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 Techniques for maintaining and root pruning bamboo  
 Bamboo is not difficult to control if you follow the basic rhizome pruning and barrier methods outlined in the article below. You can always contact us for more information:
503-647-2700 bamboo@bamboogarden.com

Overview: Controlling the Spread of Bamboo
Part I: root pruning
  
 
Part II: installing open sided barrier
   

Part III: installing fully enclosed barrier around an existing grove
Part IV: How to prune Clumping Bamboo
Part V: Thinning a bamboo grove

Part VI: Removing bamboo
purchase rhizome barrier





Tools!
Overview:   Controlling the Spread of Bamboo
     The key to successful bamboo control is learning how to prune the rhizomes. Removing shoots and canes above ground level merely hides the evidence; it does not prevent spreading. Although plastic Rhizome Barrier is now used extensively and sold by many vendors, including us, we believe root pruning should be the first option. Any bamboo grower should familiarize themselves with basic root pruning techniques, even if using barrier. Providing a thorough education is one of our top priorities. We believe anyone who sells bamboo has an obligation to give clear and accurate information about the nature of bamboo and how to master it. Consider the following proactive methods for taming bamboo.

      Part I: Root Pruning
      Bi-annual root pruning around the edge of a running bamboo is the most effective way to achieve long-term control.
Fortunately, rhizomes are usually very shallow rooted and prefer to grow in loose topsoil 2-5 inches beneath the surface. Root pruning is achieved by working around the bamboo with a sharp spade, driving it into the ground and removing the wayward rhizome. One can generally feel the rhizome as the spade cuts it. The rhizome can be cut back to about two feet from the parent plant, or to wherever bamboo growth is desired. It is necessary to leave some rhizome attached so that the bamboo can produce healthy new shoots in the spring. Cut off and completely remove the rhizomes that are discovered outside of their designated area. Small segments of rhizomes can rejuvenate so make sure to be thorough. The smaller, leftover feeder-roots will not grow into new bamboo plants. A ripper on the back of a tractor works well for edging long distances.

   Although digging rhizomes seems challenging, with careful planning, conditions can be created that simplify this task. One can maintain a shallow trench (8-12 inches deep by 12 inches wide) to control the spread of rhizomes. Check for creeping rhizomes a couple of times in the late summer and early fall to see if any of them have tried to cross the trench. If so, cut and remove them. After doing this a few times one learns where the rhizomes are most likely to be, and therefore, where to check more frequently. Because rhizomes are
shallow, they often poke out the side of the trench. If a trench is impractical for the area, it can be filled with a loose media, such as sand, which is easy to dig into for root cutting. If one side is inaccessible for pruning, one can install an open-sided barrier and root prune along the edge that is easy to access.
      Planting bamboo on berms or in raised beds is useful because the loose, rich topsoil provides a healthy growing area and the rhizome can predictably be found in the upper layer. Once the rhizome comes out of the edge of the berm it can be easily found and cut. Loose topsoil makes it easy to remove long runners. Bamboo has difficulty running down a slope or over a ledge and often exposes itself in the process. The use of river rock or pebbles to decorate the ground beneath the bamboo is not advised. Fallen leaves will quickly cover them and ultimately the bamboo roots will engulf them. This makes root pruning or digging in the future much more difficult. Tools will blunt and break against rocks. The occasional well-placed boulder or cement pagoda is a good compromise.
        Well thought maintenance plans are often a combination of these techniques. For instance, creating a raised berm, trenching around the bamboo, and then root pruning is more effective than only trenching or root pruning. Combining and mastering all three techniques will give you the most experience and control over your bamboo.


