Government Affairs: The bamboo battle intensifies


State and local governments are beginning to outlaw bamboo as a nuisance or are regulating how and where it can be planted.

Bamboo has often been used as landscape “problem solver.” Certain species of bamboo grow quickly, forming a dense screen that can reach 40 feet or more. The straight bamboo canes offer an interesting visual backdrop and the narrow yellow-green leaves move in the slightest breeze.

Bamboo becomes a problem when some species do not stay where they are planted. Bamboo in the genus Phyllostachys, commonly called “running” bamboo, seems to cause the most problems.

Unchecked, running bamboo can easily invade a neighbor’s yard, popping up through asphalt driveways and dislodging sidewalks, as much as 30 feet from where it’s intended to be grown. Since bamboo tends to like moist soil, the roots have been known to clog sewer lines and water pipes. Apparently, the term running bamboo is a well-earned nickname.

New York is the first state to ban bamboo species. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation published a regulation under the state’s invasive species law in September to make it “unlawful to knowingly possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport or introduce” two species of running bamboo: Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) and Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata). These two types of bamboo are considered among the most aggressive and problematic of the running bamboo species.

While New York banned these bamboo species outright, Connecticut responded in a more measured way.

In 2013, Connecticut passed a law (updated in 2014) requiring that bamboo plantings of the genus Phyllostachys, be setback from property lines a minimum of 40 feet. The Connecticut law also assigns liability for damage to a property owner who plants bamboo that causes problems on a neighbor’s property.

So far, New York and Connecticut seem to be the only states to have passed laws dealing with bamboo. More are sure to follow.

These state laws have their origin in local neighborhood battles over bamboo that are being waged in communities located predominantly along the east coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Long Island, for example has been a hot bed of anti-bamboo sentiment going back several years. The village of Malverne passed an ordinance in 2013 banning all species of bamboo and requiring that any bamboo on homeowners’ property in the village be removed within 30 days. If cited by the village, homeowners with bamboo can be fined $350 per week and face up to 15 days in jail. Malverne is among at least a half dozen Long Island communities that have passed such ordinances.

The Connecticut law was also stimulated by similar local property owner disputes that escalated to the state level.

In addition to those in Connecticut and New York, communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina and California have passed or are considering ordinances banning outright or regulating bamboo.

From a professional and ethical standpoint, landscape contractors should follow a few simple steps if they are contemplating a landscape design that includes bamboo.

First, check with the state and local government in which you are working to see if they have any laws or ordinances governing bamboo. If they do, get a copy and read it thoroughly before you submit your proposal.

Second, be sure you know the characteristics of the species you are recommending. Also be sure that you are getting the bamboo from a reputable source who can guarantee the plants you are getting are true to the species specified. You may have specified a clump bamboo that should behave itself. Make sure that’s what you get from your nursery.

Third, if you are specifying a running bamboo species, plan for an appropriate root barrier that will control the bamboo’s spread. Do this regardless of whether there is an ordinance requiring it. Then, educate your client on proper maintenance of the barrier. Or better yet, offer a maintenance contract to maintain the barrier for the client. A maintenance contract will be less expensive for your client than repairing sewer or water lines—or being sued by a neighbor.


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Gregg Robertson

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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