Landscaping How-To: Taming Invasive Bamboo

Master gardener Paul James explains how to tame the most rampant runner, invasive bamboo.
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Paul James has a passion for bamboos, particularly the clump-forming bamboos like Fargesia, which don't run all over the place like the invasive types do. "A really good friend gave me a magnificent bamboo specimen for my birthday," says James. "It's a real beauty, but the only problem is, it's a rampant runner." It's an extremely invasive member of the genus Phyllostachys known as golden-groove bamboo. And in addition to being beautiful, it's also 26 feet tall.

"If I were to plant this in the ground, I would almost certainly live to regret it, as would my neighbors," he says. "Unless, of course, I went to the trouble of lining the planting hole with a special 60-mil plastic to contain the incredibly invasive runners."

Types of Bamboo

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Golden Bamboo, Fishing Pole Bamboo

Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. aureocaulis; Medium-sized to large bamboo that can spread vigorously in warm climates. Upright, bright golden-yellow canes. H 6–30 ft (2–10 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Sasa Palmate

Sasa palmata f. nebulosa; Vigorous, spreading bamboo with 14–16-in- (35–40-cm-) long, glossy, bright green leaves. H to 6 ft (2 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Golden Chinese Timber Bamboo

Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis; A sturdy-stemmed, fast-growing bamboo with butter-yellow canes, sometimes green-striped. Can grow tall. H to 30 ft (10 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fountain Bamboo

Fargesia nitida; Slender, purple-green canes topped by narrow, mid-green leaves. Compact and slow-growing. H to 15 ft (5 m); S 5 ft (1.5 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Arrow Bamboo

Pseudosasa japonica; Spreading bamboo that will form tall thickets in warm climates. Young canes are olive green, but pale beige when mature. H to 20 ft (6 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Black Bamboo

Phyllostachys nigra; Canes become almost jet-black by their third year. A neat clump-former. H 10–15 ft (3–5 m); S 6–10 ft (2–3 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Phyllostachys

Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens; Hardy, evergreen clump-forming bamboo with greenish-brown canes that arch at the base. H 20–25 ft (6–8 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Yushania Maculata

Yushania maculata; Upright, spreading bamboo with narrow, green leaves; canes turn from blue-gray to olive green. H to 12 ft (4 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Umbrella Bamboo, Muriel’s Bamboo

Fargesia murielae; Compact, elegant, arching bamboo with cascades of delicate leaves and canes that turn from green to yellow as they mature. H 12 ft (4 m); S 5 ft (1.5 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Veitch’s Bamboo

Sasa veitchii; Spreading bamboo with purple canes and broad, dark-green leaves that have white, parchmentlike margins in fall. H 5 ft (1.5 m); S indefinite.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Henonis Bamboo

Phyllostachys nigra f. henonis; Bright green canes turn yellow-green when mature. Glossy, evergreen leaves, which are downy and rough when young. H 30 ft (10 m); S 6–10 ft (2–3 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Narihira Bamboo

Semiarundinaria fastuosa var. viridis; Tall, upright, clump-forming bamboo with green canes—ideal for woodland gardens. H to 22 ft (7 m); S 6 ft (2 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Thamnocalamus

Thamnocalamus spathiflorus; A fast-growing, clump-forming bamboo. The stems turn an unusual pinkish-brown as they age. H to 30 ft (10 m); S 20 ft (6 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Umbrella Bamboo ‘Simba’

Fargesia murielae ‘Simba’; So-called dwarf variety but may still grow to a good size. Compact and clump-forming evergreen. H 6 ft (2 m); S 5 ft (1.5 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Dwarf White Stripe Bamboo

Pleioblastus variegatus; Small, bushy, spreading bamboo with clearly striped, green and white leaves. H 21⁄2–5 ft (0.75–1.5 m); S 4 ft (1.2 m).

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Remember the rule of running bamboo: first year sleep, second year creep, and third year leap. And when James says "leap," he means it. Running bamboos can travel far and fast. "I've seen shoots pop up 50 feet away from the mother plant." And in no time at all, a solitary plant of running bamboo can take over an entire yard and the yard next to it, and next to that, and so on.

So for now, James has decided to plant his new bamboo in a rather large, plastic pot. Although you can grow running bamboos in a pot, in time they'll become extremely pot-bound and begin to grow outside the pot, and you may notice a distinct lack of vigor. But by growing his in a plastic pot, James can cut the pot away in a few years and either put the bamboo in an even bigger pot — assuming he can find one — or give it a proper home in the ground. If he were to use a more expensive ceramic or clay pot, he probably would wind up breaking the pot in the process of removing the bamboo. What's more, the pot, potting mix and plant together would weigh several hundred pounds. And while this finished pot will be heavy, it will at least by manageable.

After filling the pot halfway with potting mix, James simply adds the clump of bamboo, tops the pot with a bit more mix, and waters well.

"And there you have it, a striking specimen that makes a wonderful addition to my landscape and adds a strong vertical element in a way no other plant can."

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