Running Bamboo Runs Rampant In Westchester

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Bamboo withstands just about anything winter throws at it. The plant will be ready for its spring growing period, which, in Westchester, begins in late March.
Bamboo withstands just about anything winter throws at it. The plant will be ready for its spring growing period, which, in Westchester, begins in late March. Photo Credit: Julie Curtis

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - Spring will make its official descent on Westchester in just a few weeks. And bamboo, which spends winter preparing for its early spring sprint, is ready for its growing season. But are you ready for your bamboo?

Two popular types of bamboo are being planted more and more frequently in the area: running and clumping, said Toivo Kivisalu, of Rosedale Nursery in Hawthorne. Clumping bamboo grows more slowly than running bamboo, and more important, he said, it does not spread as aggressively.

But phyllostachys aureosulcata, also known as running, or yellow groove bamboo, is an aggressive genus of the plant that is literally running rampant in the area, he said.

Once established, running bamboo can travel more than five feet a year underground and up to 20 or more feet high, said Jeffrey S. Ward, chief scientist in the Connecticut Department of Forestry and Horticulture. That makes it not only a backyard plant but something of a spectator sport as well.

Planted for decades in the area, running bamboo has become a favorite among homeowners and landscapers for its speed in creating natural barriers between properties. In the two- to three-month growing season, bamboo’s rhizomes spread like subterranean tentacles, and then push up their stalks, or culms.

Thick groves can require professional digging equipment to remove. If left unwatched and unmitigated, running bamboo can push up under asphalt driveways and behind home siding.

Bamboo lovers, however, will not be deterred. Frederika Rayman, of Mamaroneck, who has many varieties of bamboo planted on her property, is among them. “Bamboo’s gotten a bad reputation for being invasive, but that’s like blaming a flower for turning toward the sun to survive.”

Kivisalu, of Rosedale Nursery, agreed. “Bamboo isn’t the problem; the problem is that it needs to be planted in an area that will accommodate the bamboo. If you don’t have a large property or aren’t willing to keep your eye on it, then I wouldn’t suggest planting running bamboo.”

Some nurseries, Rosedale included, provide bamboo-buyers with information tags that detail how to keep bamboo rhizomes and roots from spreading. One precaution is sinking a protective barrier down around the roots about 2 feet into the ground to prevent them from spreading.

Bamboo fans are undeterred by the potential for invasiveness. “I go out with my coffee on spring mornings just to see how much it’s grown the previous night,” said Rayman. “It’s one of my favorite pastimes.”

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Having been around bamboo for my entire life, I have a respect for the plant. In many situations I have used the plant and it has worked as a wonderful screen. To be honest this plant can escape its barrier as I have seen it do just so with barriers that I have installed. The 3" depth rule does not apply as it has gone beneath 6" sidewalks and escaped into lawn areas. To really contain this plant you would have to have a cement barrier about 18" deep. There are plenty of times when I talk people out of planting running Bamboo and actually in many instances I have recommended removal of the bamboo before it destroys the garden, yard, driveway, etc. So use with caution and control it. A better option is to plant clumping bamboo and have patience. It may cost more up front but will definitely pay off in the long run.

The bamboo surrounded the perimeter of my house before I moved in. Technically, none of it is on my property. All I need to do to control its spreading is occasionally go out to the yard with an ax and sever the shoots, and snake-like tentacles (don't know the technical term). The problem arises when it is planted near pavement. You cannot see where it is growing until it runs into your foundation or buckles up your driveway. I have solved this by finding the source, and hacking at that. So far, so good. Yes, it has provided some minor inconveniences, but some MAJOR benefits. It is green all year round, the breeze makes a beautiful sound rushing through it, birds love to hang out in there, it provides excellent privacy, has an exotic, otherworldly feel...and many more. A neighbor on one side of me took all of it away. They chose not to replace it with anything. Now I look at the side of their garage and have to keep my blinds closed for privacy. I'd rather have the bamboo. Since none of the bamboo is actually mine, I pray that my other neighbors do not follow suit because then I will feel like I am back living in the city---crowded, looking at buildings, rather than green Westchester. I like the bamboo. Would I plant it myself, knowing what I know? Probably not. I'd choose another plant. But I would sorely miss it if it was taken away.

