Many readers ask how to get rid of bamboo plants naturally —that is, how to remove them without resorting to the use of herbicides. Indeed, trying to contain one of the "running" types (as opposed to the tamer "clumping" types) is one of the toughest problems known to gardeners and landscapers. Below, we touch upon three ways often discussed and evaluate their merits.
Getting Rid of Bamboo by Digging
To get rid of bamboo naturally, some suggest digging. This method may work for a small stand of bamboo, but it is problematic for larger stands. Pick a shoot to start with and begin digging gingerly around the base. After you have loosened the soil enough to wiggle the plant, tug at it gently. You want to try to pull up as much of the plant and its rhizome system as possible with your tug, as opposed to just ripping it out and leaving a lot of the rhizomes behind. When you have done your best in that area, move onto another shoot, and repeat the process. Chances for success using this method will be enhanced if the soil is moist, so water the affected area beforehand.
Even if you are successful, there will inevitably still be rhizomes left behind in the soil. So carefully excavate down and around your original hole in pursuit of those fugitives! It may help to have a sifter so that you can sift through the soil as you inspect it to locate the rhizomes. Any fraction of a rhizome left behind now will result in a new shoot later, thus mocking your efforts to get rid of bamboo. Indeed, you will probably have to repeat the process many times.
Methods That Employ Tarps, Barriers
Another method used for getting rid of bamboo is smothering it with tarps. However, note that the bamboo plants may be able to outflank the tarps by spreading beyond their perimeters. Therefore, employing tarps can result in the bamboo's popping up somewhere else in the yard—clearly not a desirable result.
To prevent such a result, consider using the tarp tactic in conjunction with burying barriers. That is, many people contain rhizomatous bamboos by sinking plastic barriers into the ground all around them, effectively "fencing" the bamboo in. Barriers should run 30 inches deep; also make sure a couple of inches of barrier extend above the surface so that the rhizomes do not weasel their way over the top of the barrier. Using such a barrier in conjunction with the application of a tarp makes sense: the two tactics complement each other.
And If the Above Methods Just Don't "Cut It"....
The American Bamboo Society recommends a different approach to getting rid of bamboo: cutting. Since their specialty is bamboo, I would lend the most credence to their advice, which, in sum, runs as follows:
- Cut the bamboo shoots down
- Apply water to the area
- Cut down the new crop of bamboo resulting from #2
- Repeat the process until shoots stop coming up.
The idea behind doing all of this is to deplete the reserves of energy in the plants' rhizomes, after which they will not be capable of sending up new shoots. Those reserves are no longer being replaced because you are removing the plants' mechanism to do so—photosynthesis—by depriving them of vegetation. They can only hold out so long without being replenished (although it may seem an eternity if you are itching to be rid of the plants so that you can start a garden in that spot).
As a concluding observation about using this method, the American Bamboo Society writes that, once you are done, "The rhizomes will be left behind, but will rot away." The reason that these old rhizomes will rot away is that they have been depleted of their energy reserves. By contrast, when you use the digging method (discussed above), the rhizomes you leave behind are still fresh—and that is why they generate new shoots (rather than just rotting away).
- Not sure if you want to stick to natural methods for removing bamboo? Glyphosate is the chemical herbicide most often used to kill bamboo. Read this article to find out about glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. If you do decide to use Roundup, cut the canes (also called "culms") down almost to the ground. Make your cut just below the node closest to the ground. This will expose the hollow tube within—a perfect receptacle to hold herbicide. Just pour the Roundup into the canes, then wait and observe. If vegetation still re-sprouts (which it probably will), apply herbicide directly onto that vegetation. Stay ahead of it, because you will win out only through persistence!
- While Polygonum cuspidatum (sometimes called "Japanese bamboo" but more commonly named "Japanese knotweed") is not a true bamboo, it acts somewhat like one. Efforts to control bamboo will be similar to those required to tame Japanese knotweed. Learn about how to successfully kill Japanese knotweed here.