Is Bamboo Removal Possible Without Herbicides?

How to Remove a Running Bamboo Without Using Chemicals

Canes of bamboo plants growing in a grove.
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Question: Is Bamboo Removal Possible Without Herbicides?

Running bamboos (as opposed to clumping bamboos) can be quite invasive. Let's say that a running bamboo has overtaken your property, swamping your garden beds. How can you remove it, without resorting to herbicides? Digging, smothering and cutting are some of the recommended methods for bamboo removal....


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 (as I said, this method of bamboo removal may work for small patches).

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 (i.e., to disguise the tarps), 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 -- clearly not a desirable result!

To prevent such a result, consider using the smothering method in conjunction with burying bamboo barriers. Earlier in this FAQ series, I discussed laying barriers as a preventive measure. But here, I'm referring to the use of barriers as an aid to a bamboo removal program. The tarp and the barrier will complement each other.

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 (i.e., a stand entirely on your own property, not one that extends to a neighbor's land):

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

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

Notice that, above, I specified this will work for a self-contained stand. But what 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? The problem is more complicated in this case, because, remember, 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 pernicious underground network.

So what can you do in such a case? Well, you will have to add a preliminary step to the four steps listed above for the cutting method: namely, you will have to sever the ties (i.e., 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.