Sep 26, 201301:00 PMPoint of View
Green Team Part 19: Is Bamboo for You?
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With its distinctive structure and tidy appearance, traditional bamboo appeals to those with contemporary design sensibilities. While its benefits are many, so are its drawbacks. Proper plant selection was on our minds in our last post, and bamboo is no exception for the same considerations.
Bamboo establishes itself in dense groves that provide quickly growing screens for privacy or separation of spaces. Its finely textured leaves create a lush, verdant habitat. From a design standpoint, it may be the answer to many site constraints and aesthetic preferences. This mostly non-native plant, however, poses many challenges from environmental, maintenance and geographical standpoints.
Bamboo’s dense, upright structure is appealing to designers for use in areas where texture, screening, and/or where its geometric silhouette is needed to complement adjacent design elements. This bamboo is installed at Columbia University’s Lenfest Hall.
Courtesy Mathews Nielsen
Bamboo is classified into two basic categories—clumping or running. Clumping bamboo roots do not spread quickly, and the plants are easily managed. Running, or spreading, species have more extensive root systems that expand by underground rhizomes and can become aggressive. They grow vigorously and take over adjacent areas, crowding out other plantings. They can be difficult to maintain due to their invasive character, and their extensive root systems are equally difficult to remove. While there are hundreds of species of bamboo in the tropical ranges of Asia and South America, the species of bamboo that tend to be most suitable to Northeast US conditions are the spreading varieties.
Left: On the left, spreading bamboo species have lateral root systems that spread quickly via rhizomes. Right: The image on the right shows the more contained root structured of clumping bamboo.
Courtesy (Left) www.bamboobotanicals.ca and (Right) www.bamboosourcery.com
When thinking of planting bamboo, we need to look beyond the structured aesthetic and ensure that its benefits outweigh its disadvantages. One advantage is that bamboo is known to be deer tolerant. In suburban or rural locations where deer populations regularly deplete gardens, bamboo plantings with contained root systems prove to be invaluable for screening off private garden areas where wider evergreen plantings are too cumbersome. In addition, fast-growing bamboo reaches maturity quickly compared to its evergreen counterparts such as arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) or eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). Due to its lack of prominent flowers and related pollen, there is also minimal concern about the use of the plant as it relates to allergies.