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How do I control my running bamboo's spread?

 

Here on the West Coast we're very lucky; bamboo loves our climate and grows incredibly fast.  A fast growing running bamboo is most likely the quickest way to provide privacy, wind protection, or shade.

Controlling the spread of a running bamboo is usually done from just inches below ground because running bamboo roots are very shallow. Many people have tried to control a running bamboo by cutting down the canes above ground which actually encourages the running bamboo to spread even more below ground. If people only knew that literally inches below their feet lies an easy solution to stop its spread. 

Once you understand the plant, Bamboo becomes easier to maintain than a tree of similar height because it can be maintained from just inches below the ground surface and no ladders or dangerous labor are needed.

Running bamboo spreads from the rhizomes which are usually ivory in color and noticeably thicker and straighter than the other roots. It should be mentioned that clumping bamboo has a different type of rhizome structure that does not spread in the same manner. All that's needed to control a clumping bamboo plant is to chop off the piece of the plant that's no longer wanted. In general clumping bamboo is much slower growing and more bush-like. Running bamboos are generally more vertical in stature and have thicker canes which can be found in all sorts of colors and sizes.

Our favorite method to control a running bamboo is root pruning once per year. To make the job easier we wait until the ground is wet or irrigate it to make it wet so any digging required is easier. Next, stab a pickax into the soil at the perimeter of your bamboo grove to hook any rhizomes that are escaping. If your soil is wet enough, tilting the handle of the embedded pickax away from you will bring the rhizome to the surface. Once pulled up you can decide whether you want to cut the rhizome and throw it away or to re-position it and plant it back into the ground where you want your future culms to come up.

The best time to prune roots is in the fall; by cutting the current season rhizomes at this time they are not able to establish themselves because they are not viable yet. 

In tight spaces when there is not enough room to work around your bamboo the use of a bamboo rhizome barrier is recommended. 


A pond, high water table or trees are good natural barriers for running bamboo.  Most Bamboos will not grow into wet areas and do not like to grow past the drip line of large trees.

In areas with extra hard ground, dig a trench around the perimeter of your bamboo grove and fill it with sand or whatever light material you have to make it even easier to dig out the rhizomes each year.
 
If the above methods of control of running bamboo are not an option in your application; e.g.,too little room with infrastructure in the way, another easy solution is above ground planters such as our custom made cedar bamboo planter box.