Is Bamboo Removal Possible Without Herbicides?

How to Remove a Running Bamboo

Canes of bamboo plants growing in a grove.

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Gardeners are generally aware of the difficulty of removing bamboo plants (particularly if you want to stay away from using chemical herbicides), but many beginners do not realize that a distinction needs to be made between running bamboos and clumping bamboos. It is the former type that is such a nightmare to eradicate. Examples of the running type include:

  • Phyllostachys nigra, or "black bamboo"
  • Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda, or "Chinese walking stick"
  • Phyllostachys bambusoides, or "giant timber bamboo"

It is possible to get rid of such bamboo plants either by spraying them with chemical herbicides or by using organic weed control methods, but discretion is the better part of valor: Plant a clumping bamboo, to begin with, and you will not have to invest the extra landscape work into removing it. Examples of clumping bamboos include:

  • Fargesia murielae, or "umbrella bamboo"
  • Fargesia nitida, or "fountain bamboo"
  • Fargesia rufa Green Panda, or "Green Panda bamboo"

Removing Running Bamboos Organically

Let's say that you made the mistake of buying a running bamboo and it has overtaken your property, swamping your garden beds. Your preference is to remove it without resorting to herbicides. Here are your options:

1. Digging

Digging to remove bamboo may work for small patches but is problematic for larger stands. Wet the soil first, then pick a shoot to start with and begin digging gingerly around the base. After you've 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.

Sift through the soil in the hole to check for rhizomes. Repeat for next shoot. Some rhizomes will inevitably remain unharvested, resulting in fresh shoots, later; so be prepared to have to repeat the entire operation.

2. Smothering

Another method used to remove bamboo is smothering with tarps. Weigh the tarps down so that they don't blow away during wind storms; you can do this by placing large stones, bricks, cinder blocks, scrap lumber, etc. along the edges of the tarps. In addition, for aesthetic purposes, you can lay landscape mulch over the tarps.

However, note that a running bamboo, since it does have a sneaky way of spreading via those pesky, underground rhizomes, may be able to outflank the tarps by pushing up beyond their perimeters. Therefore, employing tarps can result in the bamboo's popping up somewhere else in the yard, which is clearly not a desirable result.

To prevent such a result, consider using the smothering method in conjunction with burying bamboo barriers.

3. Cutting

The American Bamboo Society (ABS) recommends the cutting method, which, in sum, runs as follows for a self-contained stand of running bamboo on your own property (not one that extends to a neighbor's land):

  • Cut the bamboo shoots down.
  • Apply water to the area.
  • Cut down the new crop of bamboo that will result.
  • Repeat the above, as needed.

The rationale behind the cutting method, according to ABS, is that this process "will exhaust the energy stored in the rhizomes underground."

This approach is recommended only for a self-contained stand. If the running bamboo that you wish to remove from your land is part of a larger stand that spans your property border and extends to a neighboring property, then the problem is more complicated. The two stands will be joined by a system of rhizomes. If your neighbor's running bamboo remains healthy, it will continue to feed the bamboo on your side of the property line by means of this underground network.

In such a case, you will have to add a preliminary step to the four steps of the cutting method: You will have to sever the ties (the rhizomes) that bind the two stands of running bamboo together. You can achieve this by digging a ditch to access the system of rhizomes and severing them with a spade, loppers, etc. After you have the ditch dug, ABS recommends that you take advantage of the opportunity to lay a barrier down, else you'll have to repeat the process all over again.  

To lay a barrier down, sink 40 mil. plastic edging into the ground to contain the bamboo plants. Bamboo barriers must run 30 inches deep; also make sure a couple of inches of the barrier extend above ground level.

Removing Running Bamboos With Herbicides

More and more gardeners wish to avoid using chemical herbicides these days. But special circumstances may arise that cause you to opt for a chemical approach over an organic one. In such cases, simply follow the steps used in the cutting method while enhancing it by adding the non-selective herbicide, glyphosate to your arsenal.

The reason you cut the bamboo first is that glyphosate seems to be more effective against new bamboo growth, and cutting it will produce such new growth. After taking precautions to protect yourself (clothed head to toe, with gloves, mask, etc.), spray the leaves of the new growth with the herbicide. It will still re-emerge, at which point you spray again.

Warning

Note that glyphosate, in particular, is increasingly the focus of health concerns. Weigh your options carefully before deciding to spray with it.