Controlling Bamboo
American Bamboo Society Logo
Promoting the Beauty and Utility of Bamboo

Introduction

byGeorge Shor, Southern California Chapter

While we really are in favor of planting bamboos, rather than eliminating them, we do need to tell people how to get rid of a bamboo when somebody has planted the wrong variety, or the right variety in the wrong place. One of the most common letters we receive starts out “My neighbor planted a bamboo, and now it is coming up all over my yard. I have sprayed it with (product name deleted) and it doesn’t work. What can I do?"

The first thing to remember is that there are many different species of bamboo. In general, however, one can divide bamboos into “Runners” and “Clumpers”. The Clumpers don’t invade. To remove a clumper, just dig it out (and transplant it.) Runners can be well-behaved in cold climates, but some kinds when in a warm climate, and given plenty of water, can become a serious problem. Don’t plant a runner in a small yard in a warm climate, unless you put a barrier* around it.


Removing a Running Bamboo

If new shoots of bamboo are coming up all over your yard, it is a running bamboo. To get rid of it, there are four steps:

  1. Cut it off.
  2. Cut it down.
  3. Water the area.
  4. Cut it down again.

1. Cut it off. All of the culms (stalks) of bamboo in a clump or grove are interconnected underground by rhizomes (underground stems) unless you have cut them by digging a ditch or cutting a line with a spade. A bamboo grove is usually one single plant, not a group of plants. Many people have the impression that every bamboo culm is a separate “tree.”

If the bamboo in your yard has come across from your neighbor’s yard, separate your grove from his by cutting the connecting rhizomes, which are usually quite shallow. If you don’t, and his part is healthy and vigorous, the rhizomes in your part will still be supported by the photosynthesis in the leaves of his part, and your efforts will be in vain. On the other hand, if you do manage to kill your part with a herbicide you may also kill his part. Lawsuits or at least hard feelings can result.

Therefore, be sure to isolate the portion you want to keep from the portion you want to kill. Cutting rhizomes with a spade or a saw will do the trick if you do it every year. If the growth is old, you may need to use a mattock or a digging bar the first time. Digging a ditch and putting in a barrier* is a more permanent solution.

2. Cut it down

Cut the grove to the ground. All of it. If there is any part you want to keep, see (1).

3. Water and fertilize the area, to cause new growth.

4. Cut it down again. And again.

New shoots will come up from the rhizomes. Break them off or cut them off with pruning shears. Keep doing this until no more shoots come up. This will exhaust the energy stored in the rhizomes underground. Without green leaves to photosynthesize and produce new energy, they will no longer be able to send up new shoots. The rhizomes will be left behind, but will rot away.

That’s all you need to do. You need a saw, a pair of pruning shears, and patience, and maybe a spade and/or mattock. The widely advertised herbicides don’t work well on bamboo, probably because so much of the plant is underground. Since cutting the bamboo down will do the trick, and you have to cut the bamboo down anyway to remove it from your yard, herbicides are a waste of time and money in this case.

*Barriers:

To prevent a running bamboo from spreading, a “rhizome barrier” is essential. A barrier two or three feet deep is effective. It should be slanted outward at the top so that when the rhizomes hit the barrier they will bend upwards. A barrier does not stop a running rhizome; it only deflects it. The barrier should project an inch or two above ground level. Check the barrier once a year, and cut off rhizomes that arch over the top.

Barriers can be concrete, or metal, or plastic. The usual recommendation is high-density polypropylene, 40 mil or heavier, glued or taped at junctions, or clamped with stainless-steel clamps. This material comes in rolls, or as hinged sections, and is available from some landscape suppliers and bamboo nurseries, frequently termed root barrier. More elaborate barriers with corner posts that hold the material at the proper angle are also available.

Root barrier is available from some bamboo growers. Look for “Rhizome barriers” in the Plant and Product Suppliers’ List.

A pond or stream can also act as an effective barrier.


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