The Bamboo Monster of Sag Harbor

I am delighted that the Village Board of Trustees of Sag Harbor did not vote to ban bamboo in the village at their meeting last month. It is a beautiful plant and in the right locations, can be amazing. However, I sympathize enormously with anyone who has it unwanted in their yard as it is VERY difficult to get rid of and can be dangerous to other plants and even to buildings.

In one garden I worked in, some new culms of a bamboo that grew over 40’ spiked right beside the house and headed for the space between the gutter and the eave. Had I not “persuaded” them to the outside of the eave, they would have pulled it right off of the house.

If you have bamboo in places where it is not wanted, it must be dug out completely. This can (and maybe should) involve a backhoe as the roots of an established plant can be deep and dense. Even when the bamboo looks like it has all been removed, there are roots that have spread and not sprouted yet that will need to be removed. This removal process can be expensive, disruptive and take several years.

Of course, it is best when you’re about to buy a plant, to read the care tags so that the plant is put into the best location for sun, soil type etc. But for plants like bamboo, more preparation is mandatory. The more informed the planter, the happier the results for the plant and the people. Research is needed and is easy. One of my favorite sites for bamboo and the barrier needed for the running type is www.bamboogarden.com. I have purchased the barrier and plants from them and have received help from them on the phone.

In the past several years, I have seen more bamboo available in nurseries in this area; not many varieties but both running and clumping types. I am happy to see it available but hope it is not bought on impulse as it is a significant plant that requires specific siting, planting and maintenance whether runner or clumper. The runner type (and it DOES run) must be enclosed in 30” wide, 80 ml plastic barrier with a stainless steel clamp. The barrier is placed in a trench (I dig them with a post hole digger) with 2” left above ground. The area enclosed needs to be as large as possible to give the plant plenty of room to grow. And then this planting will need yearly maintenance.

At least twice a year the perimeter needs to be carefully inspected because the runners can escape and must be removed. In one garden where I worked, the bamboo escaped in one inch of soil that had built up on top of the barrier over the years. We discovered this when we saw a culm in the garden 15’ away from the bamboo stand. The runner had grown that long before throwing up a culm. And in the spring, old canes will need to be removed. And depending on how and where it has been planted, other maintenance issues may arise.

Planting clumping bamboo instead of running bamboo is much easier and requires less maintenance. The resultant plantings are completely different. Clumping bamboo is just that: a clump and it stays a clump. The clump gets taller and wider but does not spread. These plants often like a little shade and their tendency to weep (flowing branches) can be controlled by pruning, if one does not like the weeping.

Bamboo is a spectacular plant, beautiful, exotic, stately, graceful, and, indeed, potentially dangerous. If it is planted and maintained with care, it can be a wonderful member of the garden.

For gardening discussion, you can call Jeanelle Myers at 631-434-5067.

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