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Bamboo gets a caning

Plant it at your peril!

Homeowners have long been warned that bamboo can be more damaging to a property if left unchecked, and one family discovered just how damaging it could be when shoots started bursting from the walls of their house. The plant, which had been growing in a neighbour’s garden, had spread underground and came up from under the concrete floor of the four-bedroom house in Hampshire. The bamboo invaded the ground beneath the home to emerge in the living room, study, hall and kitchen, resulting in the entire ground floor of the property being dug up in repairs costing more £100,000!

This particular bamboo, often popular among homeowners and gardeners for its screening qualities, creating privacy in overlooked gardens, travelled across the boundary and under the concrete ground floor slab of the entire house, before penetrating the floor. The plant had also begun to grow up through the cavity walls of the property, had it been left untreated it could eventually have forced the wall apart. All types of bamboo have large underground root and rhizome systems and some common varieties can easily reach heights of five metres. This was the worst case of bamboo encroachment ever seen in the UK by Environet UK, the contractors who carried out the removal works.

Due to the extraordinary distance the roots can travel, in excess of 30ft, running bamboo has the potential to be even more damaging to property than Japanese knotweed and has similar abilities to push through brickwork, drains, cavity walls, patios and exploit cracks or weaknesses in concrete. Most species of bamboo are invasive if left unchecked, with the ‘running’ varieties causing particular problems by sending out long lateral shoots beneath the ground to emerge in neighbouring gardens, beneath fences, patios, sheds and in this instance, residential property.

Most bamboos are invasive if planted directly into the ground and left to their own devices. It’s unfortunate that bamboo is being sold at garden centres and plant nurseries around the country with little warning about the risks. It would be a good deal less popular if people realised that within a few years they could be dealing with an extensive infestation that can spread across boundaries into neighbouring properties resulting in legal disputes and serious damage to homes which can be extremely costly to repair.

Once it’s on the run, the only way to deal with bamboo decisively is to excavate the root ball and dig every long rhizome out of the ground. Anyone considering planting bamboo is advised to think twice and if it’s already growing in the garden, action should be taken to ensure it’s properly contained.

Dr Peter Fitzsimons of the Property Care Association (PCA), a trade body representing invasive weed control contractors and consultants, commented: “Bamboos are a remarkably large, diverse family of ‘woody’ grasses of commercial importance in their native range perhaps most famous for being the favourite food of pandas! But it is becoming clear that, in the UK, they possess all the characteristics of an alien invasive species; fast spreading, dominating native vegetation and resistant to natural predators such as insects or fungi. We have been calling for some time for the many species of bamboo to be added to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act to enable effective regulation.

By Chris Willey
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