, they stop growing. If you do have to use barrier, metal flashing is one of the poorer choices; it degrades over time, can leech into the soil, and usually isn't deep enough to make a difference. Better to use HDPE plastic sheets, 60 or 80 mil thick. And the methods for removal listed in paragraph 6 are a little excessive; rather, simply dig up as much as you can and let any survival shoots lead you to pieces you missed. Just knocking the survival shoots over will eventually starve the plant out.

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • sirshannon
    kudzu isn't difficult to contain if you know how and is debatable whether it's invasive at all. I've successfully helped dozens of people remove, contain, manage, and plant kudzu and the only difference between me and all the people with horror stories is correct information.

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • David Benfield
    ...and yet where are the kudzu nurseries?

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • Daisy
    It drives me crazy when people don't read the entire article. There are several examples of noninvasive bamboo in the article. I used to live next door to a lady that planted bamboo and it took over her entire yard to the point where you couldn't see her house anymore, then it found it's way into MY yard. It was a nightmare! Why did I have to deal with her problem? I wish she would have read this story before she planted it.

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • David Benfield
    Daisy I do understand your issue and it is unfortunately a common problem. However, there are things both your neighbor and you could've done to contain it but unfortunately many people have been mislead by lots of bad information (for example, the above article suggests aluminum flashing) which only make matters worse. When those wrong solutions don't work people come to the conclusion that bamboo is invasive and impossible to control. It's simply not true; but I do wish your experience with the world's most sustainable resource had not been a negative one.

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • FourDeuce
    In the course of doing research for the article the author should have done some research on bamboo. Up to 12 inches in one day? My bamboo can grow more than 5 feet in one day during the Spring, and that's not unusual. I've been growing bamboo here in the Ozarks for more than 10 years, and the "monster" is nowhere near as bad as the article tries to make it look.

    Posted 2 years ago

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  • Carol Merritt
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10200512010337774.1073741828.1083295360&type=3&uploaded=1#!/photo.php?fbid=10200512010377775&set=a.10200512010337774.1073741828.1083295360&type=3&theater

    Posted 1 year ago

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  • Roger Lewis
    Recently, there is much talk and legislation about how bamboo is an invasive species. Bamboo is a very beneficial plant that can get a bad reputation by individuals not understanding the growing habits of bamboo. Bamboo grows a little different than most plants. It is a grass that only grows for 60 days and then doesn’t experience any secondary wood growth. Basically, the bamboo that you can see will never grow vertically or in diameter again. It has babies that are taller, that has babies that are taller. Every generation should be taller that the previous year's shoots. The intriguing aspect is that each year’s growth emerges and grows to it complete height in 60-90 days. This period can be scary but it is also a time when the bamboo is very fragile because of a high water content to support such rapid growth. During this time, bamboo is easy to abort by mowing or even eating. To learn about easy ways to control this beautiful plants, please click here: http://www.lewisbamboo.com/controlling-bamboo.html

    Posted 1 year ago

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  • Beverly Smithson Stevens
    People who praise running bamboo and swear that it can be easily maintained should come visit my house. You'd see how awful it can be when a supposedly educated person plants it with a useless barrier (pieces of metal, not one continuous run of plastic or metal). These people give it a bad name. It shouldn't be planted in residential areas with lots of 1/4 acre or less. I can try all of your suggested methods of eradication, but it won't do any good as long as my neighbor has it! That's why they're passing laws forcing people to contain it or get rid of it.

    Posted 12 months ago

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  • K
    Bamboo is all invasive. The toxin-laden monoculture of the lawn, along with the favoritism of exotic non-natives has contributed to the slaughter of native birds, who, with the addition of natural landscaping using native food/nesting plants and water sources, would not suffer the drastic loss and fragmentation of habitat that humanity's endless march has caused: Each year in America, more than 3 million acres are lost to invasive weeds -- an area equal to a strip of land two miles wide stretching from coast to coast. These weeds and animals like rats and feral pigs are not just wrecking vacant lots and dusty roads inhabited only by tumbleweed. Invasive species are choking out and destroying some of America's most valuable bird and wildlife habitat. In fact, invasive species are a primary threat to America's 94 million acre National Wildlife Refuge System as well as Audubon Important Bird Areas (IBA) across the country. - From http://policy.audubon.org/how-invasive-species-threaten-habitat

    Posted 6 months ago

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How to Cut Back Bamboo

How to Cut Back Bamboo

Running bamboos spread by sending underground shoots into the surrounding soil. Learn how to control them using the steps below.