Good neighbors don’t plant running bamboo!

I’ll admit that I’m not always the most extroverted person. When we visited the beautiful Annefield Vineyards in Saxe, Virginia, the thought of an old house in the middle of 100 rural acres sounded… pretty darn awesome. That said, we live in a downtown neighborhood and I like to think I’m a good neighbor. That’s one reason why I’ll never plant running bamboo on my property.

To back it up a step, there are two main classifications of bamboo, running and clumping. Clumping bamboo is well behaved, staying in tight little clumps (thus the name). The problem is that most clumping bamboos that grow in the DC area don’t get that big or look that flashy. They’re a good solution for a shady area or a tight spot that could use something vertical, but you don’t really get excited about clumping bamboos.

Running bamboos are the exciting ones. There’s black bamboo, with the deep, dark stems, if you want color. If you want screening, some running bamboos will easily make 20-30′ tall in our area. And if you want big, thick Gilligan’s-Island-construction-materials bamboo, it’s running bamboo. However, as with many desirable things (muscle cars, the promise of power from following Voldemort) there’s a darker side to running bamboo. It’s called running bamboo for a reason.

Bamboo Rhizome - Source: Armin Kubelbeck
Bamboo Rhizome – Source: Armin Kubelbeck

Everything in Nature exists to reproduce, right? The way running bamboo does this is underground, via rhizomes. These rhizomes don’t respect property lines or fences, and they’ll even pop up on the far side of a sidewalk or a driveway. Because so much of its mass is underground and it grows so fast, herbicides don’t do a lot to running bamboos. The only sure way of eradication is mechanical.

We’re doing a DC landscape design project right now where the neighbor, many years ago, planted running bamboo. Our client is having everything on her side of the fence removed (as best we can – there’ll be continual maintenance for a good 12-18 months), after which the guys are trenching down 28″ and installing a flexible bamboo barrier. It’s a lot of labor, which means it’s not cheap, all because someone didn’t thoroughly research what they probably thought was a good privacy plant.

Bamboo in DC

Can bamboo be kept contained? According to the experts, it can. The bamboo barrier we’re installing is one way. An old-school approach is a poured concrete wall around the planting. I hesitate to recommend this because concrete will crack eventually, and all it takes is one errant shoot and you’re done. Bottom line: I have a hard time recommending that anyone with nearby neighbors plant running bamboo. Even if you take all the right precautions, something can still go wrong, and then your neighbors hate you.

If you found this post useful, be sure to like my Facebook page! And of course, if you want to create a gorgeous backyard (that won’t make your neighbors hate you) I’d love to talk with you. Contact me here!


    September 11, 2013 REPLY

    I loved this article. I have been battling my inconsiderate neighbor’s running bamboo for 15 years. Neither Baltimore County nor the state will do anything to help. Maryland Dept of Agriculture was tasked with identifying Tier I (illegal to plant) & Tier II (strongly advised not to plant) noxious weeds, but they still haven’t started their study. It’s nice to see that not all nurseries and landscapers promote running bamboo. I gave a like to your page on Facebook!

      September 13, 2013 REPLY

      Thanks for that! Bamboo is the worst. I just shot a video for eHow and the topic was ‘How to Plant Bamboo on a Fenceline” and I spent a few minutes explaining the differences between running and clumping bamboo. I get the appeal of running bamboo, I really do – 30 feet tall in a matter of months, dense screen, and nearly impossible to kill? Awesome! Except for the whole “impossible to stop” thing.

      Have you put in any sort of barrier? As far as I can see the only solution is what we did, cutting our client’s yard off from the Mother Ship, and having the gardener dig and find the offending sliver of rhizome every time a leaf pops up on her side. Nasty stuff. Good luck!

    October 29, 2013 REPLY

    Thank you for posting this article. Maybe, it will stop an uninformed person from planting it uncontained on the property line and making their neighbor’s lives a living hell. This plant will cost the neighbor thousands of dollars over the years. It will also cost the neighbor countless hours trying unsuccessfully to control it. If you have to have this plant in your yard, it should be your responsibility to control it, not you neighbors’. The people defending this plant are mostly the people making money selling it. We still need laws!

    August 19, 2014 REPLY

    I’m going to plant running bamboo along the fence line and will be taking the necessary precautions on my side.

    February 22, 2015 REPLY

    Bamboo is like a teenager: if left alone without even the minimal training or attention it will likely turn out to be problematic. HOWEVER….Anyone with a shovel or sawsall can spend about an hour twice a year to train and tame a long hedge or border. BAMBOO IS NOT A LAZY PERSONS PLANT. Hate on people not plants

      February 24, 2015 REPLY

      Anyone CAN, but I’d wager most won’t – thus my caution about using running bamboo for the average homeowner. Thanks for commenting!

