Controlling Running Bamboo

In some cases, when you are planting a running type of bamboo it will be necessary to “contain” it. If you live on one hundred acres of land and you want to put bamboo down by the pond, chances are you will be ok letting it grow uncontained.  But not all of us are so lucky. If you live in town, on a 100’x100′ lot, your neighbors probably do not want you planting Phyllostachys ‘Vivax’ along your shared fence line without a way to keep it on your side.

What do you do?  How do you enjoy the beauty and tranquility of your own bamboo grove, without ruining that relationship with your neighbor that’s taken years to build?  The easiest, most cost effective way to contain bamboo is with a trench.  A pruning trench is simply a narrow, shallow trench dug around the area that you wish to allow your bamboo to grow in.  A trench can be only 3″-4″  wide,  enough to walk on or to give yourself enough room to work as you’re checking for rhizomes. The depth will vary depending on the type of bamboo.  You may only need to be 1′-2′ deep, especially if you mound up your bamboo above ground.   Trenches can be filled with sand, organic mater such as leaves, or simply left open.  Twice a year   early January or February and  then again in the fall, check the trench for any rhizomes that may have entered it.    Using a spade, work around the trench,  pushing your spade into the trench, severing any rhizome you feel, then lifting the spade and pushing it back in next to where the last one was removed.  The amount of time spent per year on pruning will of course depend on the size of your planting and type of bamboo.   It shouldn’t take to many hours in a year to maintain. Much like an orchard or rose garden, a bamboo grove will take some maintenance, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Rhizomes starting to set in fall.

You can see in the picture above how a root pruned hedge will look.  The long hedge on the left is about 3 years old. The short one in  the  distance, on the right,  is about 2 years old.   Note the open pathway in the middle.  We have been root pruning these beds for 3 years without  the rhizomes escaping on us.  These beds are mounded up 12″,  keeping the rhizomes just below the native soil.  If you choose to use an in ground barrier keep in mind that none are “fool proof”. Installed properly, they work great.  However, any barrier that you put into the ground at some time will fail. Regardless of whether it is concrete or heavy duty 60mil plastic.  Barriers are nice for places that a pruning trench will not work. But remember that as your grove expands, your bamboo will fill in the area inside of your barrier, just like in a potted container.  At some point, you will need to remove some of your bamboo from within the barrier so that it does not put to much outward pressure on the barrier and break it, or find its way out in some other fashion.  The installation of a barrier is similar to a pruning trench.  A narrow trench approximately 24″-30″ deep is dug around the area where you want to contain your bamboo.  Regardless of the type of barrier, keep it slightly angled outwards.  This will make any rhizome that comes in contact with it from running down and under the barrier.