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Planning, picking the right species can prevent bamboo spread: expert

Worried your garden bamboo could land you in court should it spread to your neighbour's yard? A gardening expert offers tips on how to take control.
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Steve Vaughan with golden timber bamboo at Victoria Bamboo. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Some might be worried about the consequences of planting bamboo in the wake of a recent civil resolution tribunal decision to award a Saanich homeowner $2,000 in damages after his neighbour’s running bamboo plants sprouted roots and rhizomes into his manicured property.

But a Victoria bamboo specialist says the plant is only invasive if you don’t select the right kind, or plant it properly.

Steve Vaughan and his daughter own and operate Saanich-based Victoria Bamboo, which carries more than 30 species and is one of only a handful of bamboo-specific retailers in the country.

Vaughan said you can avoid bamboo running amok by picking the right species or putting barriers in place.

“Whatever you’re planting, you should know how it’s going to behave,” Vaughan said. “There are very fast-growing and fast-running bamboo. There are also slow-growing bamboo and then there are clumping bamboo, which don’t run at all. They stay in a very tight clump like most of our North American shrubs.”

Vaughan said running bamboo, which is often more aesthetically pleasing, can be contained using rhizome barriers — high-density plastic that’s inserted about 55 centimetres into the ground either around bamboo or along a perimeter.

The bamboo at Vaughan’s nursery range widely, with some only able to grow up to half a metre tall and others able to reach 12 to 15 metres. Either way, Vaughan said the plants are genetically locked in to stop growing at a certain height.

And while the plant is the fastest-growing on Earth — with some species able to grow a metre in one day — Vaughan said it requires maintenance and water to survive, unlike invasive species such as Scotch Broom and English Ivy.

“I hear all these horror stories about it taking over the village — the reality is, bamboo requires water to survive,” said Vaughan, who got into bamboo about 10 years ago because it makes a great privacy screen. “It needs irrigation in the summer.”

Bamboo is not listed as an invasive species by the Invasive Species Council of B.C. or the Coastal Invasive Species Committee. The District of Saanich confirmed it has not added bamboo to its invasive species list, saying it takes its lead from the Coastal Invasive Species Committee.

“Currently, Saanich does not consider bamboo plants as falling under the Noxious Weeds Bylaw because bamboos are ornamental plants that are purposefully included in landscaping as opposed to a weed that is left uncontrolled,” Saanich communications manager Megan Catalano said in an email. “Residents are informed that bamboo encroachment is a civil matter between neighbours.”

ngrossman@timescolonist.com