About a week ago, my Yahoo home page had an article from the online version of the Wall Street Journal that was sensationally titled something like “A Plant that Comes with Jail Time,” or some such thing.

It may have gotten folks’ attention, and if it did, that’s a good thing because bamboo is really no laughing matter. I tweeted about it at the time, but the matter really needs more than 140 characters–and even then I put out 3 tweets.

The article was primarily about running bamboo, a plant which has now been banned in my home state of Connecticut. That may sound extreme, but I remember back in my retail gardening days, we had a lovely stand of yellow bamboo on the property where I worked. Customers would ask about it and I was always very careful to note that the owner had sunk a concrete barrier 3′ into the ground to assure that the bamboo would remain contained. Folks were decidedly less in love with the plant after I mentioned that and I never did sell one plant.

Around that same time, however, a so-called clumping bamboo, a fargesia, which had been planted on my property before I got there, began to “run,” or send out runners. Since this was not supposed to be technically possible, I was completely un-amused. I immediately dug the plant out, got as many of the roots and runners out as could, bagged it and disposed of it in the trash, not the compost pile (heaven forbid!).

For 5 years, runners continued to come up in the yard and only vigilance kept them under control and finally completely eliminated them.

Now I am surely not dealing with anything like walls of bamboo like the running kind produce, nor am I having to dig it out with a backhoe. But I wanted readers to know that even the so-called “clumping” types of bamboo don’t stay put and don’t play nicely with others.

Interestingly enough, I replaced the bamboo with a native plant, northern sea oats. It’s a lovely grassy plant; however, its seed heads do self-sow rampantly around in my nearby gardens. And they are just about impossible to remove. I suppose I need to think of them as I do they asters that I so love–with deep tap roots to aerate my heavy clay.

But should that plant ever die, the next thing that’s going there is a sculpture or a bench!

6 thoughts on “Bamboo-zled

  1. Sue September 16, 2013 / 10:16 am

    I’ve been growing Fargesis rufa ‘Green Panda’ for many years. So far mine has not really run but the clump expands rapidly (it’s contained between the foundation and a walkway). This spring a friend came over with a reciprocating saw and we trenched around it and removed large clumps. I am considering it’s removal though as it has started to worry me.

  2. gardendaze September 16, 2013 / 10:40 am

    Hi Sue,
    You could be all right with the containment between the foundation and the walkway. On the other hand, it could escape under the walkway. I thought I was in good shape with chameleon plant contained between rock ledge and a granite slab and it somehow got under the granite slab and is now creeping into a garden on the other side. So far I’m not too worried about that–that garden is also bordered by rock–but I’m going to make some serious attempts to stop it where it is. It’s just scary where these runners can go!

    And I have no one but myself to blame for the chameleon plant, which I have to admit, is very pretty. But what a thug! I’m wondering why we haven’t put that on the invasive list yet?

    Isn’t it amazing what we have to do with plants? Reciprocating saws? Backhoes? No one told me I’d need heavy machinery for gardening–at least not unless I wanted to install hardscaping, I mean!


  3. michele September 16, 2013 / 8:07 pm

    Wow, scary! I’d been musing over a clumping bamboo for tall, thin height in a corner of my garden. So glad I saw this first. Once again, my garden is bettered for your information!

  4. gardendaze September 17, 2013 / 8:20 am

    Hi Michele,
    Glad I could help. What’s even scarier is that at one point I thought about using running bamboo as a screening plant between us and a particularly obnoxious neighbor! Thankfully, my husband, The Spoiler, came to his senses and agreed to install the real thing instead before I did something we’d both probably still be regretting!


  5. Julie Scandora March 22, 2014 / 1:11 pm

    You’re not alone with clumping bamboo sending runners. I moved into my property four years ago and was glad to see clumping bamboo that I wouldn’t have to worry about. From what i could tell, it had been there for years and behaved properly. (The previous owner had put basically no time into gardening so I knew its containment was not due to any gardener’s work.) To control the weeds everywhere, that first year, I covered the yard with about six inches of wood chips. Year two, and the bamboo was still behaving. Year three, I gasped in horror when I saw shoots from bamboo runners poking through the ground. I removed all I could find, and that seemed to solve the problem. Yesterday, year four, I checked around the clump and found a new network of runners preparing to shoot upward. Fortunately, it was a sunny Seattle day, and I took care of all.

    I thought maybe the wood chips that I had mounded up several inches above the bamboo’s former base might have contributed to the clumper turning into a runner. I plan to remove the clumping/running bamboo and am seriously considering replacing it with a different clumping bamboo–planted at a proper level. Maybe some of us take longer to learn lessons, but I’m willing to try since bamboo in this location is otherwise the perfect plant for screening the neighbor without (I hope) taking up much space in my yard.

    • gardendaze March 22, 2014 / 3:40 pm

      If it’s one thing we all need to relax about, it’s labeling plants as invasive. I say this as a member of my state “working group” on invasive plants, mind you. But what’s invasive for you in Seattle isn’t going to be invasive here in Connecticut (at least not all the time) & our list, at least, has far too many weeds that no one in his right mind would plant for love or money.

      I wish you luck with the bamboo. I’m entirely sympathetic to needing screen plantings–thd sooner the better.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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