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There's No Such Thing as a Bad Bamboo

Phyllostachys nigra 'Bory'
Phyllostachys nigra 'Bory'
Photo: Bamboo Garden
Running Bamboo Look Who's Planting Bamboo!

Bamboo Resources Bamboo Resources

Clumping Bamboo Clumping Bamboo
Running bamboos are wily, mischievous and not to be left to their own devices. So are puppies and small children, and who would want to be without them (don't answer that). Consequently, you can't just buy a running bamboo and plant it. You've got to understand its awesome ability to grow and irrepressible urge to wander. Once you've accepted these inherent challenges -- and faced the consequences of neglect -- you are a brilliant candidate for this miraculous plant.

Have I scared you off yet? That's a good thing. No reason to take on the responsibility of a running bamboo when there are plenty of easier plants to manage. Yet having run this gauntlet, spurred on by the plant's grace, grandeur and ability to leap tall buildings at a single bound, here are a couple of tips about growing running bamboo:

1: Use a high density plastic barrier, available through specialty bamboo nurseries, to contain its spread. Metal is far less of a sure thing. Determined rhizomes can and will exert enough pressure to cause overlapped sheets of metal to separate. Also, metal sucks cold into the ground, which can damage your plant.

2: If you have sandy soil, don't bother with any barrier. It won't work.

3: It also won't work if you think you can control spread by keeping the plant in its pot when you put it in the ground. The rhizomes will find their way out the little holes on the sides.

4: If you are resolutely responsible, steadfastly vigilant and consider barriers beneath you, give your bamboo every possible reason to send out its rhizomes near the surface of the soil. This will make it infinitely easier to root prune (i.e., spading out unwanted growth), which is your alternative defense. How to keep it from going underground? Keep reading...

5: Give your running bamboo nicely amended soil, a four-inch mulch of organic matter (yes, bury it right up to its neck), a high-nitrogen fertilizer through spring and early summer (no food, though, after the Fourth of July), and regular water. If you really loved it, you'd be sure to plant it in soil that's loose and loamy -- just the first couple of inches, that is. Hardpack underneath will help keep its growth shallow.

6: Grow it as a container plant rather than in the ground. Just be sure to use appropriate potting soil, keep it from drying out, and be prepared to repot within two years, depending on your species' rate of growth.


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Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.