       If you plan to use barrier to control the spread of running bamboo, it is important to install it properly to ensure its effectiveness. Please read over the installation steps below.  OPEN SIDED BARRIER   is a good choice for long term health and bamboo control. It requires annual root pruning on the side left open. There are some advantages to doing this, mainly it will prevent bamboo from becoming too root bound within an small, enclosed space. It also assures that the planting area has adequate drainage which is especially important in certain areas that collect a lot of water in the winter. It is often used to create a border along a fence line or property line if your main concern is keeping good neighborly relations.  An open-sided barrier (half circle or U-shape) will focus the rhizomes in one direction, thus reducing and simplifying the area that needs annual pruning.  This is a good technique to use for small areas (less than 30 feet total circumference), or if you are planning to dig divisions of  the original plant at a later date.  The stainless steel clamp is not needed for these applications.  See this link for installation tips:  Installing an open-sided barrier

 
     Check around the perimeter of the barrier once or twice a year, removing any rhizomes trying to escape over the top of the barrier or rhizomes that track just underground along the edges.  Avoid digging too close to the barrier with a sharp tool or anything that could potentially damage the barrier, and never allow a mower or any other machinery to damage the protruding edges.  This could cause the rhizomes (underground spreading stems) to escape undetected.  The use of bark mulch or other loose, organic substances spread 2 to 5 inches deep over the top of your planting area within the barrier encourages the rhizomes to spread just inches below the surface, making them very easy to locate and prune.  It also makes for a healthier bamboo!  It is recommended that you annually prune any rhizomes that track along the edges of your barrier as, over a several year period, they can build up a tremendous amount of pressure which, in some cases, can eventually cause the barrier to fail.

RHIZOME SAND TRAP

Photo Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
3 yr old daughter, Iris, packing down the sand in the rhizome sand trap designed for root pruning.  Phyllostachys bambusoides "Japanese Timber Bamboo"
 
Photo Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden      Caution!   Rhizome crossing 
  leaf mulch pulled away to reveal several rhizomes.

Photo Dain Sansome
A shallow pruning trench will enable one to cut off rhizomes as they attempt to cross. The trench should be thoroughly checked twice per year, in mid summer and again in the fall. It can be filled with sand or other loose media that can be dug through with ease.

Photo Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Pruning the underground rhizomes around the perimeter of your bamboo planting area once in Summer and in Fall during their active growth period is the best way to control the bamboo and prevent it from spreading.  This should always be considered as the first option, and, if the area inaccessible for pruning, install the rhizome barrier.  Remember: Barrier does not stop the bamboo from growing. It forces the underground rhizomes to grow in a certain direction. A bamboo enclosed inside a barrier still needs annual maintenance for long term health and control.


Photo Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Click on photo to see larger image.  This is a very tall P. vivax with a root pruning trench around the perimeter.

Photo Ned Jaquith, Bamboo Garden



  Digging timber bamboo with King of Spades shovels and Bamboo Slammers. 
Video produced by Noah Bell, 2013

King of Spades
Essential tools for bamboo maintenance.
We now sell the King of Spades root cutting shovel (13" blade, long handle) and the Bamboo Slammer: excellent, professional grade tools, for cutting rhizomes and digging bamboo.  We have been using both for many years at the nursery, highly recommended. (see link for more info)

Bamboo slammer (right)
Part II:  Installing an Open Sided Barrier
(for barrier pricing see this page:
Bamboo Rhizome Barrier)

OPEN SIDED BARRIER   
-- a good choice for long term health and bamboo control. It requires annual root pruning on the side left open. There are some advantages to doing this, mainly it will prevent bamboo from becoming too root bound within an small, enclosed space. It also assures that the planting area has adequate drainage which is especially important in certain areas that collect a lot of water in the winter.
       It is often used to create a border along a fence line or property line if your main concern is keeping good neighborly relations.  An open-sided barrier (half circle or U-shape) will focus the rhizomes in one direction, thus reducing and simplifying the area that needs annual pruning.  This is a good technique to use for small areas (less than 30 feet total circumference), or if you are planning to dig divisions of  the original plant at a later date.  The stainless steel clamp is not needed for these applications.

A site about 12 feet in length has been selected to create a bamboo privacy screen.

The barrier trench is dug on three sides.

A double lined barrier is installed on three sides leaving one side open for root pruning.  This is important for maintaining a healthy bamboo screen in a small growing area.

The lip of the barrier is higher than normal because the bamboo planting area is raised up on a 6-8 inch berm; this is useful for root pruning as the rhizomes usually spread within the upper four inches of  the top soil.  The outer edge of the berm should be checked by cutting into the soil with a sharp spade two to three times per year in the summer through fall during the bamboo's active spreading phase. Remove any rhizome attempting to spread out of the berm.

