Applying some elbow grease toward rhizome control

I don't really know exactly what the phrase "elbow grease" is supposed to mean, except that it means to exert a bit of physical effort, and that's what I did today. (It doesn't make much sense to me, sort of like keeping your "eyes peeled". Um, okay.) Anyway, some focused exertion is what is needed to keep the rhizomes of running bamboo in check in a suburban garden.

Today I did some of that. You won't see any photos of the process of my digging as it's quite difficult to swing a mattock and shoot a photo at the same time.


The mattock is my tool of choice for discovering and pulling up wayward rhizomes these days:

It bites into the soil, is fun to use, and makes it easy to tell when you've found a rhizome. Then I can use it to chop the rhizome, or pry it out of the soil (depending on soil texture and moisture content).

The soil is the perfect consistency right now, and I've dug around this planting box several times before, so digging is easy. I did find a few short rhizomes coming out of the deep end of the box again, but once again there was nothing at the shallow end. That concerns me a little, as it doesn't make sense. I'm worried that the rhizomes are going deeper on the shallow end and are spreading undetected and unchecked.

I'll find out in a couple of months (mid-April probably) when this plant starts shooting. If shoots come up outside the shallow end of the box I won't be completely surprised, but will be disappointed.

This box needs a new coat of stain this year, although I do like the way my uneven stain job has faded, resulting in a nice gradient of colors:

It's more impressive in person.

One tip: rocks look fantastic in planting beds, mixed in with various plants:

They make digging in those beds a lot more work though, so not recommended for areas around running bamboo plantings. I keep hitting buried rocks with the mattock.

So I spent some time digging down below the bottom of the box, replacing the soil when I was done. Besides the short rhizomes I cut:

I also found this one rhizome section that had been severed from the plant the last time I dug last year.

It must have broken off when I pulled rhizomes the last time, and there was enough energy in the rhizome to produce some tiny shoots (and leaves). The foliage died during our cold winter, but new branches are ready to replace what died:

Since I didn't notice this foliage last year (it was among other plants) it's possible that this piece of rhizome could have grown into a new plant, producing shoots and rhizomes itself. Upon closer inspection, this couldn't happen here because the buds are all dead:

Without viable buds new shoots can't be produced, nor can new rhizomes grow. The result is this plant will never spread and will eventually die. Doesn't matter in this case because it's out of the ground now, but it reminds me to be diligent about severed rhizomes, making sure that if they do produce these "survival shoots" to cut them down right away. Without a source of energy (provided by the leaves) the severed rhizome will die, which is what we want to happen when we rhizome prune.

With some of my other species of bamboo I'd pot up any rhizomes that had enough roots and viable buds:

But with this plant I don't really care -- I've got plenty of divisions of it already. Plus these rhizomes don't look like they'll survive:

So into the compost pile they go -- next to it actually, to await a trip through the wood chipper.

So the rhizomes on this plant are under control again for a few months:

The plant itself (Phyllostachys aureoulcata or "Yellow Groove" bamboo) is doing great by the way. It came through the winter with very little damage:

With this one done I just have five or ten or more bamboos to rhizome prune in the next month or so. I don't really like to count -- I'd rather know that there are "some" left to do then just prune one or two whenever I can -- pretty soon they're all done. That's the key to large gardening tasks: underestimating the amount of work? No, breaking them up into smaller sub-tasks.

Since it's supposed to be over 70ºF/21ºC today, I better stop writing and get out there -- there are more rhizomes to prune!

Now where did I put that elbow grease?...

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TC  – (February 20, 2011 at 11:12 AM)  

It seems like you have a nice formula and routine for easily controlling the spread. Maybe it's because I am faily new to running species or because of the high cost to source them but watching rhizomes head to the compost bin is tough to watch. Hopefully I'll be doing the same thing one day.

LaRee  – (February 20, 2011 at 11:21 AM)  

Your elbow grease comment reminds me of my father. He would tell me to put some elbow grease into scrubbing the burnt pan. Thats what I relate it to the most, he told me its because you have to get your elbows really moving to get it out. Non of this wishy washy stuff thats comfortable :)

I have an iris bed that needs thinned, think this method would work on it? They are quite close together.

Alan  – (February 20, 2011 at 2:29 PM)  

TC: one year you'll try to save every little piece of rhizome, and the next you'll be composting them without a second thought. You plants just haven't gotten to that point yet. =)

LaRee: I only got my first Irises last year, so don't have very much experience with them. I'd only use a mattock on plants that I wouldn't mind damaging a little though.

HolleyGarden  – (February 20, 2011 at 4:51 PM)  

I've been enjoying reading your blog. I am awarding you the Stylish Bloggers Award. If you don't already know about this award, you can read about it on my blog. Congratulations.

Diana Studer  – (February 21, 2011 at 4:56 AM)  

You make it sound so ... effortless ... so doable ... but I'll just admire the bamboo from here thanks. We have Nandina 'heavenly bamboo', gives the effect, and our giant reed is quite frightening enough, without battling bamboo runners ;~)

Alan  – (February 21, 2011 at 6:37 AM)  

HolleyGarden: Thanks! I'll read up on it!

E Eye: I guess Nandina might suffice if you squint your eyes almost closed. Not really the same though. Once you're bitten by the bamboo "bug" there's nothing you can do about it. =)

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