Bamboo is not necessarily a good choice

a tree in a forest: Golden bamboo provides a visual screen in the author’s yard, and might even provide some “food for thought” for resident pandas. (Contributed)

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Golden bamboo provides a visual screen in the author’s yard, and might even provide some “food for thought” for resident pandas. (Contributed)

My mother-in-law, Margaret Bauer, loved bamboo and this may be an understatement. She had a grove of golden bamboo that extended 60 feet along the north side of her house. My husband tried tirelessly to convince her to let him remove it – to no avail.

Several years after her passing, we remodeled her home in preparation for it becoming our “retirement” home. My husband’s first task was to remove the bamboo, which had insinuated itself under the driveway, into the sewer line and had even explored under the house’s foundation.

Removing bamboo is a formidable endeavor. Work on this project continued until, when almost finished, we visualized the bolt of lightning that might strike when the last cane and rhizomes of bamboo were removed. This gave us pause.

How could we honor Maggie’s love for bamboo while at the same time controlling an invasive species? The decision – we saved the bamboo at the eastern edge of the plot, dug a two-foot-deep trench around it (leaving room for expansion) and filled the trench with concrete. This not only encapsulated the bamboo but allowed the bamboo to create a visual screen for an unsightly area of our yard.

Just to be safe from that bolt of lightning, we added bamboo-motif glass to our front door.

Bamboo (Poaceae) is a beautiful, evergreen, giant grass which has woody stems. These stems can be found in various colors. With the exception of clumping bamboo, all varieties spread by rhizomes. Bamboo is separated into four categories:

1. Dwarf – Which grow to be somewhere between 1 and 10 feet in height. Dwarf bamboo is often used for erosion control.

2. Running – which are moderate in height (10 to 30 feet). This includes the golden bamboo, which is in our landscape and is very invasive.

3. Giant – These grow to be from 25 to 55 feet tall and as large as 6 inches in diameter. Timber bamboo is a plant of legend.

4. Clumping – This is the only non-invasive bamboo. It has a fountain like growth pattern. You can keep this type of bamboo in check by breaking off new shoots as they emerge.

Some interesting facts about bamboo are that when the stems (culms) emerge from the ground they are at their full diameter. Depending on the variety, bamboo will flower every 10 to 120 years and each flowering period can last for 2 to 7 years. After flowering, bamboo tends to die out but can sometimes be revived with judicious watering and feeding.

I can remember when Maggie’s golden bamboo began to die out. She was devastated. When she checked around, she discovered that all over the world golden bamboo was dying. That is another fact about bamboo – each variety of bamboo, no matter where they are on the planet, has the same time line. That is to say that they all flower at the same time and die out at the same time. Of course, a few of Maggie’s survived and here we are continuing to tend them.

If you are intent on growing bamboo you will probably want to consider planting the clumping kind. These are easily controlled and are very appealing. If you decide on a more invasive type, the answer is no, we do not give starts (as any number of our neighbors can attest). Of course, your other choice would be to adopt a very hungry panda.

Happy gardening and please watch out for invasive species.

The Red Bluff Garden Club Inc. is a member of the Cascade District Garden Club, California Garden Clubs, Inc.; Pacific Region Garden Clubs, and National Garden Clubs, Inc.

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