Good bamboo, bad bamboo

By Wayne Hobbs Environmental Horticulture Agent, Clay County
Posted 7/4/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Does anyone want 80-foot-tall grass in their landscape?Landscaping with bamboo gives you that option and it can either provide an excellent feature or border plant or be an …

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Good bamboo, bad bamboo

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Does anyone want 80-foot-tall grass in their landscape?
Landscaping with bamboo gives you that option and it can either provide an excellent feature or border plant or be an ecosystem-destroying nuisance, depending on the variety you choose. Keep reading to find out your best landscape options.

Spreading Bamboo

The bamboo you definitely want to stay away from is the group commonly known as spreading bamboos including the extremely common Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea). These spread heavily by underground stems called rhizomes, and grow rapidly. Once thought to be a great solution for quickly established screens, windbreaks and erosion control, their spreading nature allows them to overtake native plants and natural areas.
Do not plant any spreading bamboos.
If you have established spreading bamboos you want to get rid of, which is the case of many who have it on their property, options include digging out of small stands, mowing to control the size, or mowing and then using chemical controls. For more information on bamboo control see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag266.

Clumping Bamboo
An alternative to the invasive bamboo that is underutilized in the landscape are the clumping bamboos. This group of plants does not spread by rhizomes, but instead fairly slowly spreads from the main base. These can grow into excellent screens, a thick background for other plants, or an awesome specimen.
There are some breathtaking varieties of these plants, including black bamboo with a dark cane and Buddha belly, which has bulging, segmented shapes up the canes. They are also available in a variety of sizes, ranging from 3 feet to 80 feet tall.
However, not all varieties are going to do well in our region so a little research may be necessary to make sure it will be successful through the winter. Also of note is the cost, as many clumping bamboos can be quite expensive.
In general, clumping bamboos prefer full sun conditions, but some will tolerate shade. They can survive in a wide variety of soil moistures but they will need some irrigation during establishment. Most need between 1-3 inches of rain every week or so to be completely happy but many varieties are drought tolerant. Look for the leaves on the edge of your clump to roll, this is a sign of water stress.

Native Bamboo
Another little seen plant in the landscape is switch cane (genus: Arundinaria) which is actually a group of 3 native bamboos. These usually grow to around 6-8 feet tall but can reach 25 feet in the right conditions. For more information on these plants see https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/arundinaria-gigantea/.
If you have any horticultural, agricultural, 4-H, or family and consumer science questions, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Clay County Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.

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