I think I have heard Paul refer to bamboo as the "king" of permaculture plants. (Or was it the queen?) Whatever it's nobility status, I am excited to get some growing. I just moved onto 10 acres in NW Arkansas, so I have plenty of room, but I would love some advice. Toby Hemenway says that we shouldn't be afraid of running bamboo because it can be controlled by eating the new shoots. I would love to hear from some folks who have practical experience with this though. Also, where can I buy it??? I have looked online, and it seems ridiculously expensive for an invasive-type plant.
I'd start with some clumping varieties and see if you really need a running variety. The running varieties can be very difficult to control and if you don't have experience trying to dig out bamboo roots you might be getting in over your head.
My clumps seem to double every year which is enough for me to make trellises and such. My main concern with running varieties is that you can't control what direction they run in. With clumping varieties, it is relativity easy to dig up a clump and move it to where you need it.
It seems to me there are a couple big questions for you:
1) What products/uses do you want to bamboo to provide?
All of the best construction timbers are running bamboos (for temperate climates). Most of the best eaters are also runners. In fact I think there are actually very few clumpers for temperate climates that are worth eating (feel free to educate me further, bamboo experts). Therefore, if you really want to build things (other than small gauge garden stakes) and/or eat bamboo shoots you'll want to consider the runners.
2) What are you willing to put into maintenance?
The reason so many people have problems with running bamboos is that they don't USE them. If you're willing to manage your stand and you're on 10 acres, runners may be a great choice. Toby is right that you can just break off shoots that are coming up where you don't want them. However, if you want that particular rhizome to stop running you'll need to sever it from the main clump during the first year as well (or it will keep running past where it sent up it's last shoot). Either way, don't plant it near a house, foundation, driveway, etc.
Personally, I think having a big stand of running bamboo would be awesome and I imagine it would grow like hell in Arkansas. Once you have a good stand with a couple different species you can use it for shoot production, pole production, and/or nursery stock depending on what the market looks like.
A couple words of caution: Voles love bamboo. I've heard about folks here in the Pacific Northwest putting in plantations and having them completely eliminated. Bamboos also don't like to be inundated with water (with the exception of a few species that have air pockets in their roots). Don't put them in super wet soils. However, you could put them on an island in a pond to contain them easily (and without fail). Also, I highly recommend finding local bamboo growers and seeing which species/varieties work well in your area. Someone must be growing them so you should try to take advantage of lessons they've already learned.
Finally, a quick plug for the book "Farming Bamboo" by Daphne Lewis. This manual gives a ton of good information on growing bamboos in temperate climates and it has a species guide to the Phyllostachys genus.
Principal - Terra Phoenix Design
The place I used to rent had a patch of bamboo that was about 10 x 15 feet. It was so thick you couldn't stick your arm all the way in. It had been that way for years. The landlady hired a new worker and he saw the 2-foot tall spikes growing around the patch and was afraid to mow it off. By the end of the year, the patch was maybe 100' around.
Just harvest, or cut if you get any too big for food, any that are out of bounds and you will not have to worry. Just don't plant it withing 100' of your neighbors.
I had the plastic sides from a swimming pool that I buried in a ring and planted some in the middle, but I think I'm going to pull the plastic and let it spread.
Wow thanks everybody. Thats great information. I am really leaning toward the running bamboo especially hearing how it is best for timber use. I had a friend in east Texas who had a stand of it and I used it for all kinds of stuff. I was thinking about putting it in an area that is bordered on three sides by something that would stop it's spread...I think. One side is the road (dirt) the other is my driveway (dirt) and the third is a wet boggy area. Then I would only have to manage the fourth side. What do you think of that? Also I would really like to use it as a screen... My neighbor is a real nosy mean anti-permaculture stinker. But I'm not sure how that would work. Probably poorly for me. I'm sure it would make him meaner. Although he has a brush hog that he uses regularly on his side of the fence.
Thanks again for the help everybody!
Running bamboo rhizomes can travel up to twenty feet per year under roads and barriers need to be two to three feet deep depending on the species. If your neighbor gets upset about your Permaculture activities then he won't be very happy if you let bamboo escape onto his property. And when he fails to eradicate the escaped bamboo with his brush hog he'll turn to nasty herbicides that could kill off the roots all the way back to your plants.
I participated in a planting of running bamboo. It was being used as a screen, timber, and food. It was planted along a roadside so that was one barrier, the rest was bordered with a 60 mil HDPE 3' deep rhizome barrier. It was similar to this, but I think it was bought at a hardware store.
I have several groves of running bamboo on my farm which are controlled in various ways. Two groves are located in pastures where the livestock (sheep) eat any shoots that come up outside of the fence that surrounds the main grove. I close the fence's gate to keep the sheep out of the grove for a month during the mid-spring shooting season, but they are free to enter the grove for shade and low leaf pruning for the rest of the year. Another grove is contained by a gravel driveway that surrounds the grove. Bamboo rhizomes can't cross a regularly used gravel road, since the traffic keeps the soil under the road compacted and the layers of gravel are difficult for the rhizomes to penetrate. But they have no problems crossing under a asphalt or concrete road since the solid paving protects the soil under it from compaction. Another grove on a dam is contained by a gravel road on top of the dam, swampy soil below the base of the dam, and by sheep grazing on the other two sides. The sheep eat any shoot they can find, so if they had access to the grove year around, the bamboo would never be able to put up any new shoots. I use the bamboo for garden poles, eatable shoots, and sheep browse during late winter after they have eaten down the pasture grasses.
I have 7 varieties of running bamboo planted throughout our 6 acres. These are small groves right now and my plan is to dig an 18 inch trench around them for containment. You basically drag a pick through the trench in September and March and cut off any rhizomes that are moving outside your containment. Most of the varieties I have planted will produce large straight poles. I have 3 good varieties for shoot production. Daphne Lewis's "Farming Bamboo" is a good place to start. She has a website and is now doing experiments with bamboo in Georgia, south of my location.
Well I started this post and then ran off and abandoned it! Not really... we have just had a long stretch of beautiful weather here in NW Arkansas and I have been busy outside building more hugelkultur beds! As far as the bamboo, I have read and reread everyone's posts and checked out all the suggested websites. Thanks again for all the great ideas. I decided to start with Phyllostachys bissetii, a running variety for my area bordered by the road and driveway. I think I am up to the challenge (Vidad, I like how you think!). I will take your advice Tom and keep it away from the grouchy neighbor. I didn't think about the possibility of him using herbicide on it. I also like the trench idea and may try that in another area.
Next thing is I would like some taller clumping varieties that I can incorporate into my permaculture gardens, but can't seem to find any cold hardy ones. Anybody have any in
zone 6 or farther north? Thanks everybody!
Clumping varieties that will be relatively hardy are in the Fargesia genus. I don't think you are going to find any large clumpers that will survive in your area. Some people will try to push Bambusa species, but I think you will be disappointed with the results. I'm afraid that those of us in zones 6 and 7 that want tall or large culms are limited to the Phyllostachys species.
Note that their Zone map is the Arbor Day foundation's, which puts most people one zone warmer than the USDA map. The USDA map has been updated, but they will not publish it because it contradicts the government's claim that climate change is a myth.