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Befriending Bamboo

The calming sound of bamboo clacking in the wind, and the way light falls on the ground through a stand of bamboo can be a nice addition to any garden. Despite its finer qualities, the mere mention of bamboo is often enough to illicit a firm "Not in my backyard!" from many gardeners. Bamboo certainly has the annoying tendency to take over a yard quickly, but a well-planned stand of bamboo may be helpful to striking a peace accord with the pushy plant.

If you are contemplating using bamboo in your yard plan to plant it in containers to keep it from spreading. Select where you would like to grow your bamboo and then bury containers in the ground so the tops are level with the soil. Fill part way with soil, place your bamboo plants in the containers and then fill the rest of the container with soil.

You will need to monitor your bamboo closely and cut it back regularly in order to be sure it stays where you want it. When cutting back your bamboo, cut off the stems, also called culms, shortly after they come out of the ground, and before their leaves open. The leaves feed the roots and help the plant to establish itself and begin growing. When cutting back your bamboo, trim out the old culms from the center of the colony. While this may seem counter-intuitive, cutting out the center of the colony will help to prevent the colony from spreading. If you have stands of bamboo that are not contained, cut them with a sharp spade in late summer, drive them into the ground about a foot and then dig them out.

Once you've cut it down and dug it up, the question of how to get rid of your cut bamboo arises. Bear in mind that since bamboo is a woody fiber, putting it in a chipper is not a good answer. Instead of setting by the curb for garbage pick up, try using it around your home. For all of its difficulties, bamboo is a useful plant-the Japanese employ it to make all kinds of structures. It works well for bean trellises, tomato stands, or fences. When working with the plant remember that nails and screws will split the bamboo poles. Binding them together is usually the best solution. The Japanese traditionally use sisal, an expensive palm rope, but you can also use household twine.

For those who plan to devote more time to the bamboo arts consider purchasing a bamboo splitter. This is a cast iron Asian tool that looks like a sliced pie, with blades making up the slices. It is used to split the bamboo into pieces so it can be used for weaving. Simply place the splitter on the top of a bamboo pole and tap it until the splitter works it way down the pole, slicing the wood as it moves. Splitters come in a variety of sizes with anywhere from three to 18 blades.

If you know how to monitor and care for your bamboo it can be a pleasure to grow, as opposed to a nuisance to tame.

Sources: Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post; National Gardening Association,

When yardwork and landscaping chores are too much to handle, remember that AHA members can save money by taking advantage of member discounts on lawn care and tree care services from TruGreen - ChemLawn. You'll receive a free 14-point analysis of your lawn or landscape. And you'll get $20 off your first visit when you subscribe to the TruGreen - ChemLawn Lawn Care or Tree and Shrub Care Programs. See the special tear-out coupons in your Membership Benefits Kit or call 1-800-937-3783 code HA.