What Should I Do?

Growing Bamboo

A Multi-Functional Permaculture Plant
Monday, February 9, 2015, 11:49 AM

Bamboo is actually a member of the grass family. There are over 1000 types of bamboo worldwide. Some grow as tall as 100 feet, and others only a few inches. Many do well in the tropics, but some can handle cooler weather. Colors and thickness of canes abound. Some grow in clumps, while others grow with their rhizomes extending out taking up more and more real estate.

Newly planted running bamboo (Mature Height 55 feet)

Multifunctional Uses of Bamboo

  • New shoots are edible, and often used in Asian cuisine
     
  • Makes a fantastic sustainable building material
     
  • Great for stakes and fencing in the garden
     
  • Bird habitat
     
  • Erosion control for steep slopes

Bamboo on Dam Wall

  • Can be turned into fishing poles, furniture, and about a thousand other useful items

  • Evergreen, makes a great screening hedge

Running VS Clumping Bamboo

Running bamboo spreads by underground roots shooting laterally from the main plant and thereby starting new canes. This is the type of bamboo that western gardeners fear. “It’s going to take over!” is the battle cry of the fearful. For those of us in the temperate climates, running bamboo is the only type of bamboo we can successfully grow. So give it room to grow, and manage it where you don’t want it to grow.

Clumping bamboo grows in well……clumps. This type of bamboo will not spread so readily as the running bamboo. I actually view this as a negative. For those of you in the tropics, clumping bamboo is an option, if you have a small area that you need to keep the bamboo contained.

How to Control Running Bamboo

I planted bamboo along my deer fence along the road. I would like for the bamboo to take over the road side, but I don’t want it to grow too much inward as I have a newly planted forest adjacent. There are really only four ways to control runner bamboo.

1. A Bamboo Barrier - A 24 inch deep barrier can be installed sloping slightly back towards where you want the roots to deflect to. This option has cost and a lot of labor up front, but it will cut the amount of maintenance you need to do. You would still need to cut off any roots that go over the barrier in the spring when it is actively growing.

Bamboo Barrier

A trencher is a must have for installing bamboo

2. Physical Management - You can also simply break the new shoots and eat them or compost them. If any larger canes do form, simply harvest them for building materials.

3. Adjacent Barriers - You can plant the bamboo along a roadside or a body of water, and it will typically not cross. Be careful of gravel roads, as the bamboo will certainly grow here.

4. Mowing - If you have your bamboo next to an area that you regularly mow, the bamboo will not “take over” because the plant will not tolerate the mowing.

I am personally using a combination of all four of these control methods. I put a bamboo barrier in along my fence to keep the bamboo out of my native timber forest. It was a long straight shot here, so it was relatively easy to use a trencher to get the barrier installed. I will also be physically managing some of the bamboo, as I plan to eat the new shoots, and I have tons of uses for the poles.

I think running bamboo is a great addition to a permaculture site. Its placement and management simply needs to be well thought out.

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

Endorsed Financial Adviser Endorsed Financial Adviser

Looking for a financial adviser who sees the world through a similar lens as we do? Free consultation available.

Learn More »
Read Our New Book "Prosper!"Read Our New Book

Prosper! is a "how to" guide for living well no matter what the future brings.

Learn More »

 

Related content

7 Comments

Gaborzol's picture
Gaborzol
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 24 2008
Posts: 38
Other advantages and precautions of bamboo

I work mostly with members of Phyllostachys, a temperate bamboo, and a few members of this group can withstand -10 Fahrenheit. Bamboo is evergreen, so in late fall when normally only conifers hold on to their leaves in my region, it is refreshing to look at a grove of bamboo with the light green color of the leaves.

I have experimented with stopping bamboo, and for me the easiest method is to dig a trench of 6 inches or so, and every fall monitor what is growing through the space to the other side. Even with a dug in wall you would have to do the monitoring, as root rhizomes can leap over the barrier, and grow right back into the ground on the other side. Eliminating bamboo is not that big a deal unless the grove is really neglected: cut all the culms and revisit the situation 2-3 times a year. The grove will starve in 3 years the most, if you move more frequently, then even sooner.

