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Bamboo can be a homeowner's nightmare

Invasive bamboo "doesn't care about boundaries, property lines

Invasive bamboo "doesn't care about boundaries, property lines or your pool," says Mina Vescera of Cornell Cooperative Extension.   Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The thought of planting bamboo can be appealing — it grows quickly and easily to create natural privacy and can add an attractive, Asian tone to a garden.

But if you’re considering bamboo, stay away from running bamboo, which is very invasive, often spreading to neighboring spaces where it’s not wanted. Its razor-sharp roots can penetrate even the densest and hardest of surfaces.

New York State has banned the planting of two species of running bamboo — golden bamboo and yellow grove bamboo.

A different kind, clumping bamboo, is not invasive and is not banned.

Running bamboo has "underground stems that are very tenacious, and that’s how they reproduce. They can quickly enlarge in size," said Mina Vescera, a nursery and landscape specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. "It will take out everything in its path. Running bamboo doesn’t care about boundaries, property lines or your pool." It can cost thousands of dollars to remove.

If gardeners think trimming the bamboo stalks will stunt growth, they should think again.

"When a bamboo infestation is cut down to the ground all at one time, the response is for the underground rhizomes to send up many new shoots both where the infestation was and in new areas beyond the previous edge of growth," said Andy Senesac, a Cornell weed science specialist. "Repeated cutting of the stems to the ground is a viable option for control only if the entire colony can be repeatedly cut back during the growing season and then for several years after that."

Many Long Island municipalities have regulated or banned the use of bamboo, including Riverhead, North Hempstead, Smithtown, Babylon, Glen Cove and Northport. Some will fine residents and require them to pay for removal when it spreads to neighbors’ yards.

Wondering what else not to plant in your yard?

Vescera suggested checking the state’s list of prohibited and regulated invasive plants at dec.ny.gov before planting.

"The most important thing they can do if they’re questioning whether a plant in their garden is invasive is to get it identified," Vescera said. For a small fee, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County can do a lab diagnosis. Call 631-727-4126 or email Alice Raimondo at aw242@cornell.edu for information.

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