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IN THE GARDEN: Bamboo spreads relentlessly, overtaking everything in its path

by Janet B. Carson January 1, 2022 at 1:32 a.m.
The roots of bamboo can and will spread as far as the stem is tall. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q: About 10 years ago, we decided we needed a fast-growing hedge, so we planted bamboo. It worked like a charm, and we had an instant hedge. Fast forward nine years, and our yard is overrun with bamboo. Unfortunately, it hasn't limited its spread to just our yard, and our neighbors are now battling it too. The time has come to get rid of it. Everyone has an opinion, but what is your opinion for the best way?

A: Bamboo is not easy to get rid of. It has had 10 years to grow, so it may take a good five to completely be rid of it. You need to get all your neighbors in on the act, because if one person doesn't tackle it, it will spread from that yard. Bamboo roots have the ability to spread as far out as the plant is tall, and keep on going. Cut all of it down as close to the ground as you can. If you can backhoe the area and get out as much of the root system as possible, that will help. You can treat the cut edges with Roundup or brush killer. Then in the spring, start watching for sprouts. As you see them, start tackling them. Don't ignore them, because they thrive on benign neglect. Good luck, but it is not going to be easy. Those of you considering planting bamboo — think again.

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Q: I have neighbors whose camellias are absolutely covered with pink flowers and my bush is totally green — no buds or blooms in sight. What am I doing wrong? It is planted on the north side of my house, and we have a lot of trees, but they are mainly oak, so the camellias get sunlight in the winter, but very little in the summer. We water. The plant grows well, but I would love some flowers. Help.

A: Camellias are a wonderful addition to winter and early spring color in the garden. They do best on the eastern or northern side of a house, but they do need some sunlight to bloom. If you have a lot of shade trees, and the camellias get total shade during the spring and summer, you could always have a green bush. Camellia plants set their flower buds in late summer to early fall. That is when they need some morning sun. As I see it, you have three options. Enjoy a green shrub; limb up some branches on the oak trees to allow more sunlight in during the growing season; or move the bush to a sunnier spot. Avoid afternoon sun; full morning sun or filtered sun works best.

Q: A friend was thinning out her surprise lilies this fall and gave me a bucket full. They are actually putting on a bunch of leaves in the pot. When should I plant them and how deep?

A: Red, fall-blooming surprise lilies are Lycoris radiata. After there are fall flowers, the foliage starts growing and persists all winter. Plant them now with the foliage attached. Try to plant them about twice the depth of the size of the bulb. Let the foliage grow, but don't be surprised (or perhaps unsurprised) by any blooms next fall. Lycoris often take one or two breather years after transplanting before they bloom. Then it will be a real surprise to see the flowers.

Q: As soon as I take my holiday decorations down, I usually plant some paperwhite narcissus bulbs to give me some extra zing inside. They always grow so tall that they are hard to keep upright. I enjoy watching them grow, almost like my own Jack-in-the-beanstalk. Is there anything to do to keep them shorter? Or should I stake them to keep them upright? Perhaps I am buying a tall variety, but it is all I ever see locally. Happy New Year to you.

A: Happy New Year to you as well. What a great idea to add flowering plants after the holidays. Our houses always look drab when we take down the holiday decorations. Adding some paperwhite flowers or amaryllis would provide a welcome spot of color. While there are several varieties of paperwhite narcissus, I know of no dwarf varieties. The height of the stems will be taller in warmer homes than in cooler ones. You could add some vodka to the water. The alcohol will stunt their growth. Turn the container twice a week to keep them more upright. Otherwise, they tend to lean toward the light. Consider using some cut branches from shrubs in your yard as a clever way to stake the stems and add to the inside color.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email


 Gallery: In the Garden — Jan. 1, 2022

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