Criminal Charges for Bamboo “Blight” in Yard

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From articles in the New York Times and the New London Day I learned that the City of New London, CT has declared overgrowth of bamboo in the yard of resident Carlos Carrion a blight. After failing to pay fines and ignoring orders to cut back the plant, he’s become “one of the first to be criminally charged under the city’s expanded blight ordinance.”

The thicket of bamboo reaches 20 feet – above the utility lines – and pushes to the edge of the property.

Carrion’s defense? Calling the charges a “politically motivated witch hunt.” Another is an attempt at sympathy by claiming the bamboo was a “gift from a friend, a Vietnam War veteran, and he keeps it as a tribute to him.” He says he eats the bamboo and uses it to construct furniture. Another tactic is calling his bamboo a rebellion against “perfect square lawns.”  So now he’s Mr. Eco-Gardening.

Are there any more bogus defenses he could have used? I can’t think of one.

The local law that  he’s charged under limits the growth of plants, except for shrubs, bushes and other cultivated plants, to 10 inches. I wonder if it’s unique to Connecticut that violations of zoning and building ordinances can result in criminal charges, with punishment including fines of up to $250 a day. And is Connecticut the rare state that doesn’t declare running bamboo to be invasive? It simply places limits on where it can be planted and requires plant sellers to warn buyers that it is a fast-growing plant that needs to be contained.

Carrion claims that his bamboo is of the clumping variety, therefore not invasive. Though when he protests that he “keeps the plant from crossing from his property,” doesn’t that tell us it IS invasive? As do reports of neighbors having to cut back the stalks that crept over property lines.

Then there’s how the stuff looks – unsightly. In addition to the overgrowth of bamboo, Carrion has been cited for having an abandoned car and debris outside the home. The complaint says Carrion’s property “is in the condition of an individual who could be best described as a ‘hoarder.’”

Comments to the story in the local paper run the gamut – from surprise that bamboo is a problem to defending most bamboos as not a problem, to a horticulture professor’s statement that “Bamboo cannot be reasoned with…I think it should be banned in all but the most restrictive conditions.” Another wrote, “Heed this message. Don’t plant bamboo outside, keep it for indoors use only.”

A commenter who observes the plant business wrote that the “Bamboo sold as ‘non-invasive’ to encourage sales is only a little less invasive than other varieties. Think buying a mini pig that ‘only’ gets to be 80 lbs. or a ‘dwarf’ pine that ‘only’ gets 60′.”

And who can argue with the commenter who wrote, “Everybody loves to say live and let live, but let’s face it – nobody would want to live next to that.” Amen.

Hat tip to Lois Hinrichs of Columbus, OH for alerting me to this story.

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.

20 COMMENTS

  1. The bamboo in the photo appears to be a Phyllostachys species, which is absolutely NOT a “clumping” bamboo and absolutely IS invasive. I happen to love this kind of bamboo but it does not make for good neighbors!

    • the species a fagasia, and not a runner, it has been going of thirty years+. it is gold with variegated green striping.

  2. I have a different take on bamboo — I’ve been growing four different types in my own small Connecticut back yard for 20 years. One type was the clumping Fargesia nitida, which did not run and which remained as compact clumps. It flowered and then died a few years ago — bamboos are typically monocarpic. Because bamboos are propagated vegetatively, the American Fargesias were mostly the same clone and they died all over the country that summer.

    I have three running bamboos, which have not presented any serious problems in the two decades I’ve been growing them. One, a Phyllostachys rubromarginata which grows quite tall, I had used as a screen along the back of my property. It had only recently begun to send shoots outside my yard in the last couple of years. I’m removing it at the request of my neighbor. A black bamboo, Phyllostchys nigra, has been a disappointment because it dies back to the ground every time the temperature drops to around 0°F., which it does every few years, and so the stems rarely live long enough to turn black. It has spread a bit but not to the extent that it has become a problem. The third running bamboo is a Sasa veitchii, which has the lovely habit of developing a white stripe on the leaves with the onset of the first frost. It has spread a bit more vigorously, though I’ve kept it in check with mowing and digging out the runners. I may remove that, too, however.

    Over all, I think the menace of bamboo is greatly exaggerated, at least in the North. There are lots of more invasive plants that are considered acceptable — bamboo’s spread is limited by the fact that it almost never sets seed. The neighbor who requested the removal of my bamboo hedge, for instance, is allowing a small Ailanthus tree to grow up on his property.

    • I also live in Stamford CT and have bamboo ,, It sends up shoots one time in the Spring, not continually all season . Simply cut down ( and eat ) the shoots as they arise before they get more than 8″ tall ,, ( dab with roundup if you want ) and it’s over .

      Evergreen, disease and insect resistant, hardy, low water use ,deer and rabbit proof . excellent plants in the right place

      • Excellent EXCEPT that it makes no contribution to the food chain, it does not support all the little caterpillars that our songbirds need to feed their hatchlings! It’s like building a warehouse full of car parts in a neighborhood that desperately needs a supermarket! Gardeners need to be ecologists, and think beyond the appeal of imported plants, and seek beauty as well as ecological benefit by planting more native plants.