Bamboo always drops leaves and culm sheets, which, added to the shade under the grove, will eliminate weeds, and provide a clean tan ground cover of bamboo material rich in nutrients for ground borers, and the root structure is able to stop erosion better than anything I know, especially on sloopy areas, like next to water. The roots are shallow, they don't damage a stone wall if they grow into it like tree roots, but I have seen them creating bumps in asphalt if they are next to a road that is poorly made.  

I find having the culms (canes/poles of bamboo) a great community building tool. People like the strength and flexibility of the poles, it is pretty resistant to diseases and borers, at least in New England (I only had problems with mites indoors and only on one kind of bamboo for some reason...) Many neighbors now know I have large amounts of them and flock over come springtime to get the material for trellises and garden stakes.

One more positive thing: I noticed in the winter many bird kinds love to roost for the night in the groves. The leaves that remain on even if the plant freezes, provide excellent protection. Every time I walk by a grove this winter in the twilight, I hear them 'discussing' the event. And they help fertilizing the soil under the bamboo.

Gabor

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Great Insights, Gabor

Gabor,

Thank you for sharing your experience with temperate climate bamboo. The birds really do love the groves. My wife and I hike near a bamboo grove, and whenever we walk by, we can hear the birds. And at this time it is the only thing green except for a few conifers.

I am really looking forward to seeing how much growth my plants add this season. I planted them last spring. They were 2-3 ft. tall, now they are 5-7 ft. tall. I have a feeling that this spring they are really going to grow. They will have the root establishment from the summer and fall to drive the spring growth.

Phil

dgski's picture
dgski
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 2 2011
Posts: 1
Want to plant this Spring

Thanks for the info guys...I have been wanting to plant some bamboo in a natural area behind my house that has a creek running through it with steep slopes on either side.  Any recommendations on which variety to plant?  I live in NC.

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
dgski

I used Phyllostachys Rubro which is a variety with edible shoots, a mature size of 55 ft., hardy to zone 5, fast screening, and pretty tolerant of a multitude of growing conditions. If you check out the below link, there are many different varieties to choose from based on your needs.

http://www.lewisbamboo.com/cold-hardy-bamboo.html

earthwise's picture
earthwise
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 848
Using drought as control

Phil, your insight for controlling the spreading types of Bamboo is spot on-except for one factor you may have overlooked regarding Western gardeners. Water. Bamboo will not grow without it and water deprivation will absolutely inhibit it's growth. I'm in Southern California and have seen dire warnings against all type of plant material regarding invasiveness, whether from tree seeds sprouting everywhere becoming a maintenance nightmare, to spreading plants like Bamboo. While those warnings are appropriate in regions with abundant rainfall, they aren't applicable here. Without artificial watering, i.e. irrigation, almost nothing grows here. So, with that in mind, I suggest an additional option for control where possible. Water starvation. The spreading Bamboo can be planted where it will be irrigated and limited to those areas by controlling the water application to those areas alone.

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Water Starvation

Earthwise,

Thank you for that. I forget that not everyone is fortunate to get 48 inches of rain per year. I agree with you 100%. Bamboo will not do well without water. The bamboo growing on my pond wall is twice the size of the bamboo growing along my deer fence. 

Phil

Rick Davidson's picture
Rick Davidson
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 17 2015
Posts: 1
Bamboo farming is I think a

Bamboo farming is I think a very profitable work to do. Here after reading and understanding this blog post I can say Bamboo farming is very useful as we can use Bamboo in various ways. You have given here about some different uses of bamboo. Necessity of bamboo materials a lot in our daily life these days. We are using bamboo furniture and also using bamboo window screen. We are using bamboo made several cloth materials and covers. Bamboo made wrist watch is also very popular these days. Both men and women bamboo watches are now available.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments