Bamboo is a gorgeous evergreen plant that has many uses in the garden. You can use it to create a natural privacy screen, hide an unsightly fence, or plant it as a decorative statement. But is bamboo invasive?
Yes, bamboo is an invasive species. It grows so rapidly. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing plant. It can grow up to 1.6 inches (4cm) per second and 36 inches (91 cm) within 24 hours. This is why it’s considered so threatening to other plants and structures.
In this article, I’ll look at what you need to know before planting bamboo. I’ll explore its pros and cons and feature advice on the legal side of things in the United States. I’ll also look at the various bamboo uses in the garden.
Why Use Bamboo in Your Garden?
Bamboo is an evergreen perennial flowering plant that’s a popular garden choice because it looks good and provides shade on hot summer days. It also makes a beautiful soothing sound when the wind blows, adding to its appeal.
Bamboo is an easy plant to look after and doesn’t require lots of maintenance. It originates from tropical and subtropical climates, so you’re likely to find it in Asia, South America, parts of Africa and Australia, and some parts of the southern United States.
Bamboo grows quickly, and here’s why:
- Bamboo shoots have a rhizome or underground stem connected to the parent plant. These shoots don’t have to grow leaves until they reach their full height, which speeds up their growth process.
- Bamboo is a plant that grows with the same diameter throughout its life. It doesn’t need growth rings that thicken its stalk in the same way that woody plants require those. Instead, it grows upwards as a single stick.
Bamboo can become invasive. If you’re worried about this in your garden, you should plant clumping bamboo instead of running bamboo.
Clumping bamboo has limited spread, stretching about an inch (2.54cm) every year.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Bamboo in Your Garden
Before you grow bamboo in your garden, you should know its pros and cons.
- Bamboo comes in wide varieties. Bamboo has approximately 1,200 varieties, and you can find bamboo plants in many colors and heights. Some have different requirements for their growth – some bamboo plants need bright sunlight, while others want some shade.
- Bamboo is good for the environment. Bamboo absorbs greenhouse gases damaging the ozone layer while releasing oxygen. Since bamboo is renewable, it can help to save rainforests.
- Bamboo is strong. If you’re using bamboo to create a privacy screen in the garden, you won’t have to worry about it breaking apart because it’s strong. In fact, bamboo has a greater tensile strength than steel.
- Bamboo isn’t damaged by harvesting. Many trees will be damaged when harvested, but not bamboo. Since it doesn’t get killed after being harvested, it doesn’t have to be felled, preventing negative effects like soil erosion.
- Bamboo can threaten native plants. Since bamboo plants grow rapidly, they can threaten other plants that are growing in the garden.
- Bamboo can damage garden structures. Bamboo roots travel a lot, so running bamboo can easily push through structures such as patios, drains, and brickwork.
Bamboo as Decoration
Bamboo can be used effectively in different landscape designs, such as in Asian and Western gardens. When decorating with bamboo, bear these points in mind depending on the type of garden you want to achieve.
Asian gardens are designed with serenity and balance in mind. This is why they use natural elements and iconic Asian plants like bamboo.
Using tree pathways through the garden and trees is also advised to create beauty and a sense of calm. You can add bamboo plants as decoration along the path.
Another idea is to create an arbor. This structure isn’t just used for decorative purposes as it can be a place to get shade on hot summer days or separate different garden areas.
From a practical perspective, bamboo has been used to support plants and small trees because it’s flexible while having a lot of strength.
But, it also features in western gardens in other, more prominent ways, such as screens or fencing. These are becoming popular in North America.
Another popular way to use bamboo is to grow hedges. An example of a bamboo variety that’s suitable for growing as a hedge is robusta, as it reaches a height of about 10-15 feet (3-4.6m) while being compact to enhance privacy.
If you want to grow a live fence out of bamboo to prevent neighbors or people on the street from looking into your garden, you should consider the following:
- Decide if you want to grow bamboo in the ground or in containers. This might depend on the size of your fence. Container-bound bamboo is an excellent way to contain the plant’s roots so that it will be encouraged to maintain its hedge shape. This also avoids potential problems, such as when bamboo spreads its roots and damaging boundary walls.
