Bamboo growing in a yard

Sometimes your backyard makeover needs a makeover. Maybe your tastes have changed over time, or something isn’t quite working with the space. Maybe, as in the case of Aaron Rivera - Al’s tree and shrub buyer - you notice the bamboo that you planted five years ago has become an escape artist when you weren’t looking, and has migrated into areas of the yard where they’re not supposed to be.

In this week’s backyard makeover, we’re going to “makeover the makeover”, as we learn why Aaron chose this often misunderstood and vilified plant (from the grass family), how he installed it five years ago, and what happened in those subsequent years to lead him back for some fixes.

Have you heard dire warnings against using bamboo in your landscape? From HOA disputes to neighbors at war, bamboo has gotten a bad rap for being an invasive spreader. When you talk about planting bamboo, your neighbors shudder and immediately think of the fast spreading variety, mainly of the Phyllostachys genus. And yes, many bamboo experts want you to beware and be careful when planting that type of bamboo. But the world of bamboo is not entirely forbidden; there are ways to enjoy the many varieties of this plant.

Here’s what Aaron did

Aaron chose Giant Timber Bamboo that does tend to send out runners. Considering the space and function of the plant, this was the right plant for the space. Aaron was looking for something with height to screen the view of his neighbor’s roof, but didn’t want obscure his hillside view. That’s a tall order for any plant, but this bamboo was up to the challenge. They placed it in the back corner of their lot where a little spreading would be welcome, and enjoyed the rustling of the leaves in the breeze and the shade it provided in the summer. Bamboo are tough as nails and having a low maintenance plant at the back of your property is never a bad thing.

That was five years ago. Then one day this year Aaron walked out and saw shoots of bamboo where none were supposed to be. What happened? Aaron had installed a bamboo barrier: a roll of heavy duty rigid plastic sheeting about 36” inches wide. He placed it in a ditch around the bamboo and drilled together a stainless steel clamp where the ends overlap. Yet in spite all of this armor, there were still shoots outside the barrier.

As Aaron thinks back, he figures that it must have been about a year and a half ago when he was rototilling near the plant and tore a 4-5 inch hole in the bamboo barrier. This small gap allowed the rhizome to send shoots across the yard, and until this year remained hidden as they made their way to the surface. He removed the 4x8 foot mass of rhizome with an axe, nearly doubling the size of his existing plant visible above ground, and gifted a portion of it to a friend who thankfully has a yard protected in concrete.

The roots, including rhizomes, are only about 12 inches deep so after re-laying the bamboo barrier, Aaron made sure that the barrier protruded above the soil by 4 inches, so that the escape artist reveals its shoots before it can jump the barrier and Aaron can clip them back to maintain control.

For those of you who can relate to Aaron’s experience with your own traveling bamboo, the Bamboo Garden website provides step by step instructions for creating a fully enclosed or open sided barrier system.

If you are looking for a bamboo without the work of chasing after shoots, Al’s carries a number of fargesia - or clumping bamboo - that are beautiful, grow to impressive heights and fullness perfectly suited for backyards. The clumping bamboo will expand in width over time but with a little pruning can be easily kept under control.