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Learn About Bamboo


Bamboo Containment & Control

To understand why runners must be contained, and the difference between runners and clumpers, see our Clumping vs Running Bamboos page.

Custom redwood planter box built with side drainage specifically for bamboo

Runners: Runners should generally be contained if on a property line or in a small yard, even if bordered by surface structures such as brick or cement patio, cement sidewalk or driveway, or shallow walls.

The safest methods for containing running bamboos are:

1) Planting in containers: Planting in planter boxes or other large pots or containers is often the easiest method, especially in small spaces or on patios or decks. However, this will greatly restrict the size any particular species will grow and requires more vigilance in regularly watering.  Also, like any potted plant, bamboo will eventually become root bound, which may require dividing or re-potting to a larger container.

2) Installing high-density polyethylene plastic rhizome barrier: 0.060-0.080″ thick and 26-34 inches deep, vertically around the perimeter of the area in which the bamboo is to be contained (leaving 2 inches of barrier protruding above soil.) This material is thicker than a credit card but more flexible, and comes on a 100 – 300 ft. roll in different widths and thicknesses for different scenarios. (See our prices and barrier selection here.) It can be cut to any length and installed in any shape desired. Even large plantings of bamboo can be surrounded with a single length of plastic, requiring only one seam, which is secured with a barrier strap consisting of two steel plates with six bolts. Our polyethylene geomembrane root barrier is superior to cement and metal (cement often develops cracks, and metal rusts and requires many seams), is less expensive, and can last 20-30 years when installed according to our barrier installation instructions. We typically recommend using the 30″ x 0.060″ barrier for most plants in the Phyllostachys genus.

Note: When planting along a fence line, if there is sufficient space, it is advisable to leave at least an 18-24 inch corridor between the fence and the bamboo barrier to allow a space for maintenance along the back side of the planting area. Also, when planting on very steep slopes or planting very large giant timber runners in soft, sandy soil, it may be necessary to use a 36″ deep root barrier.

Less defined/less secure ways to contain runners are:

3) Water only the area in which the plants are wanted and nowhere else within 10 to 20 feet (in climates that have several dry months). Dry soils are a barrier to root growth. Spreading rhizomes require moisture and grow primarily during the warm summer months when most of the western states are dry. Cutting off new shoots coming up wherever they’re not wanted complements and completes this method.

4) A water-filled stream or ditch can also effectively contain the spread of bamboo, since rhizomes and roots cannot tolerate extended periods of saturation. Water need only be present for one season a year.

In some situations it is easiest to wait and see if there is going to be a problem before implementing containment measures. Many species require 3 years of growth before they begin to spread. Some running bamboos behave as clumpers under certain circumstances, such as lack of exposure to sun or very cold winter temperatures. On a large property where invasion of neighboring land or other parts of a garden are not issues, one may simply let the rhizomes go where they wish and remove new cane shoots by breaking them off if they emerge in any areas where canes are not desired. The tender shoots of larger species may also be harvested for food when just breaking ground. Since the rhizomes generally grow quite shallow, usually within the top 12 inches of soil, roots may also be curbed annually by cutting with a shovel and pulling them out while still young. The hazards of bamboo cultivation are often overstated.

With a certain amount of muscle power and the necessary tools, removal of bamboo IS possible. Please call us to schedule a consultation or removal in the Bay Area. We will also occasionally harvest some unwanted bamboo free of charge, if we have time and have a use for the removed plants. If further advice or clarification is needed, please call us!

Clumpers: With clumpers, it is not necessary, and may be detrimental to surround the plant with a plastic root barrier. When selecting clumpers and planning the space, one must keep in mind that the root ball of a clumper must be allowed to reach a certain diameter all around in order to grow culms of a mature height. The circular space required may vary from 3 to 10 ft. in diameter, or more, depending on size of species. Clumpers cannot adjust their circular shape to a long, narrow space, and height of culms may be limited if too small a space is allowed for the roots.

In addition, clumpers may be shaped and prevented from putting pressure on any surrounding structures (such as a fence or sidewalk) by removing new shoots at soil level when they begin to encroach more closely on those structures. It is advisable to plant a clumping bamboo 2-4 ft. from a fence to allow some room for growth, top spread, and space for maintenance between the bamboo and the fence.

For more information about choosing either runners or clumpers, please see Clumping vs Running Bamboos.