How to compost bamboo

How to compost bamboo

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If you grow bamboo you already know it creates some yard waste. The best way to deal with it is to use it as mulch or add it to compost. 

Composting is a great way to recycle yard waste such as leaves, twigs, grass clippings, weeds, and dead houseplants, as well as food scraps from the kitchen. 

According to the US  EPA (Environmental Protection Agency,) food scraps and yard waste together make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away. Composting is a much better option than a landfill. 

The bamboo that grows in your backyard can be composted. And even domestic items like bamboo toothbrushes, plates, and cutting boards can go in the compost. 

In this post, I will look into the benefits of adding bamboo to your compost, give some tips on composting bamboo at home and commercial facilities.

Find out how to make sure bamboo does not spring back to life in the compost pile and how to compost a bamboo toothbrush.

Benefits of adding bamboo to compost

High silica content

Bamboo leaves contain high levels of silica. That means it is a valuable addition to the compost.

Silica is known for increasing plants’ resistance to drought, boosting photosynthesis and chlorophyll content, improving tolerance to salt and heavy metals, as well as increasing the yields and crop quality. 

Studies show that increased silica content in the soil has an alkalizing effect, and alleviates many stresses to plants.  This is why it`s included in many fertilizers. 

On top of it all, silica is known to protect plants from fungal diseases such as powdery mildew

Composting bamboo at home

Bamboo, especially running bamboo, means you have to cut it quite often to keep it in place and looking good. This creates a lot of green waste. 

What to do with it? Making mulch or composting are the best options. It’s a way to get free fertilizer for your plants! 

All parts of bamboo can be used for compost – culms, branches, leaves, new shoots, and even roots and rhizomes. 

Dry or fresh  – it does not matter. Both can go in the compost. 

How to speed up composting

It is best if you can shred or chop the bamboo before adding it to the compost. Otherwise, it is very slow to decompose. 

Chopped up bamboo has a bigger surface area for fungi and bacteria to do their job in the decomposition process.  

Adding some water also helps to speed up the process.

How to prevent bamboo springing back

The culms, branches, and leaves are completely safe to put in compost – they will not start growing in there.

Bamboo roots and rhizomes are a different story. They contain everything to spring back to life.

To be completely safe, I would avoid putting bamboo in the backyard compost. They can easily start shooting up new bamboo plants there. 

But hey, sometimes you just have no other choice. In that case – you must kill the rhizomes before adding them to the compost. 

How to do it? Shred the underground parts of the bamboo. Either by hand or using a chipper. Bamboo usually can`t grow back if the rhizomes are cut in small pieces. 

Composting bamboo at a public facility

Many counties run public industrial composting facilities. They are great for those who have no space for a backyard compost. 

These places are specifically designed to get good compost fast. The temperatures these facilities usually have are much higher than any home composting systems can achieve. Even plants that are slow to decompose at home, do it quickly there. 

Normally, there should not be any problems. These facilities take in most plants, including bamboo.

However, if it is your first time, I suggest calling them before you drive there.

I have read on some gardening forums about cases where some people were turned away. The employees refused them on the grounds that bamboo is on the noxious weeds lists and/or don’t decompose.

This sounds like an exception among many facilities that will take bamboo. But it’s still better to check beforehand rather than get rejected when you arrive there. 

Composting bamboo products

Composting plants from your backyard is one thing. But how about things made out of bamboo? 

Thousands upon thousands of different things are made of bamboo – plates, bowls, toothbrushes, bikes, furniture, houses, fences, musical instruments. The list is endless. 

Can you compost these things? 

Yes. But not all of them.

The rule of thumb is – if the thing that is made of bamboo is just made of a piece of bamboo without additional elements like glue, paint, plastic parts, then you can compost it.

Toothbrush

Toothbrushes are a popular example. 

Typically the handle is made of pure bamboo but the bristles for most brands are made of polyethylene or nylon.

This means you have to remove the bristles and dispose of them separately from the toothbrush handle. 

To do that you either pull the bristles out with pliers or break off the head of the toothbrush. 

Then you can compost the handle and put the bristles in the regular bin. 

How long does it take for a bamboo toothbrush to decompose?

How long it takes to biodegrade depends on the conditions: moisture, temperature, bacterial activity. 

A home composter should take around 4-6 months. For an industrial composter, it will take a few weeks.

Featured image: Compost by Oregon State University, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0