Think twice before you plant Bamboo

Bamboo. What's the deal?

Love the exotic look of of Bamboo? Want the perfect Privacy Screen to shield you from nosy neighbours? Enjoy the lush sound of bamboo leaves rustling in the wind? Well, avoid Bamboo at all costs, unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars per year on maintenance.

Bamboo, while technically a grass, comes from Asia, but over here in North America it is a big bully. Once established, sprouts shoot up from the ground at a rate of 12 inches per day, and can reach heights of 15 feet. They also rapidly spread by woody, underground rhizomes to overtake areas, with new shoots popping up just about everywhere in Spring from the main plant.

Bamboo leaves.

Getting rid of the roots is no easy task. Left unchecked, bamboo can spread rapidly from as far away as 50 feet from the parent plant, as underground rhizomes creep to densely colonize the area next to, then the whole backyard, then the neighbours yard, and the next yard. Mature bamboo roots become hard and woody; it’s best to tackle bamboo when young and tender as they are much easier to remove. Hand pulling works best for the removal of the underground rhizomes. I use a heavy duty spade shovel, and a pick axe to remove the roots. If you have to use chemicals, you can apply Roundup to the open ends of roots that you can’t remove.

Thick bamboo roots. Pickaxe required.

And the roots are thick – I have pulled some roots up that were about the size of a man’s arm. Imagine branch pruning, but the branches are buried in the ground and therefore need to be excavated before they can be cut out.

And of course, any root that you may have missed the first time around is going to come back with a vengeance, so you will have to keep a careful eye on the area for at least the next growing season.

“First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap.”

Bamboo must be controlled with pruning of both the top height and the bottom roots.

If you still are intent in getting that Asian look that Bamboo does bring, then consider getting a bamboo barrier in the ground around where you plant in the bamboo. This is a 3 foot deep plastic membrane that will prevent the horizontal roots from spreading outside it’s desired space – that’s right, 3 feet deep, which means you have to dig a hole around half the size of a man’s body, all the way around the plant. If you have a bamboo fence that covers one end of your property, that could mean days of manual trench digging - not fun. The barrier isn’t cheap either, around 4 dollars a foot. You can buy it from Garden stores and have it cut to the length you want (use an exacto knife for this task), so make sure to measure out the length you need for your barrier before buying. Depending on the length you need, purchasing the product might run you a couple hundred dollars. If you were to hire a landscaper to do this, you are probably looking at a price of at least a couple hundred dollars.

Trench must be dug 3 feet to put in the barrier

Is it worth it? This isn’t the kind of job I like, as manual labour trench digging is long, tedious, and reminds me of World War I. I would rather you skip the bamboo and spend your money on a new bed of low maintenance Perennial plants or a couple yards of Douglas fir bark mulch, and save us both the hassle of high maintenance bamboo.