  3. I think this is very zone-specific, and affected by warming trends. In my 6A section of the Hudson Valley, running bamboo is pretty restrained, but I note less annual die-back on a friend’s slowly spreading area, so that will speed up. Where I visit the North Fork of Long Island, it is getting invasive. So Mr. Christopher’s currently controlled running types may be less and less easy to hold back. But if we plant running varieties within a permanent barrier sunk as little as 15″ deep (24″ is wiser), it’s quite easy to control; those runners stay close to the surface. Friends in California (where bamboo can be a plague) have done this quite successfully.

  4. Removing the propensity of the bamboo to spread into a neighbours property, is a front yard full of bamboo so visually offensive that it requires fines and prosecution?

    Is it any more visually offensive (to some) than the “mess” that can arise from a front yard used to grow vegetables or grain (which is encouraged by some cities like Vancouver, Canada).

    Is it more visually offensive than my neighbourhood where huge new builds are not only devoid of gardens, but have front yards almost totally paved to accommodate easy access by a bevy of luxury cars.

    In fact, given the architectural ugliness of some new builds, and their multitude of on all night security lights, a forest of bamboo, or tall plants to screen the house out, would be a welcome alternative.

    With the running factor removed, I can think of worse things to look at.

  5. Oh come on, criminal charges? What have we come to? You make the case that there’s some mental health issues at work here, but no one seems to be willing to work with the guy to resolve the problem (if there really is one). It seems like the bamboo must have been growing for years, but it’s just now an issue? I feel like there’s more behind this story than a sudden need to remove the bamboo.

    • From one of the linked articles above:
      “But officials said the resident, Carlos Carrion, has failed to pay fines and has ignored orders to cut back the plant. Now, he has become one of the first to be criminally charged under the city’s expanded blight ordinance.”

      So it’s been going on for a while.

      • Carrion did cut it back as they asked which was 18″ from the property line has away from the power lines. He has photo documentation. Funny that that does not get reported . The bamboo has been there for 25 years.

    • I totally agree with you. I have visited his location, and his off, all the so-called garage, ires, was removed, as a matter of course. the ties were of the car seasonal change, and the socalled garbage is removed in bits, because the maintenance people only accept so much. he bamboo itself, is a fargesia, gold with variegated emerald striping. to find this location, you really have to look for it, or at least, know where you’re going, it is so out of the way, the owner, culls canes for use, cuisine, construction, donation, and has done so for many years. he has absolutely no profile in the town, and minds his own business, as I am told by other citizens who know him. why he city is pursuing this action is beyond logic, if you spent time looking around , you’d see plenty of reason to issue blight infections, but the fact of the matter is, its all owned by monied landlords, and various other well heeled characters, whose only interest is getting paid regularly. a total waste of tax payer money.

  6. “The local law that he’s charged under limits the growth of plants, except for shrubs, bushes and other cultivated plants, to 10 inches.”

    Seems like you could argue that any plant in your yard is a “cultivated plant.”

    In other times and places, this guy would just be the Crazy Bamboo Guy and people would leave him alone. Glad I don’t live in this community.

    • ON THE CONTRARY, HE IS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN, ND SINGER, AN A VERY FINE ARTIST. IF THIS IS CRAZY, THEN WE NEED MOE LIKE HIM,FOR SURE

  7. In a state forest close to my home, someone with a little property bordering the forestland decided they wanted a privacy screen and planted a bamboo stand. I can’t wait to see that bamboo jump the dirt-and-gravel road to start taking over the native forest. Just what we need: another invasive plant to fight in our Pennsylvania wilds with taxpayer dollars.

  8. I love the look of bamboo, so agree that it’s not an eyesore needing criminal charges. BUT I disagree that its invasiveness is overblown. My neighbors bamboo comes into my yard to such extent that I won’t plant anything significant along our common border because tearing up the runners pulls everything along it up. It’s VERY annoying. I can’t get too mad at my current neighbors as they were not the owners who originally planted it. I’m in South Jersey, zone 6, so not enough cold weather to tamp down its invasive character.

  9. THE WRITER OF HIS ATICLE, SHOULD LEARN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THE SUBJECT, IE, MR. CARRION, AND BAMBOO, BEFORE THROWING INFLAMMATORY TERMS LIKE “BOGUS” AROUND, AS IF HE IS SO WELL VERSED ON HIS SUBJECT, AND YOURE PRUDISH ASSESSMENT OF THE ISSUE, IS AT BEST, INCOMPETENT, BIASED, AND NEEDING OF A GOOD STIFF DRINK BEFORE HAND

  10. Very interesting topic. I think criminal charges are a bit too much, although this does look invasive. Bamboo as a plant can be fine for outdoors as well, not just indoors, but only if you keep it contained and maintain it properly, which, depending on the plant type, might not be an easy job. Check out this amazing resource that helped me a lot with my yard: rebrand.ly/7250l86f6

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