Bamboo – Just Don’t Plant It!

Bamboo plants
Bamboo Plant

Recently, I have investigated two complaints from residents who are concerned that bamboo planted by a neighbor is spreading into their yard or HVL greenspaces. Unfortunately, there is no HVL rule prohibiting the planting of bamboo, but as your Natural Resources Coordinator, I strongly discourage it. Much of the bamboo sold at local nurseries and big box stores is non-native and VERY invasive. It spreads via rhizomes that extend outwards from the main clump about 12” underground. Mature running bamboo usually spreads 3-5 feet per year but can spread up to 15 feet!

While you may like the idea of having a quick-growing privacy screen, planting running bamboo is one of the most un-neighborly things you can do. You cannot contain running bamboo on your own property and you place a burden on your unsuspecting neighbors to control it. To control bamboo, one has to mow down shoots that appear in a lawn or manually cut shoots that appear in wooded areas (if you can spot them when they are small). Once the shoot is cut off, the underground rhizome must be uprooted and cut back at the main clump. Since you will doubtless miss much of the root system, you must continually watch for resprouting and spray the new invaders with glyphosate. Don’t believe the claims that metal hedging barriers will work given all the rocks in our local clay soil.

Supposedly, there is a group of varieties called “clumping bamboo”. Don’t be fooled – these also spread, just more slowly. There are also some species of bamboo native to the southern U.S. such as River Cane and Switch Cane, but as you can infer from the names, these grow best in moist, loamy soils along streams. Please avoid planting any of these in HVL. (There is also a non-native flowering evergreen shrub called “heavenly bamboo” (Nandina domestica) sold at local nurseries that is not really a bamboo.)

Bottlebrush Buckeye
Bottlebrush Buckeye

Plant this instead – If you want to plant a privacy screen, I suggest a native shrub like bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) or red buckeye (A. pavia). These grow more slowly, so you will need to be patient, but they also have the benefit of attracting pollinators and occasionally developing nuts.

If you have planted running bamboo, please be a good neighbor and remove it immediately. We encourage you to always plant native, non-invasive species so that we don’t create another environmental monster like honeysuckle, garlic mustard, stilt-grass, kudzu, etc…

Submitted by Linda Hartmann,
HVL Natural Resources Coordinator

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