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Selecting the Right Genus of Bamboo

* First of two parts. Next week: controlling bamboo growth

October 28, 2000|U.C. MASTER GARDENERS

Question: I like the look of bamboo, but I'm told it's very invasive. Should I avoid growing it?

--W.L., La Habra

Answer: Bamboo has a reputation for overrunning lawns and other plantings. It can, however, be useful for hedging, screening and as a garden accent.

The secret is to carefully choose bamboo for your yard and learn how to contain it within desired areas. Keep in mind that bamboo is a grass, and the running bamboos grow like Bermuda grass.

They can, however, be managed successfully in the garden with good cultural practices, and it's possible to bring them under control.

Unless expansion to cover a large area is desired, there are a variety of stay-at-home bamboos that can be used in the garden. These types are ideal if you don't want a large area covered, because they are clump-forming. They are not invasive and can be trusted to remain within the area where they are planted. These bamboos multiply upon themselves, creating a clump of roots.

Clumping bamboos belong to the genuses Bambusa, Chuquea, Fargesia and Otatea. The Fargesia are from mountainous areas of China and the others are generally tropical or subtropical in origin.

Although running bamboos need to be controlled, they are fast-growers that make excellent screens and hedges. They belong to the genuses Arundinaria, Chimonobambusa, Phyllostachy, Pseudosas, Sasa, Semiarundinaria and Shibataea. Generally they come from temperate regions of China and Japan.

Selections of bamboo may be limited at local nurseries, but there are specialized nurseries that can supply bamboos meeting your specifications. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists more than two pages of bamboo varieties that may be used in Western gardens.

For additional information on growing bamboo, contact the American Bamboo Society on the web at http://www.bamboo.org/abs.

--Written by University of California master gardener Harold Pope of Irvine.

Have a problem in your yard? University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardeners are here to help. These trained and certified volunteers are dedicated to extending research-based, scientifically accurate information to the public about home horticulture and pest management. They are involved with a variety of outreach programs, including the UCCE Master Garden hotline, which answers specific questions. You can reach the hotline at (714) 708-1646 or send e-mail to ucmastergardeners@yahoo.com. Calls and e-mail are picked up daily and are generally returned within three days.

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