Long overdue


Twenty some years ago I planted three columnar hornbeams and variegated bamboo in the spaces between the trees to screen the neighbor’s property. You’d think I’d know better. I blame it on youthful enthusiasm, but when youth turned to middle age (hopefully I’m still “middle” and not plain old) the bamboo has run amok.

Why did I plant bamboo? A running bamboo? Well, it’s a long story, but the short of it is that I liked the white striped foliage (below), and I was deluded enough to be fooled by a description that implied that this variegated bamboo was a less aggressive runner. I suppose it is slightly less vigorous than bamboos that consume entire neighborhoods, but this one has long  been determined to take over a corner of the garden. A big corner, and its spread has been slowed only by the shading of the grouping of large hornbeams and a wide spreading golden rain tree.

My efforts to pull new shoots that race across to other parts of the garden have been marginally successful, but each year the bamboo spreads a bit further despite my labor. The lower branches of a once splendid Colorado blue spruce have disappeared, and if I could push close enough to check I’m quite certain that there are no needles below the eight foot height of the tallest bamboo shoots.

For whatever reason now, two of three hornbeams have died. My wife blames the bamboo for killing them, but she blames the bamboo for everything. I don’t have a clue why they died, but in the absence of any other evidence I choose not to accept my wife’s explanation.

With a thick grove of bamboo surrounding the dead hornbeams there is  no way to get in to cut them down except to chop a path. While I was traveling a week ago my wife cleared some of the bamboo from the edge of the driveway, and of course she butchered them so it looks horrible. So, the time seems right to solve this problem and cut down the entire bamboo grove. It had to happen eventually, but I was hoping to die first and pass the chore along to my heirs. Taking care of it now will give access to remove the dead hornbeams, and perhaps I’ll save a few hours of labor every spring chopping out bamboo shoots that pop up.

I’m certain that bamboo will sprout in every direction next spring since I’m not digging out the roots. I’m cutting the clumps as close to the ground as possible, and probably will dig out the roots of a few thick clumps that border the driveway, but most of the roots will stay because it’s a huge task to remove them. There’s no doubt that I’ll have to chop out emerging shoots for another year, and perhaps two, but that’s manageable, and eventually the bamboo will lose vigor without any foliage and the roots will die.

Once the bamboo is gone I’m afraid the blue spruce will look hideous and it will probably have to go, so this area of the garden bordering the driveway will be short two thirty foot hornbeams, a twenty foot tall spruce, and several hundred square feet of eight foot tall bamboo. The thought of losing these established plants is depressing, but I’m encouraged that it opens an area for new plants. Once everything is cleared out I’ll figure out how to replant the area, but I’m thinking there might be space enough for another Japanese maple, and certainly a holly or two. Despite the removal of the trees the area will still be partially shaded, so I’m looking forward to planting a few more hostas and hellebores, maybe a hydrangea or two, and it won’t take long until the space is full again.

I’ve only just begun the removal at this point, and with hot days forecast for the next few early days of summer, I’m not looking forward to the task. I’m not so young anymore, so if you don’t hear from me again you’re likely to find my body in the middle of the bamboo, chainsaw in hand.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenny says:

    We are fighting the non-variegated type in a wooded area of our back yard that borders a messy and noisy neighbor. We like that it’s evergreen and screens out what we don’t want to see, but hate that it won’t stay put. This year we have cut down at least 20 new stalks. Last year it was only about 5. We have found that if we cut the stalks before they leaf out, they are soft and it is much easier. But I guess you are beyond that point now. Good luck!

  2. Keep trooping on! I saw evidence of the vigourous nature of bamboo in my sister in law’s urban garden. It looks lovely but is starting to lift and crack the paving after only a few years. It does feel a bit sad to remove established plants but you are right that it gives you an opportunity to plant anew. I love Japanese maples, hostas and helibores so I’m sur your patch of garden will be refreshed and exciting after all your efforts. Go you!

  3. Elena says:

    My Dear Man and Fellow Plantsman, it’s time to rethink our season of life and THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. Find you a Hort Science program and draw up a Senior Project Proposal. Offer the new design to whichever winning applicant offers room for your hellebores, but just say NO to non native maples! See what great work the nxt generation of designers will do for you while u “relax the back” and look for your lost pruners.

  4. Sarah says:

    sarah says;

    I bow to Elena’s obvious experience but must disagree about Japanese maples. While I have laborered, weak and weary, over many a year of bamboo war, my Japanese maples have given me nothing but pleasure. So much, in fact, that I have a hard time destroying any with a bit of size. They are so easy to move and sculpt that I have a continual nursery in large pots for friends and self, to slip in wherever attractive with new plantings or when forced to replace old favorites. I have only had to give up on a few and do not find it painful to remove smallest volunteers altogether.

    As for the bamboo, I inherited a lovely screen of it 25 years ago, with no warnings. Unable to travel across a ravine, it advances on the house and must be dealt with every 4-5 years or it will overrun trees and gardens in its path. I have heard a deep enough ditch will do the trick, but keeping about 6-10 feet in grass and mown regularly works ok if first you disc or plow below its ‘grid’. Once the ‘grid’ of roots are broken up and discarded, what is left will sprout but cutting grass regularly puts a stop to that.

  5. Dave says:

    I appreciate the kind remarks and sympathy in my quest to remove this stubborn patch of bamboo. I’ve made planting design errors that required hard labor to correct in the past, and I’ve no doubt I’ll do the same again. This will not diminish the joy I experience in the garden, in planting and witnessing plants as they grow and flower.

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