Bamboozled by Bamboo!
October 1, 2006
I have a lot of bamboo in my side yard. How can I get rid of it?
Photo by Zhigong Zhang, Dreamstime.com
– Robert Lynch, via e-mail
A: Bamboo plants propagate themselves by rhizomes, the creeping underground stems that form buds at the joints to produce new shoots. A rhizome doesn’t die like a root when cut, but becomes several plants. Hence bamboo is one of those plants that can be a real bear to eradicate.
Two types of bamboo grow in this country: the clumping type and the running type. The clumping type has short rhizomes that produce new canes near the base of the old ones. This type of bamboo is genetically incapable of spreading more than a few inches a year. Clumping bamboo is tropical in origin and not particularly cold-hardy. Clumpers can usually be eradicated simply by digging them out.
The second type of bamboo is the more-hardy, wilder-spreading running type. Its rhizomes grow in all directions and may spread 15 feet or more in a year. Because the rhizomes spread quickly underground, new plants may sprout far from the parent plant. If you’ve got bamboo coming up all over the place, it’s a running bamboo.
Some homeowners claim to have had success by cutting down running bamboo and spraying or “painting” the new shoots with an herbicide such as Roundup. But the American Bamboo Society suggests herbicides are largely ineffective as most of the plant is underground and suggests a four-pronged approach to eradicating running bamboo.
First, cut all the stocks off from their connecting rhizomes with a saw or spade. Then, cut the entire bamboo grove to the ground. Next, water and fertilize the area to cause new growth. Lastly, use pruning shears to continue cutting down any new shoots that sprout up from the rhizomes until no new shoots come up. Without the photosynthesis from green leaves, eventually the rhizomes will run out of energy and, in time, rot away.