Gardening adventures,  Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

Bamboo: A Rant

It looks innocent enough...

(Note: I’ve modified this rant so that its more of a grumpy bit of advice and some whining.  If you want to skip the rant altogether, just scroll to the third paragraph from the end where I’ve made some heartening observations and have posted happy photos of daffodils.)

I love the look, the feel and the beauty of bamboo.  It is an amazing grass that is edible, durable and because of is fast growth rate makes a renewable building resource.  There is clumping bamboo, which slowly spread out from a main clump, and which can be controlled.  In my parents’ driveway, surrounded by asphalt, there was a patch of clumping bamboo which had been there for… forty year?  More?  It never escaped its boarder.  Then there is rhizomatous bamboo, which sends out underground runners in all directions and can quickly undermine any nearby growth.  Rhizomatous, or running bamboo, can be grown in containers, or you can chance it in the ground if you block it in with an underground barrier that is a good two feet deep, and six inches above ground.  Even then you should watch out for escapees.  Surrounding running bamboo with water is another way to keep it controlled… a bamboo island?

There is a lot of bamboo planted in my yard.  A lot.  The larger bamboo I anticipate harvesting after the culms are several years old and using for trellises or fencing.  The smaller bamboo such as the beautiful black or variegated varieties aren’t that useful to me because of the thinness of their culms, but are very beautiful.

That is until I happened to trip over something in the pathway that reared up and back into the ground like a sea serpent.  It was a black bamboo runner…unconfined invasive bamboo in my garden!

Just one of the 20 + rhizomes from one plant!


Lark and Miss Amelia cluck over the unearthed root ball with severed rhizomes.

I started tracing that runner back to the mother plant.  With some excavation I found that there were about 25 such runners just below the surface, all heading in different directions, all rooting and ready to send up shoots for new plants.  The runners were an even 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick up to their tips.  I stared in horror at the hydra I’d just uncovered, and then looked around.  I had five clumps of black bamboo, and one of variegated, all along a heavily planted walkway.  The plants were one year old and were on the verge of completely taking over one of the main areas of my garden.

Gotta give it credit for eagerness.

(Here the rant really begins, as does the whining!:) Then began the backbreaking and laborious work of tracing all the rhizomes and pulling them up, making sure to get every piece.  The rhizomes were 15 – 20 feet long.  They snaked under my precious heirloom roses, under young citrus trees, under boulders and palm trunks, under other vines, through gopher cages and around the delicate subterranean irrigation system.  The runners had to be pulled up, and since they rooted all along their lengths, when I pulled them the soil would fling up into my eyes.  The clumps were planted where it was full sun and of course, it was a warm week when I tackled the project so I had to stop in the afternoon when I was roasting.  I spent Valentine’s Day, which is a ‘holiday’ I’ve always disliked anyway, sweating, crying, laboring, running into the house to wash dirt out of my eyes, cursing. My dog General had had a seizure the weekend before and still wasn’t eating; I had found out that a person very dear to me had died.  The bamboo was setting me back many days worth of work.  It was not a good week.

Trying to unearth a rhyzome without harming an heirloom rose, but not without scratches!

The mother plants themselves were deeply rooted and had heavy root balls.  I had to use boards as levers to try and hoist them from their holes; several I wasn’t able to pull out on my own and they are there waiting for me to have help.  I was on my hands and knees tracing rhizomes, using a trowel to unearth the runners that went right through the root balls and around the trunks of my roses and citrus. Trying to lever up a boulder or a cut palm trunk with a board while digging and pulling on a thick rhizome was very taxing. It was dirty, frustrating and exhausting work, and merited a trip to the chiropractor, and my wrists and hands are still tingly and numb from the stress.  If I hadn’t tripped on the rhizome, within six months (or less!) that entire walkway area with all of its productive food plants and heirloom roses would have been taken over.  Everything would have had to be dug out, the entire area emptied (and with mature plants, I would have had to kill them or hire help to dig them out) and then the bamboo hand-traced and dug out.

Rhyzome squeezing irrigation line
Lots of irrigation repairs to make

It would have been a catastrophe.  It would have ruined the garden, and would probably have convinced me to give up.  I am one fifty-year-old woman trying to do all the work myself, and I really can’t hire regular help until I begin earning some kind of income again.  I am an organic gardener and will not go over to the enemy and use weedkilling products.

The steadily growing pile of cut rhyzomes.

I haven’t finished with the bamboo.  There is another one that I haven’t started on yet, and I think there is another at the top of the property where it might begin to interfere with the neighbor’s underground cable line that leads off of the pole in my yard.  The access road is littered with cut rhizomes and bunches of cut bamboo.  Several clumps reel in their holes awaiting me to find help to pull them out.  Meanwhile we had a heavy rain and windstorm which made the stream overflow in several places, flooded my chicken coop, and ripped the roof vent off of my new greenhouse (not under warranty, Rion says!  It is broken, and I have to figure out how to keep it on).  Seeds need to be planted, the ragweed laughs at me and the Bermuda grass starts coming back to life. There are trees planted in areas where they are now shaded, or won’t grow successfully, and I need to transplant them; heavy work when they are in gopher cages filled mostly with wet clay.  My hayfever has started up, limiting time in the garden.  So much to do.  And I’m weary of wrestling with the stuff.  A small house with a little garden, up against a wild area, sounds very, very good sometimes.  So take warning when planting anything, or having anything planted: research it yourself and plant with an eye to the future.

An unearthed rhyzome, a good 15 feet long (cut datura on top)

On the plus side, I’ve taken a brief vacation from the cursed bamboo and have planted flats of seeds in the greenhouse.  I’ve finally planted all the bulbs and sweetpea seeds that should have been in months ago.  I planted cold weather veggie seeds in my raised beds, although its the end of the season for them.  I’m enjoying the daffodils that are opening up along the driveway, their happy faces turned in different directions with different attitudes… I swear they have personalities.



Some of the fruit trees are blooming, and my two bee hives are very active.  I’m drawing up plans for my outdoor composting restroom, my outside worm bin, my new (and better placed) chicken coop, and a new composting area.  Best of all, I’ve been able to renew work on a middle-grade novel that I had begun and abandoned several years ago, and I am in the polishing stages before I send it off to an agent and hope for acceptance.  It is very good to be creating again.

"Did you see that?"

In early March, my zumba class ( will be touring the garden.  On the second Saturday in April the San Diego Permaculture group (and anyone who wants to!) will be touring the garden and helping to finish building the cob oven that we started last summer.  On May 12th, the day before Mother’s Day, the garden will be on the Association of University Women’s garden tour.  After that, I hope to have groups in by appointment, with either a fee or a suggested donation.  The weeks fly by and there is so much to do.  Today the birds are crazy with spring, loud with stuffing themselves with seed to be if full health for mating season.  It is still February, so I still have some time before the very hectic spring and summer seasons begin.

One Comment

  • Caryn Rickel

    Enjoyed your bamboo story, we are far along now in the research
    on Phyllostachys and have a facebook page – and also a website.
    Laws are passing to either restrict or ban this destructive invasive bamboo.

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