Bamboo (Multifunctional Permaculture Plant)

Bamboo is actually a member of the grass family. There are over 1000 types of bamboo worldwide. Some grow as tall as 100 feet, and others only a few inches. Many do well in the tropics, but some can handle cooler weather. Colors and thickness of canes abound. Some grow in clumps, while others grow with their rhizomes extending out taking up more and more real estate.

Newly planted running bamboo (Mature Height 55 feet)


Multifunctional Uses of Bamboo

    • New shoots are edible, and often used in Asian cuisine

    • Makes a fantastic sustainable building material

    • Great for stakes and fencing in the garden

    • Bird habitat

    • Erosion control for steep slopes

Bamboo on Dam Wall

  • Can be turned into fishing poles, furniture, and about a thousand other useful items

  • Evergreen, makes a great screening hedge


Running VS Clumping Bamboo

Running bamboo spreads by underground roots shooting laterally from the main plant and thereby starting new canes. This is the type of bamboo that western gardeners fear. “It’s going to take over!” is the battle cry of the fearful. For those of us in the temperate climates, running bamboo is the only type of bamboo we can successfully grow. So give it room to grow, and manage it where you don’t want it to grow.


Clumping bamboo grows in well……clumps. This type of bamboo will not spread so readily as the running bamboo. I actually view this as a negative. For those of you in the tropics, clumping bamboo is an option, if you have a small area that you need to keep the bamboo contained.  


How to Control Running Bamboo

I planted bamboo along my deer fence along the road. I would like for the bamboo to take over the road side, but I don’t want it to grow too much inward as I have a newly planted forest adjacent. There are really only four ways to control runner bamboo.


1. A bamboo barrier- A 24 inch deep barrier can be installed sloping slightly back towards where you want the roots to deflect to. This option has cost and a lot of labor up front, but it will cut the amount of maintenance you need to do. You would still need to cut off any roots that go over the barrier in the spring when it is actively growing.

Bamboo Barrier

A trencher is a must have for installing bamboo


2. Physical management- You can also simply break the new shoots and eat them or compost them. If any larger canes do form, simply harvest them for building materials.


3. Adjacent barriers- You can plant the bamboo along a roadside or a body of water, and it will typically not cross. Be careful of gravel roads, as the bamboo will certainly grow here.


4. Mowing- If you have your bamboo next to an area that you regularly mow, the bamboo will not “take over” because the plant will not tolerate the mowing.


I am personally using a combination of all four of these control methods. I put a bamboo barrier in along my fence to keep the bamboo out of my native timber forest. It was a long straight shot here, so it was relatively easy to use a trencher to get the barrier installed. I will also be physically managing some of the bamboo, as I plan to eat the new shoots, and I have tons of uses for the poles.


I think running bamboo is a great addition to a permaculture site. Its placement and management simply needs to be well thought out.

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