Sometimes you want a bit of privacy from neighboring homes or even the street but walls and fences just don’t give you the aesthetic feel you’re looking for. Maybe you’ve tried a living privacy wall made of the fast growing Arborvitae or even Junipers. But still, you’re not in love with the look, or maybe you’re seeing a lot of browning after a rough winter.
Rhododendrons make a lovely option but require a lot of space – and the real beauty of the blooms only lasts a short time during spring. Cypress, Ivy, Japanese Boxwood… all of these have a place but can start to look very much like every hedge or border you’ve ever seen.
Enter bamboo. This evergreen plant is less common than its screening cousins, looks great all year and comes in over 1,000 varieties worldwide, a number of which can be used right in your back yard here in New Jersey.
It can be a challenge or a nightmare if it’s planted wrong, but with the right touch it will create a beautiful and functional privacy screen even in the smallest of spaces. Here are some things you need to know about bamboo if you’re considering it for your landscape and some of the benefits it can afford.
Two Types Of Bamboo
Although there are many species, they fall into two general categories: clumping bamboo and running bamboo. It’s important to understand the difference because each is better under different circumstances.
Clumping bamboo grows just as it sounds – by forming dense clumps of stalks. It grows more slowly, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, this might not be the best option for you. It also needs a bit of space – up to 10 feet, sometimes more – to reach its fully mature height. And it’s not ideal for cold weather, although some varieties fare better than others.
Running bamboo grows quickly and results in a popular wispy “open grove” look. It’s also hardy, grows in narrow spaces and can withstand local winters, making it an attractive screen that’s really setting the trend.
But be careful! It grows by sending out “runners” underground, which can sprout new growth far from the parent plant. That means your lovely screen can easily become an invasive plant if it’s not contained properly. And the last thing you want is to be responsible for your neighbors’ distress as they battle to rid their yard of your unwieldy plant. But with the right touch of a green thumb, it can be tamed into a beautiful addition to your landscape.
Caring For Bamboo
Thanks to its many varieties, bamboo can grow in anywhere from full sun to shade, though generally bamboo prefers at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day. Also, depending on the variety, it can accommodate many of the special needs of your landscape. For example, the long-leafed Arrow Bamboo is salt tolerant whereas the Red Margin is wind resistant. If you face either of these challenges, there’s a variety for you!
Bamboo is also low maintenance. It doesn’t need a lot of water and can usually thrive under regular rainfall. In fact, one of the quickest ways to kill bamboo is by over watering.
You’ll be able to tell when your plant is thirsty because the leaves will begin to curl inwards to conserve moisture. Don’t be alarmed; this is completely natural and pretty ingenious, if you think about it. Bamboo is designed to protect itself and proliferate happily without much input from you!
On the other hand, if the leaves are curling and the ground appears saturated, that could be a sign of over watering, so be mindful. And if the leaves begin to turn brown it’s time to turn off the faucet and think about applying a fungicide.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s better to let the plant get a little dry than to water too much.
And while fertilization isn’t a must, bamboo loves nitrogen so a dose of the right fertilizer at the right time can boost growth and even help establish new growth if you’ve just planted a grove.
How To Properly Contain Bamboo
Without proper containment, bamboo can quickly grow out of control. Remember, it sends out runners underground which can sprout growth far from the original plant, confounding other homeowners when it shows up in their yard, or even turning yours into an overgrown mess.
There are a few ways to contain bamboo, some more effective than others. One of the best natural ways is to plant it near a stream or consistently wet site because it will not cross that barrier. But without the luxury of a back yard stream, you can also contain it by installing man made barriers to prevent it from sending out its runners.
This is where most bamboo plantings go wrong. Different materials are used to contain the runners, from metal to concrete and plastic. These all sound effective but beware! Metal can rust, concrete can crack and even plastic can have seams that the runners can escape through.
The most effective way to contain bamboo is with a “Rhizome Barrier”, a polyethylene sheet that can be cut to any length and placed into a narrow trench surrounding the roots. The bottom is open, allowing for proper drainage, and since bamboo runners only grow to a depth of up to 18 inches, the sheet can be placed deep enough to prevent roots from escaping beneath.
The Rhizome barrier also has another advantage over other materials, which is that it’s flexible enough to be molded to any bed line you desire. That means you can follow a curving path as easily as a straight one.
With the many colors, textures, heights and shapes of bamboo, its versatility for growing in different climates, under different soil conditions, in wind and in sun, dry spells and rain, you can begin to see why it’s becoming more popular and sought after as privacy screening.
If you’d like to learn more about how it can transform your landscape and make your space feel more peaceful, personal and private, let us know! Bamboo is one of our favorites and you can even come visit our showroom to see it in action.