Summer - Bamboo
The Reasons to Avoid Planting Bamboo -Hilary Persky and Anne Soos, former and current PEC Commissioners
In a busy town, many of us are looking for great plants for privacy screens. There are some good options, but one to avoid is bamboo. You’ve likely seen bamboo growing along some roadsides in Princeton, or in yards. Beware! Bamboo can be an extremely invasive plant (most species we see are from Asia) that is VERY hard to control once it takes hold. Some species can even grow into structures and buildings through holes and cracks and cause structural damage. And, as with any invasive plant, bamboo degrades natural areas and displaces native plants that support our wildlife and pollinators.
There are two types of bamboo, classified by how their roots grow. The first, extremely invasive type that should never be planted is called “running” bamboo (leptomorph). It gets its name from the fact that underground stems (rhizomes) rapidly grow out and away from the parent plant, sending up shoots through lawns, gardens beds, and your neighbor’s property as well, including driveways and house foundations.
Clumping bamboo (pachymorph) is somewhat less invasive, and spreads more slowly. It is certainly a better choice than the running type but is best gown in pots or tubs where the roots can be contained. One well-known type is “fountain bamboo”, which is considered non-invasive in some states.
The best policy? Be a good neighbor to your neighbors, native vegetation, and wildlife and avoid planting bamboo. If you’re looking for some good native alternatives for privacy screens, here are some options that are beautiful and that will keep you covered!
American Holly offers year-round cover, lovely dark green leaves, and red berries in season https://www.americanholly.org/ (deer resistant)
Inkberry Holly is another native species that is hardy, will grow in full sun to full shade, and has dark blue berries in fall https://extension.umd.edu/resource/inkberry-holly (deer resistant)
Bayberry is a gorgeous shrub with aromatic leaves and fruit that holds onto its leaves late into the season https://mortonarb.org/plant-and-protect/trees-and-plants/bayberry/ (deer resistant)
Red Cedar is a tried-and-true screen that also has wildlife value (but is browed heavily by deer) https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=juvi
American Hazelnut is a robust shrub that will also give you nuts (if you can beat the squirrels) https://www.prairienursery.com/american-hazelnut-corylus-americana.html (in the Eastern US you will need to look for varieties resistant to eastern filbert blight. This plant is also browsed by deer)
If you are interested in native grasses, check out https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/ornamental-grasses-and-grass-like-plants/
If you’re unlucky enough to be struggling to control bamboo planted on your property, or growing in from a neighbor’s property, you’ll need to be very persistent, likely over several years. Bamboo can be removed via regular mowing of the tender new growth, managing its spread by installing a root barrier in the ground, or using herbicides. Working with your neighbor to remove the bamboo has the advantage of removing the plant entirely. However, be prepared to make this a years long project, especially if you do not wish to use herbicides. Check out these sources for more information about bamboo and how to control it: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/bamboo-control/; https://extension.umd.edu/resource/containing-and-removing-bamboo.