A step-by-step guide to
bamboo control

Controlling bamboo spread

Bamboo is a multipurpose plant. It’s edible, beautiful, and ecologically beneficial. But we can only reap those benefits by taking the best care of our plants. Quality bamboo control starts at the very beginning of the planting process. This page covers how to plant bamboo, maintain its growth, and control its spread.

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 HDPE Bamboo 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. 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.    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.

Learn about

Root pruning

The key to successful bamboo control is pruning the rhizomes.

Any bamboo grower should familiarize themselves with basic root pruning techniques, even if using a barrier. Consider the following proactive methods for taming bamboo.

Bi-annual root pruning around the edge of a running bamboo is the most effective way to achieve long-term control. 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.

Cutting rhizomes

Cut off and completely remove the rhizomes that are discovered outside of their designated area. Fortunately, rhizomes are usually very shallow rooted and prefer to grow in loose topsoil (2-5 inches beneath the surface). 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. Small segments of rhizomes can rejuvenate so 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 material, 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.

Rhizome maintenance

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.

Bamboo barriers

If you plan to use barriers to control the spread of running bamboo, it is important to install it properly to ensure its efficacy.

Barriers help to contain growth, spread, and even help with planning your bamboo planting process. Please read over the installation steps for open-sided and fully-enclosed barriers below.

Open Sided Barriers

Installation

Open-sided barriers are ideal for long term health and bamboo control. They require annual root pruning on the side left open. 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. 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. Curious about how to install open-sided barriers?

Click here to learn how to install.

Maintenance

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 single best way to control the bamboo and prevent it from spreading. This should always be considered as the first option, and, if not possible or the area inaccessible for pruning, install the rhizome barrier. Remember: barriers do not stop the bamboo from growing, rather, it forces the underground rhizomes to grow in a certain direction. Bamboo enclosed inside a barrier still needs annual maintenance for long term health and control.

Fully Enclosed Barriers

For more controlled growth, fully-enclosed barriers are a more ideal bamboo installation option. If you are concerned about your bamboo encroaching on a neighbor’s space, or if you’d like to leave room for other plants, follow these steps for installing a fully-enclosed barrier.

Pruning bamboo

If you plan to use barriers to control the spread of running bamboo, it is important to install it properly to ensure its efficacy.

Barriers help to contain growth, spread, and even help with planning your bamboo planting process. Please read over the installation steps for open-sided and fully-enclosed barriers below.

Open Sided Barriers

Installation

Open-sided barriers are ideal for long term health and bamboo control. They require annual root pruning on the side left open. 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. 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. Curious about how to install open-sided barriers?

Click here to learn how to install

Maintenance

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 single best way to control the bamboo and prevent it from spreading. This should always be considered as the first option, and, if not possible or the area inaccessible for pruning, install the rhizome barrier. Remember: barriers do not stop the bamboo from growing, rather, it forces the underground rhizomes to grow in a certain direction. Bamboo enclosed inside a barrier still needs annual maintenance for long term health and control.

Fully Enclosed Barriers

For more controlled growth, fully-enclosed barriers are a more ideal bamboo installation option. If you are concerned about your bamboo encroaching on a neighbor’s space, or if you’d like to leave room for other plants, follow these steps for installing a fully-enclosed barrier.

Thinning a bamboo grove

Although many customers use bamboo to make tall, dense screens, there are many benefits to growing a full grove or bamboo forest. A flourishing bamboo grove is visually stunning, beneficial to the health of the environment and our bodies, and versatile in use.

A grove does not require much space to create a small sanctuary within the city. A planting area of about 50-60 feet  in circumference (distance around the perimeter), or 10 inches x 20 inches, is sufficient if properly maintained. And thinning is an essential piece of grove maintenance. Read more for a brief description of how to maintain your grove’s health.

Culm thinning and removal techniques

Thinning prevents bamboo from becoming too congested. Allowing more light into the center of the grove often promotes larger overall growth and is helpful for controlling pests such as aphids or mites.

To start, remove any dead, scarred, or weak culms by horizontally cutting them at ground level. When targeting bamboo for timber or craft, make sure to cut canes that are at least three years old, so the wood has achieved the proper density. 5-6 year old canes are ideal.

Pruning for Aesthetics

Bamboo can be pruned into whatever shape is desired. One can cut a path into a hollow area in the middle of a grove, for example, and create a peaceful sanctuary. Some of the best species for producing groves include: Phyllostachys vivax, P. dulcis, P. nigra ‘Henon’, and P. edulis “Moso”. 

The ideal time for pruning is after the new culms have matured in late summer. Avoid pruning when the bamboo is producing new shoots (typically from spring through early summer). Do not remove more than a third of the grove or screen per year.

Bamboo can be topped to maintain a certain height or create a dense and defined canopy. Make cuts just above a node, so as not to leave a stub that will die back and look unsightly. The branches remaining below the cut will produce more foliage to make up for what they lost, thus creating a very dense cover. Colorful bamboo, such as Phyllostachys nigra and P. vivax ‘Aureocaulis’ can be enhanced by removing smaller culms and by cutting off lower branches, a technique called legging up. This draws attention to the beautiful, robust culms at the base of the plant.

Other uses for your bamboo grove

Did you know that bamboo is edible? Fresh bamboo shoots are much tastier and better for you than the canned and imported shoots that are often used in restaurants. It's like any vegetable: better when fresh out of the ground. Savvy shoot farmers plant species that have staggered shooting times, so that they can have harvestable shoots from February through July.

To harvest edible bamboo shoots in the spring, dig beneath the shoot and clip it off of the rhizome. Look for large diameter shoots that have grown 1 to 6 inches above the mulch level. Peel the culm sheaths away and cut the tender shoot into small pieces. Steam or sauté the shoots for a delicious meal.

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