Bamboo Removal: Eradication With or Without Herbicides

How to Remove a Running Bamboo

Canes of bamboo plants growing in a grove.

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Seasoned gardeners know the difficulty of removing bamboo plants especially if you want to stay away from using chemical herbicides. But, many beginners do not realize the distinction between running bamboos and clumping bamboos when they are planting. It is running bamboo 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 running bamboo 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 spend hours of landscape work to remove 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 Bamboo Organically

If running bamboo has overtaken your property and swamped your garden beds, you can remove it without using chemicals. 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 and begin digging 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 the process for every shoot. Some rhizomes will inevitably remain unharvested, resulting in fresh shoots that emerge later. Be prepared to repeat the entire operation.

2. Smothering

Another method for removing bamboo is smothering with tarps. Spread a tarp over the area and Weigh it down with bricks, cinder blocks, or large stones along the edges so that it doesn't blow away during wind storms. For aesthetic purposes, you can lay landscape mulch over the tarps.

However, a running bamboo may be able to push up beyond the tarp's perimeters. 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 for a self-contained stand of running bamboo on your property.

  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 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 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 through this underground network.

In such a case, you will have to sever the rhizomes that bind the two stands of running bamboo together. Dig a ditch to access the system of rhizomes and sever them with a spade. After the ditch is dug, ABS recommends that you lay a barrier down to prevent repeating the process.  

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 choose to avoid the use of chemical herbicides. But 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 enhanced by spraying the bamboo with the non-selective herbicide, glyphosate.

The reason you cut the bamboo first is that glyphosate seems to be more effective against the new bamboo growth that will follow. Wearing protective gear spray the leaves of the new growth with the herbicide. It will still re-emerge, at which point you spray again.

Warning

Glyphosate is increasingly the focus of health concerns. Weigh your options carefully before deciding to spray with it.

Article Sources
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  1. Bamboo Control. Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center

  2. Containing and Removing Bamboo. University of Maryland Extension

  3. American Bamboo Society.

  4. ToxFAQs: Glyphosate. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.