    March 10, 2015 REPLY

    It takes a lot more than a sawsall and an hour twice a year to prevent phyllostachys (running bamboo) from spreading. It’s not that easy. Many species of phyllostachys have been unwittingly planted and allowed to spread and damage property. Governments seem to take the attitude that it is a just a neighbor issue. The government powers that be don’t realize that it is a problem on public land, too. They must drive down the highway with blinders on so they don’t see the bamboo spreading along the roadway where people planted it as a screen between their homes and the road. The longer they wait to pass laws to prohibit this invader, the more costly it will be to remove it and repair the damage. But it’s only our tax money, so who cares?

      March 11, 2015 REPLY

      It’s amazing the extent to which panda chow ignites passions! Thanks for your comments, I don’t disagree.

    June 6, 2015 REPLY

    My wife is in a panic about our two small running bamboo groves. She feels there is no way to control them, and that they will spread to our neighbor’s place, and also impede the sale of our home.
    I say just cut the shoots every new growing season as I’ve done now for a couple of years, and that’s it. So far it seems effective. I don’t see the need for an elaborate trench barrier. That said, I wonder how far the rhizomes can grow underground without being seen. I don’t want any surprises, like contact with my home foundation some 50 feet away from the two small groves.
    Is my wife justified in her panic thinking, you bamboo experts out there?

      June 7, 2015 REPLY

      spontane, here’s the deal: if what you’re doing is working and you’re able to maintain that level of effort, be diligent and I wish you the best. Again it’s the whole idea that yes, you can stay on top of it, but if you fall behind you’re screwed. That’s why I recommend against bamboo, because most folks – well intentioned though they may be – can’t or won’t sustain the effort for containment.

      In the interests of marital harmony I might consider installing a barrier as a safeguard. But I’m not a counselor, just someone who somehow tricked a smart woman into staying married to him.

      Good luck!

    July 27, 2015 REPLY

    It can be invasive however if it’s surrounded by lawn it’s impossible for it to spread. Routine lawn mowing kills all emerging shoots. It’s only a problem if your neighbors have flower beds on the other side of your bamboo grove. I have no problem hicking down new shoots in the spring in my neighbors yard. It’s a little price to pay for the beauty of a grove.

    July 27, 2015 REPLY

    In addition if you want to also control height, the trick is the snap of the top of stalk just after it starts leaving out. If you do it later than that the stalk will die. When I first tried to reduce height of mature stalks by topping, I ended up with dead stalks even when I left plenty of leaves on the stalks.

      July 27, 2015 REPLY

      Thanks for commenting, Fred! I’m going to call you an edge case – that unusual person who’s diligent enough to stay on top of a stand of bamboo. Believe me, we all appreciate folks like you. The reality is that most folks who pledge to stay on top of their bamboo are like little kids who want a puppy. “I’ll walk it and clean up after it and feed it and bathe it pleeeeeeeeeeez????” And then they’re on the sofa playing their Nintendo DS while dad’s out in the snow waiting for Fluffy to go #2. Except to make the analogy work with bamboo, fluffy is now 20 feet tall and reproducing like Tribbles.

      ANYHOW. Fred, I tip my hat to you, you’re a much more conscientious gardener than I. Thanks for being part of the conversation!

    June 1, 2016 REPLY

    I am trying to diplomatically work through a bamboo issue with my neighbor. He has a large grove on our shared fenceline that has been unattended for a long time. He doesn’t even live there anymore and rents out the property. I have had two “professionals” who claim to specialize in bamboo removal/maintenance. Once claims that using his mulcher on steroids machine to completely mow down the entire grove and then spraying/mowing will take care of it since there will be no more leaves to photosynthesize. The rhizomes will eventually rot and die. His proposal costs only $1500. The other company laughs at this and will only dig out all of the rhizomes and charge me for all of the dumping fees since the dirt is contaminated. This whole process would cost between $5000 and $8000. I’m really torn here especially since I am convinced that I will have to split the cost with him to even get him to remove the entire grove on his property. Any advice here? I’ve got 1 year old twins and barely enough time to use the bathroom let alone manage this guy’s spreading bamboo.

      June 3, 2016 REPLY

      In my experience the first approach *might* work, but you have to be super diligent on follow through. The second you see a shoot pop up, take it out. Repeat at least weekly. You’ll also need a barrier between properties. Having done a bamboo remediation for someone and seeing how much effort it still is on the back end, I totally get why company #2 suggested such an intense approach. I think it depends on expectations. If you just want it all over and done with, the higher quote is the way to go. If you’re ok with potentially a good bit of followup work for the next 12-18 months, the lower priced one may be fine.

