Wednesday Vignette – bamboozled

My garden is a learning lab. And you can truly see how it has evolved – from the earliest proof of my infatuations of 14 years ago, when we first moved to Oregon, to my later obsessions. As we all know, plants grow, and eventually your earlier follies catch up with you. For the past couple of years, in order to regain some room in my over-planted yard, I have taken out some plants that have gotten too big. One of the first loves I planted upon moving in, was an extra black variety of black bamboo – Phyllostachos nigra ‘Hales’.

I did enough research on bamboo to know that this was a runner, and that I needed to contain it. So, I dug down two feet, and lined the hole with corrugated metal roofing before plopping in my 5 gallon pot of bamboo. Of course, by now I know better, but at the time, I thought what I did would work. Another thing I thought would work to rein it in, was to be stingy with the water. Let’s just say I should have known better. Plants may not have brains, but they do have survival instincts. So naturally, as the surroundings got more water than the bamboo, it took action and headed for the outside. Now, in retrospect, that makes a lot of sense – in this regard, I was the fool – not the plant. In my defense, it still took almost a decade for the bamboo to bust out through the metal, but it eventually happened. And when it did, all bets were off.

I started chipping away at the congested root mass, but soon realized I needed help, and hired my friend William – and avid gardener and hort head with much bigger muscles than mine – to come and help me out. Amazingly, he remains my friend, even after this ordeal. Because it WAS one hell of an ordeal – trust me on that.


This is after we power washed the rootball, to see where those gnarly, tangled things were going. In its quest for water, it had pushed itself up, above the rim of the metal sheeting. You can see at the bottom right where it busted through the metal barrier. This power and abandon of bamboo was further verified during a visit to a client today. Their running bamboo had pushed up through their asphalt driveway! Yikes! Amazing stuff, but treat it with respect! This remaining clump needs some thinning, then deepen the trenches somewhat, and then add the gravel, and put the removed pavers back. What a mess, huh? 

William cut the bamboo back to its original confines. I was mentally prepared to take it all out, but when we saw how good it looked, once tamed, we decided to try what the Chinese do to control their bamboo – a gravel filled trench going all the way around the bamboo clump. The shoots will still escape, but are much easier to remove, because of the gravel.

William later posted about that process on Facebook, so here is a screen shot of that bit of wisdom, for any future readers who are thinking about planting running bamboo. As in; Don’t pull an Anna – do it right the first time.

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Here is a shot of a great example of this trenching technique, as used by Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne in their fabulous garden at the Northwest Garden Nursery.

So, lesson learned. Would I plant it again? You bet – I love that stuff. But next time, I will know what I need to do to keep it happy and contained. The future will tell if I am able to pay attention to any errant shoots (they will no doubt be there), and snip them off before they wander too far. I will do my best – I really don’t want to have to ask anyone to help me with this again. It’s brutal work – ugh!

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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18 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – bamboozled

  1. I learned a similar lesson when I spent three months of weekends removing bamboo from my sister’s garden. I’m not sure I’d plant it myself after that

    • annamadeit says:

      Ugh – yeah, it is definitely a big lesson learned. Gorgeous plants, for sure, but I recommend more spacious locations than a regular little city lot. And – most definitely – do it the Chinese way. I’ve tried keeping running bamboo in both an *actual* stock tank and this homespun variety. Both worked for a long time, but ultimately failed. And, it was brutally hard work to get it out. I had to use a reciprocating saw to get the one out of the stock tank. It is now a partial bog garden. For the second one, I asked for help. I don’t regret that at all – it was worth every penny!

  2. Tina says:

    We’ve all been there, not necessarily with bamboo–just the mistake part of the equation. I’ve seen that kind of trenching done here in Austin and I assume it works. You’re lucky to have such a nice, muscly friend! Here’s my vignette for the day, thanks for hosting:

  3. Alison says:

    I have some black bamboo planted in a stock tank in my gravel garden, high up above ground level. I haven’t been able to get near it in a few years, because the area is so overgrown, so I don’t actually know what state it’s in. But I intend to take it out when I renovate that area. I might need to hire some muscle.

    I’m glad you got William in to help you. I followed his progress on Instagram.

    I did a WV today, a self-portrait. It’s here:

  4. Kris P says:

    My stepfather planted bamboo outside my bedroom window in my childhood home. I’ve feared it ever since. I’m glad you’ve discovered a way to manage it – sort of.

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – ‘sort of’ is the key word here… It’s a method that only works if I pay attention. So, game on, I suppose. If it fails, it’s on me…

  5. I am keeping a weary eye on my bamboo stock tanks (5 of them!)…what were we thinking?

    My WV:

    • annamadeit says:

      It’s seductively gorgeous stuff, for sure, but it absolutely represents the earliest of my infatuations. Trying the trenching method now – hoping I can keep it manageable. I would hate to lose all of it. When your time comes, I have a reciprocating saw you may borrow. I took some seriously root bound Incense Bamboo out of a tank last summer. Chipped away at it for weeks… Despite the sawsall, it was backbreaking work.

  6. hb says:

    I have seen that method. Seems better than the effort of a bamboo barrier that needs to go down 3 or 4 feet. No bamboo in this garden because it is as the expert said a grass–water requirements too hight. I love it when I see it elsewhere.

    Your clean up makes yours look very beautiful–I hope the trench works well for you.

    A vignette I think you will like this week.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks hb – I hope it works too. And yes, it definitely likes some water. Learned that the hard way – as in what happens when it doesn’t get enough.

  7. ruby moon says:

    I have a 20 year old stand of black bamboo. It did that gentle movement outward over the years until I let people dig some….that’s when it got gready and marched toward my house. With some help and a sawsall I got it under control. Trenched it like I also saw at the O’Byrne’s and just check the trench for new shoots..mostly in Spring. It’s been well behaved for at least 10 years now. I haven’t figured out how to handle the side with Aborvitae and sidewalk. Maybe I should water it in it’s place???

    • annamadeit says:

      By now, I’m convinced that some kind of trench is the way to go on these runners. I made the mistake of being stingy with the water – resulting only in it heading outward toward wetter pastures. Duh! I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t. So, yes, I would water it!

  8. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I thought of planting bamboo along one of our metal fences knowing it would make a great screen. I’m glad I didn’t do it, I’d be in all sorts of trouble now!

    • annamadeit says:

      Clumping varieties are far better behaved than the runners, so using those might have worked for you, along your fence. Although they do expand, they do it in a concentric manner, and are easier to control. They are slower growing too. It’s almost like you could have the cake and eat it too. 😉

  9. I lost any and all desire to plant bamboo after reading about it in Mrs. Greenthumbs by the late Cassandra Danz. Sounds like a plant that is way more trouble than it could possibly be worth.

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