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The bamboo bamboozle

Exotic plant provides pretty privacy, but at a cost: It can spread like crazy

POSTED: June 24, 2011 12:30 a.m.
Dean Fosdick/AP Photo

Bamboo grows fast and can spread throughout your yard if you don't take steps to rein it in, garden experts say.

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These days, bamboo is more than just a food source for pandas.

Since it grows so quickly, bamboo has become a go-to plant for individuals seeking a natural privacy screen.

"In ideal conditions, there's been bamboo recorded to grow 39 inches a day," said Ted Meredith, author of "Bamboo for Gardens."

"I had a bamboo I measured grow 13 inches in one day. That's pretty neat. You can almost watch it grow."

According to researchers with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, there are more than 1,200 different types of bamboo, which is a member of the grass family.

Bamboo isn't just for outdoors. It can be found inside homes as window coverings, furniture and even potted plants.

When it comes to landscaping, bamboo's vigorous growing pattern is a double-edged sword.

It's great if you choose the varieties that only grow taller and don't spread. But if you choose a spreader, it has been known to take over a yard.

"Honestly, I do not recommend planting bamboo," said Michael Wheeler, Hall County agricultural extension agent. "If (you) are going to, I recommend putting a barrier in the ground to prevent the roots from spreading into other parts of the garden.

"It should be a physical barrier like a metal border hammered or buried in the ground. The barrier should extend six to eight inches in the ground."

According to researchers with the American Bamboo Society, digging a trench that's about 10 inches deep around bamboo plants can also help stop the plant from spreading.

Gardeners should check the area for new plant growth a few times in the summer and fall, society members say. If new rhizomes, or stems, have attempted to cross the trench, they should immediately be removed before they can fully take root.

Regular pruning can also keep bamboo growth under control.

"Bamboo is a grass. If you can keep it under cultivation or mow it regularly, it will die out that way," said Morgan Judy, an extension agent at Clemson University's Orangeburg, S.C., office.

If the spreading bamboo has already reached the point of no return, Wheeler says that gardeners may have to bring in reinforcements to remove the plant.

"Multiple applications of (herbicide) at a 2 percent solution, 8 ounces of (chemical) per 3 gallons of water, will be needed," Wheeler said.

"I would suggest spraying it now, letting it leaf back out and then spraying it again in September. The following spring, you can evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and treat again if needed."

The Associated Press contributed to this article



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