In the Garden

Q: Is it true that clumping bamboo doesn’t run and will make a great, low-maintenance privacy screen?

A: It goes without saying that clumping bamboos are definitely better behaved and lower maintenance than running bamboos, which require expensive barriers and constant vigilance to keep them in bounds. There’s no doubt that clumping bamboos make highly attractive privacy screens. I wouldn’t, however, say that they are always low maintenance.

The problem is that clumping bamboos are like people in that as they get older, they tend to get wider. They don’t run, but they do creep. Every spring, underground rhizomes extend the clump 6 inches to a foot in every direction. The slow expansion is no problem if you have a large garden with plenty of room for a wide clump.

In a small, crowded garden like mine, however, having bamboo shoots come up in the middle of highly valued, neighboring plants can be a real headache. Even worse, I made the mistake of planting a clump too close to the property line, and culms started to show up in my neighbor’s garden.

After several failed efforts to cut through the offending rhizomes, I realized that the only way I could keep the clump a manageable size was to buy a special “bamboo spade” (available online). This one-of-a-kind, 40-pound spade comes equipped with a hand-operated pile driver that cuts through the unwanted rhizomes to make it possible to dig them out.

Other than the fact that after using it to perform this operation I was so sore I could barely move for three days, the bamboo spade really did a great job of allowing me to keep my clumping bamboo within bounds.

Q: I’ve often heard you mention plant sales. What are some of your favorites, and how do I find them?

A: We are just approaching peak season for plant sales: April and May. I can’t possibly mention all of my favorites because there are so many and they are all different. The Arboretum Foundation Florabundance Plant Sale in late April is a huge sale with gazillions of great regional vendors. Likewise, the King County Master Gardener Sale in early May is a great event.

Some sales focus on specific plants, like the Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale. Some sales allow you to combine shopping with a visit to a great garden, such as spring plant sales at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, Kubota Garden, Heronswood, Soos Creek Botanical Garden and the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden. Many garden clubs hold sales on a smaller scale but are just as much fun.

There are sales to help good causes, like the Seattle Children’s Hospital Plant Sale. This sale is scheduled for April 11-13. Two other great sales coming up next weekend are the Northwest Perennial Alliance Spring Plant Sale and the Arboretum Foundation Early Bloomers Plant Sale.

There is one thing that all sales have in common: great plants. If you are a plant addict like me, you’ll want to hit as many sales as possible! The most comprehensive list of plant sales is on the Miller Library website, http://depts.washington.edu/hortlib/calendar/tours_sales.php. I also list many at www.ciscoe.com/events. Finally, don’t forget to check out “Ciscoe’s Picks,” listed with this column each week.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.