    March 20, 2017 REPLY

    My neighbor just planted running Yellow Grove Bamboo that he dug up from across the street from a stand that is as big as a house. He planted it 5 feet from our shared property line. No barrier, nothing! He planted in a flood zone drainage area that has restrictions. It is also next to a forest preserve area. This means that poison to contain the plant can’t be used, nor can a barrier be installed as physical structures are not allowed in the area. I fear that it will really “take off” because where he planted it is nutrient rich. It is also a natural area that is not mowed so I would have to wade out through tall grass and hunt through it to find anything that started growing up. I am very frustrated with this, but would like to work through this diplomatically. Some of my thoughts were to talk about the fact that his house is only about 25 feet from the bamboo which is concerning. Another thought was to talk about how the bamboo will eventually hide all the nice trees that he put in (2 willow trees, a cranberry tree/bush, birch tree, others). Please advice.

      March 20, 2017 REPLY

      I’d talk to your municipality or whoever has control over the drainage easement, for two reasons. First, they generally consider structures in easements to be things that would impede water flow. 80 mil plastic buried with a couple inches sticking up doesn’t seem to fit that definition. Second, anything in that easement has the potential to become their problem, and they’ve probably been around the block enough times that they have zero interest in fighting bamboo long term. There’s a drainage easement down the street from me where the town has to fight the bamboo several times a year. They get it.

      As for negotiating with the neighbor himself? I guess you could try having a discussion with him and explain what happens down the road, including citing some evidence. Beyond that, it just depends on what he’s like and how your relationship is with him. If my next door neighbor planted bamboo, I’d ask him for the receipt, write him a check, and take the bamboo to the landfill – but we have that kind of relationship. Good luck!

    March 21, 2017 REPLY

    Thank you for your advise. I should see if the city would allow for a divide to be put place in. Though, digging deep enough would be very difficult because it is clay, large rock, and thick wild prairie grass to dig through. From what another has said, I understand that he wants to build a barrier of bamboo across his whole back yard. As far as dealing with the neighbor? He is a bully and things could get ugly fast. He was told by another neighbor to put a barrier in, but did nothing. He is also allowing the bamboo to grow into the forest preserve and wetlands area which is not a part of my property, so I cannot prevent him from ruining that area. This could meant a greater amount of water moving towards my house in the future. The water flows out of the forest and towards my house instead of towards the drain on another side, so that’s the other problem. He will be ruining wetlands and forest area.

      March 22, 2017 REPLY

      wish I had a better answer for you. Sounds like letting the local gov’t know about it is your best place to start, along with maybe doing a little barrier work yourself. Good luck!

        March 23, 2017 REPLY

        I agree with you. When you have a “potentially” difficult neighbor to work with, I think that it is best to let the city work with the person. Also, in this situation it makes sense considering the location of some of the bamboo. It is a city problem too because the bamboo is in an area that floods and drains out into other parts of the city (and you have the forest area close by too). Research has found that bamboo can travel through the means of water flow, so there it could affect many more people in the future.

    May 28, 2017 REPLY

    I intentionally planted running bamboo near my neighbor’s property to cover up a rotting shed on his property, because the HOA wouldn’t do anything about the shed. It’s been 3 years since I planted it, and it’s really getting thick. I call it my anti-white trash privacy screen. I don’t care if it runs on his property. Nonetheless, thanks for your informative article.

      May 31, 2017 REPLY

      just be careful to control it on yours! It would be a bummer to have that go poorly. Good luck!

    July 18, 2017 REPLY

    Great article. I wanted to have bamboo in our garden but my husband advised against it. I might get the clumping one then. On an unrelated note I just moved here and was wondering why none of my neighbors has fruit trees in their gardens like apples, cherries, peaches, plums etc. Do they not grow well in DC area?
    Thanks for the advice.

      July 18, 2017 REPLY

      Hey Gerlinde, welcome to the area! Clumping bamboos are great, just be very sure of the source – I have seen runners mislabeled as clumpers, and that would be a bummer.

      Fruit trees do ok here, but for a lot of homeowners they’re a lot of work (pruning, spraying, more spraying) to get fruit that’s remotely worth eating. And then if they’re not really keeping up with picking, it gets messy. If you’re up for it though, they’re definitely an option!

    September 19, 2021 REPLY

    can bamboo spread via birds/wind? there are some huge stands of running bamboo a couple of hundred yards down the street from us, suddenly we now have shoots growing at the edge of our front yard

    April 14, 2022 REPLY

    My backyard neighbors have a Grove. I just bought my home, shoots are popping up daily. My grass was in bad shape when we first purchased but I have been maintaining and using weed and feed and now the bamboo has begun to take over. I have pulled up root like cordage from the dirt. I eventually want a pool and I don’t even know how to start the conversation with my neighbor. My plan was to dig a trench barrier and put a treated wood wall underground and then remove the roots on my side. The trench digger for rent is 300 bucks. I may hire some help. I am in tears thinking about the work ahead. This is not going to go well I just know it.

    April 24, 2022 REPLY

    I’m looking to plant bamboo in a couple of raised garden beds. The raised beds are about 20″ tall; no bottom other than earth. Would it be safe to plant running bamboo in these beds?

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