blog post - bamboo friend or foe
Bamboos are attractive, exotic-looking plants that can be used to add structure, interest and privacy to the garden. A much misunderstood group of plants, they are often hated or feared by gardeners who’ve been on the receiving end of their sometimes bad behaviour or those that have been scared witless by creepy campfire stories of monstrous bamboo rhizomes that have lifted driveways or damaged house foundations. Like something out of the post apocalyptic ‘The Day of the Triffids’!
While its true that some of the more brutish species of bamboo have added fuel to the fire with their invasive antics, not all of them are trouble makers. Like any wild thing, learning how to handle it and understanding its needs will help you to tame it.
Bamboos are broadly classed as having either a clump forming or running habit. The latter are the more invasive group producing strong underground rhizomes that grow out from the parent plant causing mayhem if left unchecked. While the former tend to be better behaved containing themselves in tight clumps. One of the most famous (or infamous!) and popular bamboos is Phyllostachys - a runner. Though it may remain in clumps in poor soils, given the right conditions (warm, moist, humus rich soils in full sun or partial shade) it can romp about the place unchecked.
One way to get around the invasiveness of runners is to plant them within a physical barrier. Dig a trench to a depth of 1 metre and line with strong material. Industrial grade, 2mm thick vinyl is ideal or you can buy fit for purpose bamboo rhizome barriers from online retailers such as Green-Tech or Crocus. Don’t try to use geotextile, landscape fabric or pond liners - bamboo rhizomes have a sharp point and they will drive through soft material with no bother. Seal the barrier at the ends with a strong adhesive or mastic to stop the rhizomes from getting through at the overlap. Leave about 7-8cm of the barrier exposed above ground level to prevent the rhizomes sneaking over the top - a thick mulch or ground cover planting will hide the barrier.
If all of that sounds like far too much hassle, you could go for a less invasive clump forming species such as Fargesia murielae, Fargesia rufa or the unusual square stemmed bamboo Chimonobambusa quadrangularis. Some are even suitable for growing in containers.
Keep established clumps of bamboo attractive by removing weak, spindly canes in spring (cutting them back to the base) and clearing out debris from the centre of the clump. Clearing the lower third/half of the canes of any side shoots will give an elegant finish to your new found garden friend.