Some varieties of bamboo can grow 1 foot or more per day.

The Danger of a Bamboo Invasion in Gardens

by Brian Barth

Bamboo is one of the most graceful and easy-to-grow plants, though some types are just as well known for their invasive tendencies. All too often, it creeps out of its intended place and invades garden beds, lawns, the neighbor’s backyard -- even under concrete paths and driveways. Its reputation for invasiveness is not undeserved, but a little foray into the world of bamboo will reveal that not all varieties have invasive potential and those that do can be contained and enjoyed for their more civilized qualities.

Competition With Landscape Plants

The tough, invasive types of bamboo can out-compete most other garden plants in their growth rate and ability to withstand heat, drought, sun, shade, insect pests, herbicides or almost anything else either humans or the weather can throw at it. Besides the danger to the growth of other plants, the effort involved in removing bamboo is considerable. It is not a plant that can easily be removed by hand, but requires intense labor with picks and shovels, or heavy machinery in cases where it becomes full established.

Neighborly Consideration

Another, often unforeseen, danger of bamboo occurs when it crosses property lines. Bamboo runs right under fences and can quickly strain neighborly relations if it starts to pop up in the flower beds next door. It is best to avoid the situation by not planting bamboo anywhere near property lines. If it’s a pre-existing clump that’s threatening to enter the neighbor’s yard and it can’t be removed, try digging a shallow trench to expose the creeping rhizomes. Any rhizomes that try to cross the trench can then be spotted and clipped off, effectively limiting its spread.

Native Flora

One of the greatest dangers of runaway bamboo is that it can enter natural areas and have a negative impact on native plants. Bamboo spreads through rhizomes that grow just beneath the surface of the soil, forming a mat of roots that makes it difficult for other plants to compete. Fortunately, bamboo rarely makes viable seed, so its spread into natural areas is limited by the reach of its rhizomes.

Growth Habits and Control

Not all species of bamboo have rhizomes that sprout up great distances from the original planting. Those that do are known as running bamboo, and are a serious problem when they get out of control. Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) is one of the most invasive in many regions of the country, growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11. Clumping bamboo refers to species that grow only in single clumps where they were planted -- these will not invade other garden areas. A spectacular example is the giant timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii), which grows to 45 feet tall with 3-inch-diameter canes and can be grown in USDA zones 8b through 11. Hedge bamboo (Bambusa multiplex) includes a number of other clumping varieties that have been bred for special ornamental qualities, such as "Tiny Fern" cultivar which grows to only 3 feet tall and is hardy in USDA zones 8b through 11. Running bamboo can be contained by planting in large pots or with an in-ground liner. Bamboo barriers are made of heavy-duty rubber or plastic and must be buried at least 30 inches deep to be effective.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

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