Bamboo in the garden is often considered a nuisance, but it doesn’t have to be. Bamboo can in fact be a great addition to your home. Managing your running bamboo is actually pretty easy when you adopt a care routine and practice a little patience. In doing so, you can enjoy your bamboo year-round and utilize all of its attributes around your home and in your community.
Techniques for Running Bamboo
Each fall, in late September or October, prune around the perimeter of the bamboo with a flat-bladed spade or shovel to a depth of about 8 to 10 inches (20-25cm). This cuts the rhizomes which spread in search of water and nutrients. Pruning or mowing rhizomes earlier, in late spring or summer, can help to confine the bamboo to even smaller perimeters. After cutting the rhizomes, simply pull and remove them.
Digging a narrow trench (about 3 inches wide and 10 inches deep) around the bamboo to easily monitor the perimeter will allow you to see any rhizomes that cross the trench. Since they are easily spotted, they can be easily trimmed.
Using Rhizome Barrier:
Another method to manage running bamboo is to install a rhizome barrier. This takes a little more work on the front end but can save you a lot of time in the long run. Barriers are sold by the linear foot (about $3.00 per foot) and you can use them to create what essentially becomes an in-ground container in which your bamboo will grow.
Since the rhizomes grow horizontally, and at a depth of about 26-28 inches (66-71cm), the barriers need to be buried somewhat deep. They are typically available at 30 inch widths, so once installed you can keep a few inches above ground, creating a rim. Install the barrier on an angle creating a bowl shape so that when the rhizomes bump into the barrier, they grow up towards the rim. Then you just trim them.
Close the length of barrier (to form a closed circle) by overlapping the ends by 12 inches, and secure the ends with strong glue and/or stainless steel fasteners. A tight, gap-free enclosure prevents any rhizome escape. Fill your barrier bed with compost and soil, and enjoy.
After a few years, you will want to thin your bamboo, as you would any plant that becomes root-bound in a pot. You can do so by cutting chunks of rhizome from the bed and replacing with fresh compost and soil. The chunks (with canes) make great gifts for others to enjoy.
Raised Beds and Pots:
Bamboo can grow well in raised bed boxes providing that they are well watered (happy not soggy) and well fed. A bed of 2 feet by 2 feet made of treated lumber can easily be assembled and disassembled to facilitate management. The open bottom should be monitored since, lacking a barrier, the rhizomes may grow under the frame. If you keep the bed properly thinned the rhizomes should grow horizontally and up rather than down and out.
Large terracotta pots with drainage holes can also be used. Place the pots on stone pads to prevent rhizome contact with soil. Pots should be 18 inches deep and 24 inches in diameter. It is important to note that they can get heavy when wet, so think about placement to minimize relocation. Like the raised beds, you will want to thin these potted bamboos.
Techniques for Clumping Bamboo
These bamboos do not run and grow in close proximity to the “mother” clump. They can be pruned and managed similarly to that of running bamboos. It is not however required that clumping bamboo use any sort of barrier to prevent rhizome running.
For the first year of planting, do not prune any canes so that the plant can receive as much food and energy as possible. During the second and third year, selectively prune short and weak growth, to create spacing of about six inches between culms. Doing so will allow space for new shoots in the spring. Too many shoots or shoots that are too thin to save? Cut them and eat them! Just make sure to get them early before they toughen.
Shrub Size and Dwarf Bamboo
These bamboos can be pruned dramatically to encourage vigorous, bushy growth each year. They don’t take a great deal of care but should have proper mulch and plenty of light. Don’t be afraid of dwarf bamboos, they’re easy to remove if you fall out of love with them, so just stick them in the dirt and enjoy the resulting ground cover and lush foliage.
Removal of Bamboo:
Removing bamboo can sometimes be a bit of a pain, but there are a few tips that can help you save some time and effort. The first step is to dig a trench around your bamboo that you wish to remove much the same way you would if you were managing a running variety. This allows for the rhizomes to be cut and ensures that there are no little stragglers waiting to grow as soon as you turn your back.
Once the rhizomes have been cut and the culm has been isolated, it can be thinned or trimmed all the way back. Smaller varieties and thin bamboo may be mowed down but the larger species will need to be cut as short as possible by hand. The culm may then be removed below any rhizomes. A good time to do this is in the spring when the new shoots are using more energy to grow upwards in search of light instead of growing outward strengthening their walls.
Properly removing large bamboo can take several weeks so be patient and keep working a little at a time. It should also be noted that there are some zoos (especially those with Giant Pandas) that will happily remove some of your bamboos, so be sure to give them a call before you take an axe to it.
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