By Shelley Pierce and Mary Dyer
What are the pros of planting bamboo in the garden, and are there any reasons not to grow bamboo? That is what’s at question here, and we hope to provide some insight into both sides of this common debate. Read on for information about bamboo benefits vs. bamboo disadvantages so you can decide which choice is best for you – to plant bamboo or not to plant bamboo.
Pros of Planting Bamboo
Mary’s viewpoint: There are countless good reasons to grow bamboo, a fast-growing plant that provides many benefits in the home garden and beyond. Let’s learn more about the many advantages of planting bamboo.
Versatility. There are more than 1,000 different types of bamboo in a nearly endless range of heights, colors and growing habits. Some prefer shade and others thrive in bright sunlight. Hardy varieties may tolerate winter chill to -20 F. (-29 C.), while some types can’t tolerate a light frost. There’s bound to be a perfect bamboo for your particular situation.
Pest resistance. Bamboo is definitely not on top of the food list for deer, which for many gardeners is one of the best reasons to grow bamboo. Rabbits and other mammals also tend to stay away. Bamboo is rarely bothered by insect pests, with the exception of bamboo mites, which may be a problem in dry climates.
Environmental benefits. Bamboo absorbs greenhouse gases and releases oxygen into the atmosphere. It is also a renewable resource that may help save the world’s dwindling forests. A hardwood forest isn’t replaced for many decades, but bamboo, among the world’s fastest-growing plants, can be harvested in one to five years, depending on the species. Because of its extensive root system, prevention of soil erosion is a valuable bamboo benefit in many soil-depleted areas.
Aggressiveness. Bamboo has a well-deserved reputation for invasiveness, but not all types are rampant spreaders. If you’re worried that it will get out of control, plant clumping bamboo, a well-behaved bamboo that spreads only about an inch (2.5 cm.) per year. Clumping bamboo isn’t as gigantic either, topping out at about 6 feet (2 m.).
Easy to grow. Pros of bamboo include the plant’s easy growth habits. As long as the climate is right, bamboo grows in nearly any type of reasonably fertile well-drained soil. It requires little maintenance and is relatively drought tolerant, although it performs better with regular irrigation.
Privacy screening. Bamboo is an attractive, inexpensive, fast-growing privacy screen. If invasiveness isn’t a concern, running types can grow more than 3 feet (1 m.) per day. Climbing types take a little longer to fill in.
Used around the world. Bamboo is a highly nutritious plant that provides food and medicine for people (and livestock) around the world. The strong fibers are used for building material and to make necessities ranging from floor mats or paper to fishing poles or musical instruments.
Cons of Planting Bamboo
Shelley’s viewpoint: Bamboo may make a very attractive hedge or privacy screen but don’t let aesthetics bamboo-zle you into growing it. Read on to discover the downsides of growing bamboo in the garden.
Bamboo is invasive. It is world renowned for being one of the most invasive plants on the planet. That alone is one of the best reasons not to grow bamboo. Sure, some types are less invasive than others, but do you really want to run the risk of planting the wrong or *gasp* even a mislabeled variety? Bamboo rhizomes can grow underground several feet (upwards of 20 feet/6 meters or more) in just a single season and it is said that some bamboo varieties, under the right conditions, can grow 3-4 feet (1 m.) in height in just 24 hours! Wow!
A threat to biodiversity. Like any invasive plant, bamboo is a threat to native plants and will outcompete them for habitat.
A strain on neighborly relations. Let’s say you bucked the advice not to plant bamboo and now it has taken over your yard. And now the neighbors are raising pitchforks and giving you the stink eye because it has taken over their yards as well. That invite you received for the cookout? Consider it revoked. Talk about bamboo disadvantages!
Bamboo wants a relationship, not something casual. Are you one of those gardeners who get bored easily and like to redo their garden layouts, ripping out plants every season to try something new? If so, stay away from bamboo. One of the downsides to growing bamboo is that it is a long-term relationship and, as you will find out, breaking up is hard to do…
Difficult to eradicate. Bamboo is difficult to control when it gets out of hand. Once a running bamboo is established, its thick and tough rhizomes, which are resistant to most herbicides, can stretch out more than 100 feet (30 m.) and send out shoots at any point. Your options are to repeatedly mow down the bamboo to stymie the rhizomes, physically dig up and remove the rhizomes (manually or with power equipment), or try applying many applications of herbicides. You will probably use a combination of all those options. And, I hope you have a lot of time and energy on your hands, because it will take a few years and a lot of due diligence to totally eradicate. Maybe your neighbor will let you borrow their pitchfork to dig up the bamboo…
Do the Advantages of Planting Bamboo Outweigh the Disadvantages?
While there are many good reasons to grow bamboo, there are also a number of downsides worth considering. If you’re thinking about growing bamboo, don’t rush into a decision. Take time, and then select the best type for your garden. Bamboo can become a big bamboo boo-boo if you commit to it without carefully considering the cons beforehand. If you value biodiversity, your relationship with your neighbors, and maintaining a casual relationship with your plants, then bamboo is not for you.