Q: I'm adding Asian elements into my garden, and I love the look of bamboo, but I'm afraid of having it take over since I've heard it's invasive. Are there varieties out there...

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I’m adding Asian elements into my garden, and I love the look of bamboo, but I’m afraid of having it take over since I’ve heard it’s invasive. Are there varieties out there that will behave if I invite them in?


Bamboo is so useful (narrow, tall and evergreen) — it rustles in the wind and has beautiful canes as well as leaves — it’s a shame to be afraid of it. While some of the more familiar types of bamboo are aggressive travelers, local nurseries now are stocking a number of hardy, clumping bamboos that stay put. I’ve found that West Seattle Nursery, Wells-Medina, Molbak’s, Sky Nursery and Emery’s Garden all carry varieties of clumping bamboo.

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Here are a few that are hardy to at least 20 degrees, and will add an Asian feel to your garden while minding their manners:

Fargesia rufa takes sun or shade, grows to 8 feet and has beautiful orange-red cane sheaths.

Fargesia robusta reaches 16 feet with a narrow growth pattern that is perfect as a specimen or for a privacy screen.

Fargesia nitida is perhaps the best known and most available of the hardy clumpers. It needs shade, grows to 12 feet and has dark purplish canes dusted with a bluish-white powder, earning it the common name Blue Fountain.

Fargesia murieliae is called Umbrella Bamboo for its graceful weeping habit to 12 feet.

Fargesia dracocephala, or Dragons Head bamboo, is a shorter weeper, only reaching about 9 feet high. It’s native to the forested mountains of China and is a favorite food of the Giant Panda.

Chusquea culeou is the hardiest of the bunch. Hailing from Chile, it takes temperatures down to zero degrees and grows to 15 feet, with clumps of featherlike plumes. It is upright, likes sun or shade and grows into a handsome, fluffy hedge or privacy screen.

Tips on finding plants:

About half the questions I receive are about how to locate specific plants, and I’ve just come across a new tool that may prove invaluable for acquisitive gardeners (and what other kind is there?). Dave’s Garden (davesgarden.com/ps/), a Web site created by a community of gardeners and farmers, has a new, free plant finder called PlantScout.

Simply enter the botanical or common name of a plant, and you’ll find comments from other gardeners about that plant, as well as information on who sells it. It’s also possible to quickly browse through an impressive array of worldwide vendor catalogs.

PlantScout seems quick, easy to use and pretty inclusive, and because it’s created by gardeners for gardeners, I’d guess the botanical and common-name searching will be more efficient than on Google.

Update on incense cedars:

I’ve heard from Mark Mead, an urban forester in the Seattle Parks Department, that the browning incense cedars in Lincoln Park that worried a reader in an earlier column (Plant Talk, Nov. 24) are indeed dying. They’re infected with the root disease phytophera. Mead says there’s not much they can do about this disease and describes the rot “as marching down the line of cedars.”

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.