Maintenance: bamboo control

On this blog I like to mix "pretty" posts with useful ones, sometimes even getting a post that is both. Unfortunately, today's isn't so pretty. If you grow bamboo though (or are thinking about growing it), it should be useful.

It's somewhat of a tale of neglect and how to deal with the consequences, as I've had a bamboo escape due to my own inactions.


First of all, if you're growing a running bamboo and see a shoot come up where you didn't expect one, don't panic.

This is my Semiarundinaria okuboi planting, which has escaped its designated area:

The 2-foot tall shoots in the lawn are the first sign that I've been lazy. Really lazy.

You see, in 2011 I dug a nice, deep trench around this planting and filled it with mulch:

The idea behind that was to make it easy to find any rhizomes that were trying to escape, and cut them in the trench. Digging in soft, loose mulch would be easier than rhizome pruning around this planting each year, as the rhizomes on this species go deeper than many others.

The problem was, I never checked the trench for escaping rhizomes last year. Due to a combination of an overly-busy work schedule and a too-hot summer, I just couldn't bring myself to get out there and do it. It was always one of those "I'll do it next weekend" projects.

Well, "next weekend" is finally here, many months too late.

Look at all of the shoots in the trench!

But as I said before: don't panic. It's only been a single year that I've skipped, so the out-of-bounds rhizome problem can't be too bad.

First step is to sever all of those rhizomes from the parent plant:

I did this using my mattock, digging through the soft mulch in the trench (which has broken down quite a bit).

There were lots of rhizomes which I cut, broke, pulled -- I just wanted to be sure that the shoots in the lawn had no connection back to the main plant.

Then I just cut down all of the shoots that I didn't want:

Problem solved!

Sure, this job took me about 30 minutes, and it would have been easier if I was doing it while the rhizomes were still new and therefore softer (rather than being a year old) -- it also would have been nicer if the bamboo wasn't soaking wet from an overnight rain -- but this escape is now back under control.

I only potted up one little division.

I may have a few more shoots pop up in the lawn, as the severed rhizomes do their best to survive by creating some leaves, but I'll knock those down too -- as many times as needed. The rhizome pieces will eventually exhaust their energy and die. If I let any of these shoots form new leaves though, they'll feed the rhizomes, keeping them alive.

Note that these "survival shoots" should be much smaller than those from the first flush. If they're not it could mean that I missed a rhizome, so I'll go back to the trench, dig a bit deeper and check.

So that's how you deal with escaped bamboo. It's also how you remove bamboo from an area you don't want it in: cut the rhizomes to disconnect from the mother plant, then cut down all of the shoots or culms in the forbidden zone. Keep removing the survival shoots, and you'll eventually kill the rhizomes in this area. Then remember to rhizome prune (cut the new rhizomes) every year.

The bad news for me is that I have another Semiarundinaria planting (fastuosa 'Viridis') that may have a couple of escaped rhizomes too. That one is much harder to dig around. We'll soon see. Sigh.


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Steve Lau  – (May 25, 2013 at 12:19 PM)  

I was just around the other Steve's garden the other day, and he had it basically all the way into his yard with both Shanghai III, and parvifolia. The severed sections from the fall produces tons of smaller 5/8 inch shoots, still very viable for divisions.

He also has 1 escaped prominens rhizome which wasn't noticed all of last season, but from a 25 gallon pot of 3/4 inchers, it put out about a dozen culms in the ground this year in the 1 1/3 inch range.

Lisa  – (May 26, 2013 at 12:03 AM)  

You have to really love bamboo! Nothing that I grow could ever escape!

Anonymous –   – (June 16, 2014 at 8:19 PM)  

Is there a non-invasive bamboo that would grow in Indiana (zone 5).? I love Japanese trees, plants, etc.

Alan  – (June 17, 2014 at 10:52 AM)  

Anon: Fargesia 'Rufa' is a clumping bamboo that will work. It is a "shrub" type plant though, and won't get more than 8' tall, but will be 10-12' wide at that size.

Lisa –   – (April 7, 2016 at 6:05 PM)  

I carefully installed bamboo rhizome barrier around all my plantings (of Arundinaria Gigantea or Canebreak bamboo), 24" deep and 6" above ground. After about 6 years in the ground, ALL of my plantings show escaped rhizomes! They must've gone deep enough to get below the barrier, which they are not supposed to do. Do you have any suggestions for suppressing the wayward shoots? Thanks, Lisa

Alan  – (April 7, 2016 at 7:24 PM)  

Lisa: I'd be interested to know if the barrier has failed or if the rhizomes went under, but that's probably difficult to find out. I don't use barrier but if I were in your shoes I'd probably dig a trench about 2' out from the barrier and see what the rhizome situation was. I don't think they'd stay that deep after going under, but they could be 12" deep or so. If you can cut all of the rhizomes encircling the plant, then just remove any shoots that come up outside, over and over. Unfortunately you'll need to check the trench (fill with mulch!) every year.

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