We've maintained a large stand on our property in Rye for over 40 years. It's Luke a small forest and it provides much needed protection for birds and other wildlife in winter. So much natural cover is now gone here on Milton Point that our pocket forest - and several others like it - are the only thing keeping the now plentiful raptors from decimating everything with wings.

How surprising to see "MY" bamboo in its lovely winter dress! We love the bamboo, but it was planted around 25+ years ago. When we bought the house in 2003, it was MARCHING into our yard! Having had bamboo experience in our past, we trenched the required 2 feet and put in a barrier. We love the screen-like quality of bamboo without being an unfriendly dense fence. We live right on the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, so it's lovely to see out and have some privacy.

On the invasiveness note--I work at Groundwork Hudson Valley and through its program--the Saw Mill River Coalition--we do invasive vine cutting along the river and try to support others doing the same in their backyards and parks. We DO need to be RESPONSIBLE because these plants can take over our natives. So--at our house, while we haven't taken out the bamboo, we've controlled it. It does interfere any plants underneath it--the dense mat of roots really doesn't allow anything else to grow. Maybe--just like fences--we can have requirements for "natural" fencing. I'm not allowed to build a fence into my neighbors yard--I shouldn't be allowed to let my landscape plants takeover my neighbor's yard either.

Join us for vine-cutting on the Saw Mill River--Next one is Sunday, February 24, 10-1, at Farragut Avenue and the South County Trailway!

We've had good results controlling running bamboo for 20 yrs. Here's how:
dig a trench around it about 1' wide and 18" deep.
come back to it in spring and fall to cut the root tips off that stick into the trench (bamboo only roots down for 3" or so.

It also is a major problem when it has been planted in wetlands as it has been here in Pound Ridge. This clogs the free running streams. Unless you've got a herd of pandas to nibble it into submission, it should be planted in oil barrels with the ends cut off which are sunk in the ground leaving a 1 foot rim above ground (as suggested by The Bamboo Man in New Jersey, a professional bamboo supplier).

Say the headline five times, fast....

Our neighbors' running bamboo was one reason we were not unhappy to move away from our home in Bronxville. For the 12 years we lived there we struggled constantly to keep their bamboo in check; they were oblivious to our pleas to take control of it. They used their planting as a screen between our properties, but our property was only about 10 feet wide, and the bamboo kept coming up in the middle of it. One fine day it crossed our yard and began coming up in the neighbor's yard on the other side of us. We were the ones who spent the money to sink a metal barrier between us. A perfect example of irresponsible landscaping!

When a client asks about bamboo as a possibility for a screening I only use it if nothing else has worked. And its an excellent idea to install an underground barrier but easier said then done since you need to go down a couple of feet. The other attraction is that the deer don't bother it so that's a big plus around here. There are most likely other choices for your situation and Toivo (pronounced TOY-VO) over at Rosedale is as good as it gets...he has a Masters in Horticulture and is the most knowledgeable gentleman I've ever met.

I love a bamboo grove in landscapes. It acts as a great privacy border between homes, and is very attractive as well. Yes, it must be contained so that it doesn't spead. Just like everything that's planted, you should know the species, and it's qualities.

This is a weed, period. I suppose if you're cheap and don't mind your yard looking like garbage and ultimately causing damage this is the choice for you.

People who use bamboo against the borders of their yard should be sinking a non-wooden barrier by the roots so it doesn't intrude on neighbor's yards or local woods. People buying houses should also find out what is growing in the yard, too because if they want native species and things that don't spread, they might want to ask the homeowner to remove the bamboo. Many home purchasers might not know how hard it is to get rid of it. Flower gardens can be tilled out, but bamboo can be tricky.