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.”