Prentiss Riddle: Garden

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Plant bamboo, go to jail

Why on earth do people plant bamboo outside its native habitat? Don't they know that once it's planted it's virtually impossible to remove? And it's extremely invasive -- it will not only take over your yard but your neighbor's. It's common to see bamboo planted for privacy along a fenceline consume 15 feet or more in every direction. You can't plant anything around it because it will outgrow and engulf everything in its path. If you cut it down it sends up spikes immediately, so even if you try to control it by chopping it to the ground and mowing frequently the resulting "lawn" will be an unusuable punji trap. Barriers are futile because it sends out subterranean runners like bermuda grass and digging it up is equally useless because it will grow back from any shred of root you miss. Short of tactical nukes or laying concrete there seems to be no way to get rid of it.

Supposedly there are non-invasive varieties but I don't know how widely available they are. Maybe the people at the Texas Bamboo Festival could say, although something tells me that asking might be like inquiring about "smart handguns" at an NRA meeting. I have bamboo-loving acquaintances who think of me as an anti-bamboo bigot because I made the mistake of sharing these opinions with them -- in much milder terms, of course!

Bamboo isn't just a backyard nuisance. Here in Texas there are numerous groves of bamboo in parks and undeveloped land. As an invasive exotic species, bamboo displaces habitat for native plants and wildlife as effectively as a bulldozer. I don't see how people who complain about clearcutting or acres of parking lots should feel any more kindly toward bamboo.

Native plant activists would do well to come up with a responsible alternative to bamboo as a privacy planting. There must be some native Texas tree or shrub which could be trained or trimmed to grow in a dense and compact vertical form, without being as aggressive as bamboo. (And if not, there's always the composting fence idea.)

garden 2003.08.11 link