- Choose a clumping variety. While a running bamboo variety will grow faster than a clumping one, which is great if you want your fence to provide privacy quickly, it spreads very quickly. Clumping varieties are usually recommended instead, especially regarding laws in your state (which we’ll get to in the next section).
- Choose bamboo with straight canes. Bamboo varieties with straight canes will give you more privacy because they grow upright. An example is Phyllostachys glauca (hedge bamboo). It also serves decorative purposes because it has blue-green shoots that grow upright. It reaches a height of between 15 and 25 feet (4.6-7.62m).
You should avoid bamboo that has uneven shapes when growing a live fence and reserve these as statement plants elsewhere in the garden.
To learn more about how to gain more privacy in the garden, we have a great guide on how to block a neighbor’s view.
Is Bamboo Illegal in the US?
Bamboo isn’t illegal in the US, but there are rules and regulations about its growth. These are largely aimed at reducing its spread, which can be damaging to nearby structures. Some bamboo varieties are even absolutely prohibited in certain US states.
In New York, for example, two bamboo species are prohibited – the Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) and Yellow Grove (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) because they spread easily.
On the other hand, Rhode Island has adopted the Protection From Invasive Species Act, which prohibits planting running bamboo varieties closer than 100 feet (30m) from a property line.
To prevent your bamboo plants from becoming invasive, planting them in containers is insisted. Not following this rule can damage structures, which you will be responsible for paying.
Rules regarding bamboo vary from one region to the next. So, before planting bamboo, it’s essential to check the regulations in your city or state.
How to Plant Bamboo in the Garden
Although some varieties of bamboo want to grow in a sunny area of the garden, others want to be in an area that gets some shade because direct light can be too harsh for them and scorch their leaves.
Bamboo plants aren’t fussy about their soil pH, which makes them easy to grow. Here are some tips to follow:
- Dig a hole in the ground that’s about twice the size of the plant’s root.
- Mix compost into the hole. This will help to boost the nutrient content of the soil.
- Place the bamboo plant into the hole. You want the root mass to be level with the surface of the ground.
- Add more compost to the soil and fill it up.
- Water the bamboo well. Most bamboo varieties want to be planted in well-draining, moist soil.
Bamboo Garden Maintenance
To ensure your bamboo grows healthy, you need the correct maintenance tools and products. These tools include:
- Mulch: Use an organic mulch that will nourish the plant’s soil. Grass clippings that are rich in nitrogen can work well to nourish the bamboo.
- Pruning shears/hand pruners: You should thin out the bamboo plants to prevent them from spreading. You can do this with pruning shears or hand pruners. Cut new shoots at ground level when you see them start to grow, and remove old or diseased branches annually.
If you want to prevent your running bamboo from spreading and becoming invasive, you need to install a barrier in the ground. This barrier must completely surround the bamboo plants to contain it.
Here’s how to install a barrier for your bamboo.
- Dig a trench that’s about two feet (0.6m) deep.
- Place a solid barrier along the sides of the trench. You can use corrugated iron sheets or plastic.
- Overlap the barrier you’re using so that there are no holes or gaps through which the bamboo roots will be able to grow.
- Allow the barrier to stick out of the ground by a few inches (approx. 7cm). This will prevent the plant from growing over the top.
How to Kill Bamboo That’s Spread Too Much
If you want to kill bamboo that’s already become invasive, there are various methods. Two of the most effective ones are to use grass herbicides or boiling water.
- Grass herbicides: These are essentially pesticides that kill bamboo plants. Spray the new shoots on the bamboo plant as soon as possible so that the products will be highly effective, as MasterClass teaches.
- Boiling water: Pour boiling water on the plants to reduce and stop their growth. To do this, first, dig around the plant with a spade so that you can see the roots. Pour the boiling water directly onto the roots. You will have to pour more water whenever you see new root growth.
Bamboo is a beautiful and sustainable plant that adds charm to your garden and offers practical benefits, such as structural strength and privacy when used as a screen.
However, there are some important things to consider before planting bamboo, such as that it’s quite invasive, and when its roots spread underground, it can damage walls and other structures.
We hope this guide helped you realize both the aesthetic benefits and potential negative effects bamboos can have. Happy gardening!