5 Gallon Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' below have been intermixed with P. aureosulcata 'Harbin Inversa' to create a colorful screen.  In three years they will achieve 20+ feet in height with enough density to block view of the neighbors.




This video was created by one of our customers. They do a great job of applying everything they learned from us about installing rhizome barrier in an open sided configuration, and planting the bamboo with the right blend of top soil.  They have VERY rocky soil as well, so this job was particularly difficult. This is a great video, it covers all the basics. Thank you Eric, for the nice compliments about our nursery.




Photos Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
Here is a collection of Open Sided Barrier projects for visual reference.  Click photos for larger image.
 

Open sided barrier
 

another good example
 

Alphonso, harvesting rhizome from around a grove of P. dulcis

Carmen, dividing the rhizome to put into pots.
 
More photos of installing open sided barrier
(for barrier pricing see this page: Bamboo Rhizome Barrier)


1)  Site selection

 

2) Digging the trench, lower view

3) Digging the trench, upper view

4) installing two parallel layers of barrier for added protection when growing large Timber Bamboo

5) Bamboo has been installed and Matt is applying mushroom compost topdressing.

Phyllostachys bambusoides planted with soaker hose.

Part III: Fully Enclosed Barrier

Matt, digging a 28" deep trench around the bamboo, carefully removing any rhizomes encountered.
A poorly maintained Phyllostachys nigra and Pseudosasa japonica  have escaped a make-shift fiberglass barrier and snuck under an old fence that has just been removed to make way for rhizome barrier installation.



A narrow trench about 28 inches deep is being dug around the perimeter of the intended growing area. Any rhizomes encountered are cut and removed. Tarps have been spread around the designated trench line to catch the soil and help contain the mess. This is also helpful for back filling the trench after the barrier is installed.  


The barrier is installed and stainless steel clamp secured where  the ends come together.  An electric drill is useful for making holes in the barrier to fasten the nuts and bolts.  Because this barrier is only 30 feet in circumference, we have double lined the material for added protection.   The soil needs to be thoroughly compacted by stomping around the trench several times during the back filling process.

The top two to four inches of the barrier must remain visible so as to detect rhizomes trying to escape over the top. A 3 to 5 inch layer of mulch will draw the rhizomes up near the surface which makes root pruning an easy task.  Once per year, just beneath the surface of the mulch along the inside edge of the barrier, one should carefully cut and remove any rhizomes which have grown along it.  Although you can get away with almost no maintenance for a few years, root pruning is very important for long term healthy bamboo and functional barrier.















All photos on this page Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden


Barrier price and written instructions

Clumping Bamboo can be pruned to maintain upright growth
(click on each photo for a larger image)

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
1. A large, sprawling Fargesia murielae, is about 6 years old, 12 feet tall, and 12 feet wide. Notice that the canopy is about 3 times the width of the base.

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
A view from the other side. These photos were taken after a harsh winter at Bamboo Garden. Its time for a spring clean up.

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
2. I have started cutting the most weepy canes at the outer base of the plant.

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
3. About 10 % of the outer canes are removed by cutting them back to ground level.

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
4. Some of the taller canes that weep outward a little too far are topped by cutting them just above a node, about 2-3 feet down from the top. This causes them to stand more upright.

photo copyright: Noah Bell, Bamboo Garden
5. The job is finished and cut canes moved to the debris recycling area. This took about 30 minutes, using only a small hand pruner. If done once a year, any clumping bamboo can be kept tidy and upright, if that is what is desired.
See this link for photos and descriptions of the
thinning process of a bamboo grove:


 
Timber Bamboo  (Phyllostachys)   
30 to 70 ft. tall
Mid-sized Bamboo (Phyllostachys)
15 to 30 ft tall
Cold-hardy Clumping Bamboo       
6 to 25 ft. tall
Cold-sensitive Clumping Bamboo
 6 to 50 ft. tall
Other Running Bamboo               
6 to 25 ft. tall
Small Running Bamboo                
1 to 8 ft. tall
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Matt aka "Nightcrawler" showing gritty determination necessary for this kind of work.