How to Contain Running Bamboos

by philinshelton on February 16, 2009

in Bamboo Basics,How To

Whenever this topic comes up, so does the question of rhizome barrier.  After years of listening to escape stories, talking with other growers, and observing "contained" bamboo, I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that a vigorous running bamboo will defeat a poly rhizome barrier over time, every time.  I will save further commentary on poly rhizome barrier for a future article, except to say that the best way to contain a running bamboo is by religious rhizome pruning.


You can use a variety of tools to rhizome prune.  For really big groves a tractor with a tilling attachment works well.  For smaller groves with less room to  manuever, a walk behind tiller works well.  For most of my work, however, I use a  mattock and loppers. Techniques Most bamboos have a shallow rhizome system, so you can use the "pointy end" of the mattock to scratch through the top 6"-8" of soil at the edge of the bed.  When I  encounter a rhizome, I make sure the pointy end is underneath the rhizome, and then I use the flat end of the mattock for leverage to pull the rhizome up out of the soil.  Then with my loppers, I snip the rhizome, and pry up the rest of the rhizome, and remove it from the soil. Timing Rhizome pruning is a fairly easy job if you are religious about it.  If you get behind on your pruning, (like I did in the pics above) you will have to wrestle with some long woody rhizomes, making the work a lot harder than it needs to be.I recommend doing it 3 times a year; once in July to get rhizomes while they are still young and easy to snap off; once in October after the rhizomes have finished their growth for the season; and in spring, to get any rhizomes you missed.  If you missed any, you will see new shoots that will point you to the offending rhizome.     Depending on where you live, you may have to adjust the timing to catch the rhizomes before they grow too far out of the bed.  As long as you rhizome prune religiously, you don't have to be afraid of your bamboo!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

bearski February 2, 2011 at 9:29 am

I’ve never grown bamboo so this may be a very silly question but is it not possible to contain running bamboos by cutting the shoots and using them as food (the edible varieties, of course)?

philinshelton February 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Cutting the shoots (the stems that grow above ground) may slow the underground spread of the rhizome, but it’s not recommended for effective control. For that, the best way is to cut the tips of the young rhizomes as they start to grow beyond the bed border. The new growth at the tip of the rhizome is edible too.

Lisa June 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm

What about diggin a trench and filling it with some kind of a border? Will that contain running bamboo? I really love how running bamboo looks but I am a bit intimidated to commit to constant watch. How deep do the rhizomes go? What if they hit a barrier?…will they jump it?


philinshelton June 22, 2012 at 10:39 pm

How deep do rhizomes go? Normally, less than a foot if left to grow naturally. If a barrier is installed, however, a leptomorph (running) rhizome might grow several feet down in good soils. Will they jump a barrier? Absolutely! Even without a barrier, leptomorph rhizomes will “surface and dive” in a serpentine fashion. That said, the most popular rhizome barrier is 80 mil, high density polyethylene sheet. While such a barrier can help contain bamboo, without maintenance, a vigorous bamboo will eventually go under over or through it. For the best instructions I have seen on the web, visit

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