Bamboo

bamboo with bent out stalk to encourage establishment

This grass, with endless utility and growth potential, also garners invasive tendency. Though here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we’re a little underwhelmed by it’s potential thus far. If you are going to plant bamboo, take care in the verity you select, location, and a sturdy management plan. In some bioregions, bamboo can be catastrophic to native habitat, and building foundations. It’s also one of the best raw materials for a diversity of construction needs from lattice and fencing, to framing a structure, depending on the verity you select. Here at EEC, we wanted a sturdy stalk for lattice and waddle fencing, with a moderate growth rate. We planted three bunches along a fence line where soil is fertile, sun is abundant, and a good buffer screen from the neighbor is warranted. The bamboo is established to stabilize the ground towards the bottom of a slope. It’s been alive and well for almost five years now, but new growth remains illusive. I took a few stalks and reburied them along teh ground like runners to see if they would spread. They did, and the re-root is solid, but there is still little new stalk growth- for use as material, to show.

stalk bent over from initial clump to root along the gorund

Inevitably, this bamboo will take root and spread. All the informative literature on this species warns of a slow start, ending in impossible to control exponential expansion (if left unchecked). How do you check bamboo? Well, it depends on the verity. This plant spreads through a rhizome, a thick root structure that throws out long tendril roots through the soil to harvest nutrients and water for the plant. It’s a grass, and if you thought cutting turf was challenging, wait till the sod has a 3 foot thick root structure to dig out. That imposing root mass is limited to a certain depth, which is how to control the spread. Thick plastic sheeting can be buried into the ground below the rhizome’s deepest leads to block spreading. You can also simply dig a deep trench around your stand and monitor for the occasional runner that slips under. So far, we are not in need of a barrier, and I will continue to spread the stalks out along the ground in a line parallel to our pallet fence. The stalks I’ve already planted out are showing promising node buds, which should eventually shoot up new stalks. We’re a long way form viable material harvesting for fencing and lattice, not to mention privacy buffer, but in time, I’m sure this bamboo will live up to its reputation.

close up of rootlets and node buds along planted stalk

What is the long term control plan for this aggressive grass? In a word, shade. This strain of bamboo needs abundant light. Our planting plan puts the bamboo on the south side of an 80 year old Douglas Fir, which will prevent the bamboo from growing north, into another neighbor’s property. To the west is the fence line, and beyond that another evergreen forest with ample shade. On the south and eastern sided of this modest stand, human harvesting will prevent expansion for the next lifetime. After that, the entire property will be established forest, growing tall enough to shade out the remaining bamboo entirely, as it does with any other grass once canopy is restored. This thought allows me to cultivate this invasive without too much worry. Bamboo has a reputation because people who plant it don’t think about the long term stewardship of the landscape it’s been introduced to. This is the case with many planted spaces- especially poorly managed urban landscaping. There you can really see foundational compromise in action, when people put bamboo on a property line with cement foundations all around, and no thought to what the powerful rhizome will do to the rock around it. Back on the mountain slopes of its native terrain, bamboo plays a role in braking down rocky mountains into sediment over ecological time. In a city or suburb, bamboo will upend parking lots, house foundations, and basement walls, earning its reputation as a monumental destructive force. At EEC, we hope to harness the structural strength of bamboo, and provide a good material resource for the short term human cultivation nearby.

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