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Running Bamboo Runs Rampant In Westchester

Bamboo withstands just about anything winter throws at it. The plant will be ready for its spring growing period, which, in Westchester, begins in late March.
Bamboo withstands just about anything winter throws at it. The plant will be ready for its spring growing period, which, in Westchester, begins in late March. Photo Credit: Julie Curtis

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - Spring will make its official descent on Westchester in just a few weeks. And bamboo, which spends winter preparing for its early spring sprint, is ready for its growing season. But are you ready for your bamboo?

Two popular types of bamboo are being planted more and more frequently in the area: running and clumping, said Toivo Kivisalu, of Rosedale Nursery in Hawthorne. Clumping bamboo grows more slowly than running bamboo, and more important, he said, it does not spread as aggressively.

But phyllostachys aureosulcata, also known as running, or yellow groove bamboo, is an aggressive genus of the plant that is literally running rampant in the area, he said.

Once established, running bamboo can travel more than five feet a year underground and up to 20 or more feet high, said Jeffrey S. Ward, chief scientist in the Connecticut Department of Forestry and Horticulture. That makes it not only a backyard plant but something of a spectator sport as well.

Planted for decades in the area, running bamboo has become a favorite among homeowners and landscapers for its speed in creating natural barriers between properties. In the two- to three-month growing season, bamboo’s rhizomes spread like subterranean tentacles, and then push up their stalks, or culms.

Thick groves can require professional digging equipment to remove. If left unwatched and unmitigated, running bamboo can push up under asphalt driveways and behind home siding.

Bamboo lovers, however, will not be deterred. Frederika Rayman, of Mamaroneck, who has many varieties of bamboo planted on her property, is among them. “Bamboo’s gotten a bad reputation for being invasive, but that’s like blaming a flower for turning toward the sun to survive.”

Kivisalu, of Rosedale Nursery, agreed. “Bamboo isn’t the problem; the problem is that it needs to be planted in an area that will accommodate the bamboo. If you don’t have a large property or aren’t willing to keep your eye on it, then I wouldn’t suggest planting running bamboo.”

Some nurseries, Rosedale included, provide bamboo-buyers with information tags that detail how to keep bamboo rhizomes and roots from spreading. One precaution is sinking a protective barrier down around the roots about 2 feet into the ground to prevent them from spreading.

Bamboo fans are undeterred by the potential for invasiveness. “I go out with my coffee on spring mornings just to see how much it’s grown the previous night,” said Rayman. “It’s one of my favorite pastimes.”

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