Bamboo has always had a bad rap from gardeners primarily because many home owners have planted invasive varieties. It would often be found clogging the whole side of someone’s backyard as the owner viciously attacked it year after year trying to keep it under control. How to grow bamboo in your garden, without it taking over, has been an unknown for so long that gardeners steer away from growing it.
So many gardeners have just walked away from it after hearing years of horror stories that it’s never a consideration when buying new plants. And justifiably so. Most gardeners would view bamboo in the same way as pampas grass.
But, even though Yahoo! Answers are constantly sporting questions from concerned gardeners about how to keep a rein on their bamboo groves doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed.
Yet they have. Invasive varieties are being sold more rarely these days as clumping versions become the new trend in bamboo growing. These cooler climate varieties sourced from the high altitudes of the Himalayas and South America are suitable for most gardens – even small gardens.
The difference between a clumping bamboo and an invasive variety is that the clumping variety will not send up shoots outside of it’s root ball while an invasive variety will. In fact, an invasive bamboo can send shoots out as far as the neighbours yard and continue growing from there.
So which varieties of bamboo can you grow without losing your garden?
Paul Whittaker, from PW Plants in Norfolk, is probably the most informative expert on the subject. He has won gold at Chelsea with his bamboo displays and has even written a book on the subject, demystifying the art of growing bamboo.
Best Clumping Bamboo Varieties
Whittaker recommends three different species of bamboo for the home garden;
- Fargesia – a variety that hails from the highlands of China with colourful canes (great as a piece of art) and fine foliage.
- Chusquea – this variety grows natively in the Chilean Andes. They are usually fast growing and prefer a cooler climate and high rainfall.
- Thamnocalamus – this beauty resides in the Himalayas and prefers a cooler clime. It does better without sun and likes a sheltered position.
Most of the clumping bamboos grow much smaller than their invasive counterparts as well. These three types will usually grow no more than 4m (13ft) with a spread of around 2m (5ft). This is a bonus for home gardeners who want to add the diversity of bamboo but don’t have the room to contain a large species.
Does this spell the end of seeing invasive varieties stocked in nurseries?
Not necessarily. Whittaker quite rightly points out that their are still uses for these fast growing types. If you need to quickly grow a windbreak or retain a sloping backyard, a spreading bamboo would be a very suitable choice. The problems occur when gardeners don’t understand the roles these different varieties play and ignorantly plant an aggressive type.
What if you already have an aggressive bamboo species in your garden?
Don’t despair. These can still be grown effectively without ongoing problems. The key for knowing how to grow bamboo when it’s a spreading variety is ‘containment’.
If the bamboo has currently spread further than you would like then you will need to start digging it up in the areas where it shouldn’t be growing. Then, create a ring around the bamboo clump using a thick plastic (minimum 1-2mm) or some galvanized sheeting. Make sure this ring is set at a depth of 40cm (15 in) and is level with the ground. This will ensure that the bamboo can’t spread outside of this area.
You may have shoots return from areas where you originally cut it back. These will just need to be vigilantly removed until they stop appearing but the clump should now be safe to remain where it is.