In another place: bamboo control

Yesterday I helped another local gardener with some bamboo control. When I started blogging two years ago searches on "St. Louis garden blogs" listed Ted Wight's real estate/gardening blog as the top result (and still does today), and looking through the gardening posts I found that Ted grows bamboo.

After talking over the past couple of years about control and how he had some wayward shoots emerge last year, we tried to get together to survey the situation -- it didn't happen last year though. I pestered Ted about it more this year, and our schedules finally aligned with the weather forecast and I got to see his bamboo in person this weekend. He grows only two varieties including the common "Yellow Groove", but what a beautiful grove it is!


As you can see the bamboo forms a privacy screen around the deck, and just makes it a wonderful space. Ted said that the planting was about 7 years old and even though it was planted on the property line it has not spread into the neighbor's yard. It has been escaping into Ted's planting beds and back lawn though, and he knew that it was going to be more of a problem the longer he put off doing something about it.

Ted is happy because he's doesn't have
to do all of the digging himself!

The main problem was the concrete sidewalk -- the rhizomes had gotten underneath it and spread back into the garden after moving a few feet away.

Ted used aluminum roof flashing to help contain the rhizomes, and although this isn't a recommended product for new plantings (they make plastic rhizome barrier for that) it seems to be doing the job. It's keeping the rhizomes out of the neighbor's yard and there was a thick mass of woody rhizomes here at the corner by the sidewalk. We chopped it out to make this corner easier to check for escapees:

(Note that the flashing could eventually corrode, weaken, and let a rhizome out. This needs to be monitored closely every year!)

We pulled a lot more rhizomes out of this area than expected, but they're a lot like mice -- if you see one, there are probably several more in the area.

The rhizomes that already exist under the sidewalk? There's nothing we could do about those, so Ted will need to check for rhizomes escaping into the planting bed each year. (Don't skip a year Ted!)

The planting bed was well-tilled by the time we were finished.

Moving into the back yard, Ted knew that there were a few rhizomes going into his zoysia lawn (on the right in the next photo -- still dormant and straw-colored), so we dug a trench to find them and to define the line at which the bamboo would be stopped:

Ted didn't originally intend for the bamboo to spread into this area behind the deck, but it's actually quite nice having the planting wrap around the seating area a bit (see the first photo again). It can't be allowed to take over any more space though, so the trench continues around this end:

We pulled a lot of rhizomes out of this part of the garden -- more than Ted expected for sure! The trench will need to continue to the right and back up toward the front of the house, and I expect there will be some rhizomes in the neighbor's back yard already.

Such a lovely backdrop when sitting on the deck!

One problem here: there is nothing stopping the rhizomes from going under the deck. The best solution would be to remove the culms closest to the deck to make space for the trench or for some rhizome barrier to be installed, but for now Ted will just deal with the rhizomes that go under the deck, knocking down the shoots (a long 2x4 would probably work) and chopping rhizomes as they emerge from the other side. I expect this is a short-term solution though.

My "payment" for helping with this project? I got to take as many rhizomes home as I wanted:

Not that I need more bamboo, especially a common variety like this, but I'll pot them up and turn them into starter plants. The shoot buds look ready to go, but haven't started elongating yet. That's a good thing, since this species shouldn't shoot for another month or so -- early shoots due to warm weather are in danger from late freezes.

The second bamboo Ted grows is Pleioblastus shibuyanus 'Tsuboi' -- a variegated groundcover bamboo in our climate. Ted did not know the name but it looked like Tsuboi to me -- before I could ask he said that it puts up flowers. That confirms the ID, as Tsuboi has been in flower for a few years. Unfortunately, flowering usually results in the death of the plant. (Maybe this control project will take care of itself?)

We didn't get time to work on controlling this guy, but Ted let me dig up a chunk. I'll pot it and see if I can get it to survive, or at least give me some viable seed.

Today gave me a fun few hours of tiring digging. For some reason I always find it rewarding to work in somebody else's garden though -- I should do more of that this year. I have lots of neighbors who seem to be getting more interested in plants (it probably helps that I keep giving plants away), so maybe I can help with a few projects this year.

I hope Ted will continue the work we started... I'll bug him about it every couple of weeks or so until he says that he's got it finished or until he asks for more help. Sometimes big projects like this just need a little external stimulus to get rolling, right?

He offered to return the favor and help me dig in my garden when I need it. That offer could come in handy if I decide to remove one of my bamboos later this year. You think removing some misbehaving rhizomes was a good workout Ted? Wait until you have to completely remove a plant -- you'll cancel the gym membership!

One of my reasons for volunteering for this project is to keep bamboo from getting a bad rap. As Ted's garden shows, it's a beautiful plant that can offer privacy, shade, an exotic flavor, and year-round green -- you only need to do a little yearly maintenance to ensure that it doesn't get out of control and make your neighbors start looking for a lawyer.


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Ted Wight  – (March 12, 2012 at 9:25 AM)  

Digging bamboo should be part of the Iron Man competition!

Thank you for motivating me and helping!

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (March 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM)  

That is a beautiful grove for sure! I'm glad you were able to help. Looks like you got a great workout!

My little Tsuboi has been flowering for three years but it's still alive. I have a couple of small seedlings but they're plain green.

Anonymous –   – (March 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM)  

That is a beautiful grove, but wow, what a lot of work managing bamboo can be! And what a lucky guy to have your expert mind and strong work helping with that task. -kate

Alan  – (March 12, 2012 at 2:20 PM)  

Kate: It's only a lot of work if you skip a few years. If Ted had been cutting the rhizomes every year it wouldn't have gotten out of control. :-)

M  – (March 12, 2012 at 5:25 PM)  

That is a excellent bamboo grove, can't stress enough on Alan's last statement.


Steve Lau  – (March 13, 2012 at 11:37 AM)  

Managing groves can be much easier than it looks. After shooting season, rhizomes are basically drained of their energy, and severing any connection between the rhizomes and the culms will cause them to eventually rot away since most of the energy is forced into the new shoots.

Whenever I rhizome prune my yellow groove bamboo, I never dig out the rhizome/root mass.

Unknown  – (October 26, 2015 at 8:34 AM)  

im in the uk and have rhizomes under my deck that i can't get at un less i dig up the deck ,do i need to dig up the deck or will they die eventually

Alan  – (October 27, 2015 at 7:15 AM)  

Elaine: If you sever them from the main plant then remove any shoots that come up (under the deck) -- or some other way ensure that no leaves form on them under the deck, those rhizomes will die. It's an ongoing process though -- you'll need to sever the new rhizomes each year.

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