Bamboo Fences and Good Neighbors

“Remember the expression ‘Good fences make good neighbors’? What if the fence is in the form of a bamboo hedge?”

According to several irate homeowners who have recently expressed their dismay over the appearance of bamboo shoots from the yard next door, there are a few issues associated with the good fence/good neighbor refrain. This is especially true if the fence is a “living” fence and if the living fence is composed of bamboo plants, particularly the running varieties.

bamboo hedge gone wild

Image courtesy of AmericanForests.org

Used in specific situations for erosion control or ground covers where their spreading rhizomes are strictly monitored, bamboo can be used to advantage. Unfortunately, this member of the grass family Poaceae is most likely installed by someone who has heard this is a GREAT plant for producing a fast-growing screen. That’s the upside of bamboo, and along with its recent re-branding as an all-purpose plant that provides products from flooring to food, has encouraged property owners to discount its potential for bad behavior.

In fairness to bamboo growers, there are two basic types of bamboo. One is a “running” bamboo, spreading via underground rhizomes or runners. This is usually the kind purchased and planted by the person wanting a fast block against any number of unsightly objects; dog houses, vehicles under repair, even old swing sets. When this kind of bamboo reaches the property line however, it doesn’t stop there but continues an underground march that carries it as far as favorable conditions allow. Some sun, some moisture, semi-decent soil, bamboo is happy and on the move. And that’s when the fence/neighbor conflict can emerge. ‘My neighbor planted bamboo and now it’s taking over MY yard’. If you’re on the planting end, be aware of this possibility and consider something less aggressive.

Even the better behaved “clumping” bamboos, which grow much more slowly and tend to form irregular clumps, should be regarded with caution. Without regular attention, this kind of bamboo will spread, and its dense roots can create problems for structures such as retaining walls and sidewalks.

If you’re already dealing with unwelcome bamboo, there are several approaches for removing it but be aware all methods involve repeated activities and possibly multiple years. Mowing the culms (new growth) repeatedly will help use up the plant’s energy stores, and eliminates the need for digging or applying herbicides.

However, that patch of bamboo on the property next door will continue to send runners into adjoining yards unless a root barrier of some sort is installed. Rolls of plastic intended for this use are available from home and garden store, but adequate installation (deep enough) is necessary for the barrier to work.

Best advice: don’t plant bamboo in the first place. You may be diligent about controlling and containing it, but those who come after you may not be as responsible. So keep good neighbors with “good” fences.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.


The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

2 thoughts on “Bamboo Fences and Good Neighbors

  1. I agree with Ms. Rich. I have seen bamboo rhizomes charge right through heavy plastic barriers like they were made of paper. Nothing short of diligent digging will stop bamboo from advancing wherever it chooses. Even native bamboo is incredibly aggressive in a garden setting.

  2. Hey Sally. We all know NOTHING will stop the advance of an aggressive plant. Certainly nothing so flimsy as plastic or concrete. Short of using Agent Orange, vigilance for years is the only method of control. I know gardeners want the one time fix but it is not going to happen. One really important factor people rarely mention is to remove the flowers before seeds appear. Yes, bamboo does flower, and yes the removal of the flowers goes a very long way to stop this plant.

    nothing short
    vigilance

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