Growing bamboo or reeds in the high desert

I've been reading a lot about the benefits of bamboo in permaculture books:
It grows fast, provides a wind break, privacy screen and wildlife habitat.  You can eat it and you can use the stalks for mulch, plant stakes, etc.
It is supposed to be SPREADING — extra points!  We want it to spread.
Now I hear people say to NEVER EVER plant bamboo because it is invasive and what a horrible plant it is.
We got some reeds from a friend and planted them last fall. One was a few feet tall and the other was just a piece of root, here is a picture:4/10 planting update — I mistakenly called it bamboo.
It did grow a little this summer, but we barely had rain and it got about 5 gallons a week of kitchen water (the new trees got 10 gallons).  I'll post some new pics ASAP.
I've seen big reed stands grown at an elevation of about 3500 ft and really like them (probably watered with graywater), don't know how hardy it is, but it seems to do well here.
I don't really know the difference between bamboo and reeds, although I'm aware that the bamboo can have much larger stalks.  What else is different?
I still think reeds or bamboo are an excellent wind break in our area and cannot possibly be compared to “native” plants like desert willows that take quite a few years to get to 6 ft, take a LOT of room (as wide as they are high), can't be eaten and not much you can do with them.  Of course they have their place!   I've seen MANY properties around here with willows planted along the fence and it's as boring as any other plant.
We're looking for DIVERSITY, not a row of any plant along our about 900 ft of fence (an acre)
Our gardens need to be sheltered from wind ASAP.  We already use a 25 ft bamboo fence (Home Depot), but that's supposed to be temporary, to be replaced with something growing.

If you have any “invasive” spreading bamboo or reeds — please contact us and we might be able to dig it up if you are in the Kingman area.

5 Replies to “Growing bamboo or reeds in the high desert”

  1. Well, bamboo is a true grass. There’s lots of different species and not all are that big, some form mats & stuff. (I learned a lot while we were shopping for ours!) Reed is a general term that encompasses quite a few different plants – cattails, sedges, horsetails, etc. So if someone offers you “reeds” you might want a more complete description. Will your local extension office do IDs for you?

  2. I don’t think we have a “local” extension, maybe in Flagstaff. It would be so cool if there was help for gardeners but the only thing I’ve heard about in Kingman is the master gardener class at the Kingman community college. I recently looked over their program online, there’s not much I can learn there. It’s not geared towards desert growing, no permaculture, little about organics.
    And thanks for the info on reeds, I haven’t really done much reading and was just very happy to get the free starters.
    Used to think they’re all water / swamp plants until I moved here. I suppose the best thing to do is get what’s already growing locally here. At a local nursery are some reeds growing that are about 15 feet tall and that would be perfect for the low areas of our property. It’s probably the same as what we got.
    In your email you wrote that your bamboo didn’t grow much. Are you watering it? Seems like it would be PERFECT for graywater irrigation.
    We are so excited about our cattail ponds too. There’s nothing like water in the desert.

  3. Bamboo can be wonderful. Do check for species that do well in your area. Bamboo does spread. If you want to grow it conciously,there are a few things to keep in mind. Common bamboo will spread until its low roots meet a barrier. Metal runners in ground 8″ will create a fairly good barrier. Keep it in check, though. You can also buy species that do not spread more than a certain distance (like 10′ wide by 3′ deep). Then, you can grow just as many rows as you will desire deep, and the rows can be planted to be spaced so you can make paths and plazas in your bamboo!!!
    Cattails are my favorite plant. HIGHLY INVASIVE, and can contaminate any other local wetlands. However, what yummy and healthy food. Promise to harvest the plant for everything it can do, and it will keep growing back, and you will not be invading the nearby ponds.

    1. Since there are no wetlands or ponds in the desert, we don’t have to worry about cattails spreading 🙂 The cattails are looking great already and the bees have been visiting last week when it was so nice and warm. Had a little setback this weekend with a few snow storms, but it’s supposed warm up again quickly.
      I also ordered a few bamboo seeds, not cheap and hard to germinate, but we’ll give it a try. And I hope everything we plant will spread, even the comfrey (makes excellent mulch). The cattails and bamboo are great for ethanol and we hope to get our still going sometime this summer. We will definitely appreciate every stalk!

  4. I live in the high desert and have 25 different kinds of bamboo. Some spread, some don’t and stay in a clump. Both are good, it just depends on your application. You just need to know which ones to buy and how to care for it. Bamboo is wonderful!
    Provides shade, a wind block, privacy and unmatched beauty. Call me and I’ll help you pick the right one for your application. Here’ my phone number (626)922-2723.

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