Campbell Vaughn: So, there's good bamboo and bad bamboo. Be sure you plant the right kind

·3 min read
There are good bamboo choices and bad ones. Malay dwarf bamboo is an excellent choice for hedges, barriers and borders. A clumping selection, this bamboo forms neat groups of upright stems covered with white-striped leaves. It is a tropical bamboo and sensitive to hard freezes but will take a few degrees of frost.
There are good bamboo choices and bad ones. Malay dwarf bamboo is an excellent choice for hedges, barriers and borders. A clumping selection, this bamboo forms neat groups of upright stems covered with white-striped leaves. It is a tropical bamboo and sensitive to hard freezes but will take a few degrees of frost.

During the dormant winter season, you get to notice a good many things you would not normally see. When trees drop leaves in the fall, the woods open up and show things that are sometimes hidden during the spring and summer growing season.

A couple of good examples would be when you're riding down the road and look into a hardwood forest and spot a tree that looks like it is the only plant in all of the woods that is covered in snow. That would be a sycamore.

The same goes with dogwoods blooming in the spring. You would never really know dogwoods were there from a distance and all of a sudden, they show themselves with amazing white spring blooms scattered all over the forest understory.

Sycamore and dogwoods are the fun ones to see, but on a family trip this past weekend I noticed the prevalence of a plant I beg people not to plant. It is easy to see this time of year because it doesn't lose its leaves and shows itself in huge masses.

Augusta Chronicle columnist Campbell Vaughn says you should never plant "running bamboo," shown here, which will grow out of control. The only choice for bamboo in your landscape should be a "clumping" type.
Augusta Chronicle columnist Campbell Vaughn says you should never plant "running bamboo," shown here, which will grow out of control. The only choice for bamboo in your landscape should be a "clumping" type.

I get this call about four times a year: “I am thinking about planting some bamboo to hide my obnoxious neighbor’s yard. What do you think?”

My response is very consistent.

“DO NOT PLANT BAMBOO! YOU WILL REGRET IT FOREVER!”

Bamboos are members of the grass family, but are distinguished from other grasses because of their woody stems and because they can grow from one to 70 feet tall.

There are about 1,200 species of bamboo that are broken down into two types: a clumping type and a running type. The clumping version is usually manageable because it tends to just be a mound of bamboo, which can be a nice addition to the landscape … in the correct place.

But the one that people like to plant to use as a quick screen is the running type and once it is established, you may consider moving. Bamboo can easily take over landscapes, waterways and woodlands. It thrives in full sun or part shade, handles tough conditions and grows fast.

Running bamboos spread by thick, very tough, underground stems/roots called rhizomes. These rhizomes can spread more than 100 feet from the mother plant and can go almost anywhere. That includes under sidewalks, into crawl spaces, across a pasture, and if your neighbor made the mistake of planting bamboo, it will definitely run under the chain link fence into your yard.

If you don’t have the option of moving to get away from bamboo, be prepared for a battle.

One reason bamboo is so tough is that if you cut a rhizome, it doesn’t kill the plant – it makes two plants. So removing all of the rhizomes is critical. With its woody structure, bamboo will laugh at lawn mowers and string mowers. And when bamboo is very well established, tractor mowers don’t stand a chance either. Large areas of bamboo might have to be graded with large earth-moving equipment like bulldozers and skid steers.

In regard to chemical control, 41% glyphosate (RoundUp) at a 5% rate with an added surfactant can work over time. The bamboo has to be cut to the ground and allowed to grow back to about three feet. Spray the new growth and allow it to die back. Repeat for many years after that when a shoot randomly pops up 50 feet away from the original infestation.

When the bamboo is invading an azalea bed (or the like), cut the stalks and hand paint the chemical solution directly on the freshly wounded plant. Eventually the chemical control will starve the root system and you might be done with bamboo in time to start fighting the neighbor's English ivy …

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing augusta@uga.edu.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Campbell Vaughn: There's good and bad bamboo. Plant the right kind

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