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Runner bamboo-The eco-gardener's friend, believe it or not

Updated on July 18, 2010
Bamboo is a fantastically versatile building material, even in abstract
Bamboo is a fantastically versatile building material, even in abstract

The most sustainable plant on Earth

Runner bamboo is notorious for its ability to grow through solid concrete, and its invasive properties. You don’t hear a lot about its more benevolent side, which makes it one of the greenest of the sustainable plants.

Runner bamboo basics

  • Runner bamboo is actually a giant grass.
  • It has a shallow creeping rootstock which can produce huge numbers of shoots. Its growth rate is opportunistic, and it will exploit empty areas rapidly.
  • It’s so strong in its root system that it can push the roots of small trees out of the way.
  • Green bamboo contains a lot of fibre and chlorophyll.
  • It’s not fazed by poor soils, which it breaks up. (These aren’t a preferred growth habitat, but it can live with tough soils. It appears to actually improve them over time.)
  • Fertilizer or compost will add even more power to its growth.

Runner bamboo is everything it’s cracked up to be, as a pest. As a friend, it’s equally impressive.

These are just some of the things you can do with runner bamboo:

  • The best compost in the world: All you need are bamboo foliage clippings, a black garbage bag and hot sun. Break it down until the compost is jet black. I’ve grown wheat in bamboo compost. The amazing thing was I bought the wheat in a health food shop, just sowed it in an old Styrofoam container, and got a 100% seed response. Everything came up, like clockwork. Wheat is also a grass, so obviously the nutrients were right.
  • Structural soil base: Bamboo prunings chopped up reasonably well and compost make a great soil base, with lots of structure.
  • Great trellises for fruit, roses and anything else from canes. Dried bamboo canes are as good as timber or steel. You can make a bamboo trellis with a few canes from a local grove.
  • Drainage control: Bamboo laps up water. It can absorb huge amounts, and it can also stabilize soil in these areas.
  • Anti erosion: Related to the drainage, it also forms a lawn-like root mat which helps soil stability.

Bamboo shouldn’t be considered a weed. It should be considered an all-purpose crop. It recovers as well as a lawn from heavy pruning, and it’s practically indestructible as a grove network. I don’t know if it’s ever been tried as stock feed. It might be a bit coarse, but it might be worth a shot for graziers looking for renewable, low maintenance feed sources.

It’s even edible. Bamboo shoots are standard Asian food, and they go with any dish. Plenty of fibre. This is one of the most useful plants on Earth, being largely ignored when all alternative sources of materials, particularly the renewables, are at a premium.

You can’t get a lot more “sustainable” than a plant which really can look after itself, and can grow a forest without so much as a watering can’s worth of assistance.

Note: In the garden, you can control runner bamboo with a barrier about 60cm (2 feet) deep. Use stone, not materials prone to rusting or rotting or materials like concrete, which it can turn into gravel. You’ll have a source of compost for generations.

Bamboo is one of the classical Chinese plants. It’s been a feature of Chinese art for centuries, and it’s a true artist’s plant in the garden. Bamboo is never trivial or boring. It’s one of the truly great plants of the world.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I have known all this. Thank you writing about it.

    • belliott profile image

      belliott 7 years ago

      Interesting hub. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.