Running Bamboo Runs Rampant In Fairfield County

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

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. - Spring makes its official descent on Fairfield County in just a few weeks. And bamboo, which spends the winter preparing for its vernal sprint, is ready for its growing season. But are you ready for your bamboo?

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

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

But phyllostachys aureosulcata, commonly known as “running,” or yellow groove bamboo, is an aggressive genus of the plant that is running rampant in the area.

Running bamboo has become a favorite among homeowners and landscapers for the speed with which it can create natural barriers between properties. In the two-to-three-month growing season, bamboo’s rhizomes spread like subterranean tentacles, then push up stalks, or culms.

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

And some people on the other side of property line are less than happy with the “Little Shop of Horrors”-like infestation of neighbors’ crops - so much so that Connecticut’s invasive plant council has recommended legislation requiring planting procedures for running bamboo, which will limit infestation, along with penalties for those who violate the rules.

Bamboo lovers, however, will not be deterred. Leslie Beatus has grown bamboo - both running and clumping - in her Westport backyard for more than 20 years. “We don’t have to contain it, but we do hack it during spring when it comes up on the other side of the fence in our neighbor’s yard.”

Some nurseries in Connecticut provide bamboo-buyers with information tags that detail how to contain bamboo rhizomes and roots from spreading. Precautions include sinking a protective barrier down around the roots about two feet into the ground to prevent their inexorable creeping.

But fans of bamboo are undeterred by precautions or potential limitations.

The best thing about bamboo, said Beatus, is the fact that it stays green all winter. “It’s like having a green fence,” she said.

On the downside, she said, heavy snow on bamboo can cause it to lean over the driveway, blocking her and her husband from getting out until the weight is lifted. That and the invasiveness, Beatus said, are a small price to pay for the plant’s abundant beauty.

Susan Rowan, manager of Peaceable Farms Nursery in Ridgefield, concurs: “Bamboo is not the enemy,” she said. “You just need to know what kind of bamboo you’re planting, and how to plant it, and to be responsible for it when it grows.”

“I love my bamboo,” said Beatus. “I always want more and more.”

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Comments (12)

Ban this kay-rap before it's too late. You want a "green fence" plant a privet hedge or arbor vitae.

Sorry, RG of Mayo: Privet is considered an invasive and is a non-native while 3 out of 5 of the most common species of arbor vitae are from Asia. AV also is susceptible to burn-out and insects. So, without bamboo, you have a shrub that is supposed to be torn out and another species that you can plant but has limited success depending upon the planting conditions. Properly tended bamboo, while non-native, provides a much quicker, nonsusceptible green cover, could be considered edible in its youngest form and can be used for stakes in the garden as well as woven into fencing and raised beds.

You are 100 percent correct

As you drive down the Merritt and see the groves in Greenwich, Westport, Fairfield, and the other places, it's hard not to appreciate the beauty of the plant. The person planting it needs to be responsible for where they plant it and where it grows. Banning it is not the answer, as it's already so established, and like most things, the plant isn't the problem. Irresponsible owners are the problem.

Why is everyone into banning everything these days? Prior to buying any plantings for your yard, I would suspect that any homeowner would ask the typical questions: What type of light, water, growing conditions, including soil conditions, pruning, etc., in order to have whatever you've purchased, grow successfully. Even under the best of conditions, and w/ all of the knowledge you've gained after asking the questions, plants don't always do what we want them to, so we try again. Yes, there are some that are invasive such as, bittersweet that chokes out our Maples and Oaks. It's also not native to CT; it was brought here years ago as a decorative plant and is no longer sold by nurseries. I do know that some bamboo will reseed and "run" across streets if not kept in check.

if anyone has bamboo they want to get rid of let me know. I'm looking to screen off sections of my property. I'll come down and remove it full or just take some clumps with my machine and fill any holes back in with topsoil.

Talk about invasive: the CT Invasive Plant Council is now trying to legislate my back yard? How about the plant industry that keeps selling these items that are so detrimental to our "natural" environment? People buy running bamboo because they can. They do not know the difference between clumping and running plants. A penalty should go to the sellers of these plants that make them available to unsuspecting homeowners.

Bamboo can be maintained and contained. It is also beautiful. To be of assistance to those who don't understand how to grow it would be far more helpful than a contentious approach and what appears to be panic.

And, yes, clumping bamboo can spread but, again, install proper barriers, chop down to the ground the sprout at the beginning of the season, stay vigilant, and you will have that beautiful "green fence" to which the gardener above refers without interferring with unhappy neighbors who probably don't want to see a large structure "growing" close to them, their neighbor's home, either.

"Invasive plants" seems to have become "every plant" in the eyes of activists including scientists who want to turn the clock back to the pre-European settlement period in order to "regain" a "natural" ecology. What does not seem to be understood is that humans are a part of the ecology and evolution of the ecology occurs both naturally and with human effects.

Why not concentrate on creating a healthy ecology with the inevitable human presence instead of tearing everything out, including bamboo, that does not comply with this blindingly plant exclusive oriented viewpoint?

Clumping bamboo is also invasive. Don't believe the "fans"