Unwanted groves of bamboo can be eradicated with nothing more than a pair of loppers and a string trimmer along with some serious sweat equity and patience. I have done it myself, multiple times in multiple places. Having said that, I am bit more extreme in terms of sweat equity than most and it is probable that you’ll want to hire someone to do the work for you. The key lies in understanding the growth habits of the plant and I will address this a bit further on. First I wish to clear up some misconceptions.
I have seen many well maintained plantings of bamboo in person and I have also seen many neglected groves of the running form of bamboo that have invaded neighboring properties and become a nuisance plant. I write this to offer some potentially useful information to bamboo enthusiasts and bamboo haters. I also hope to dispel some of the myths about bamboo being perpetuated by people who have had bad experiences with certain types of bamboo. In particular there is a person in Connecticut who is intentionally spreading misinformation about bamboo to various municipalities/community leaders – anyone who will listen to her campaign of lies. There have even been some bamboo prohibitive ordinances passed as a result of her efforts. Sorry ma’am but you know who you are and you know that you are making up ‘facts’ about the spread of bamboo without regard to the truth or the consequences of your actions.
I am a member of a group of people for whom growing bamboo is an intensely rewarding & enjoyable experience. In my own case it led to me growing more than 200 species of bamboo scattered about my 5 acres in Brown County near Nashville Indiana. For a time, I operated a small bamboo nursery there for a few years. I have also served a term as president of the American Bamboo Society, a national organization supported by like-minded bamboo enthusiasts. I have been living in California for more than a year and no longer operate my nursery.
I am a bamboo guy through and through, during my one year in California I have amassed a collection of 75 species, presently growing most in pots as I am a tenant not a property owner out here. I have 15 years experience growing bamboo and I feel qualified to speak on the topic. I would not call myself an expert but chances are I know more about it than most of the people reading this post.
- There are essentially two types of bamboo, commonly referred to as running forms and clumping forms. The clumping forms do not send out spreading rhizomes and are very well behaved plants that can make a wonderful contribution to the landscape. So when anyone refers to bamboo as an invasive plant they are making an incorrect generalization of the facts and municipal ordinances that do not make a distinction between clumping and running bamboo are ill conceived.
- Bamboo is not by definition an invasive plant rather it is a spreading plant. Spreading by rhizomes that are either tightly spaced via short ‘necks’ as in the clumping forms or quite well spaced via long rhizome branches such as in the running forms. In any case bamboo does not meet the standard definition of an invasive plant due to its limited methods of spreading.
- Bamboo does not spread via cuttings from above-ground vegetative parts. O.K. not 100% true as a few species of sub/tropical clumping forms may be propagated via branch or culm cuttings but it is difficult to intentionally make new plants this way and I would go as far as to say that no unwanted patch of bamboo has ever been started via branches, leaves, or culm cuttings. My point is that the plant parts of running bamboo will not root and the plant is 100% incapable of spreading that way, you can cut down canes of running bamboo, plant it in your garden and it will not establish a new plant.
- Bamboo does not spread from seed. Again, not completely accurate as there are vast forests of bamboo in India and other places where bamboo naturally exists that were created via seed but the grove in your neighborhood did not form this way. Bamboo rarely flowers, there are generally decades between flowering events with each species having its own flowering frequency timetable. Aside from the naturally occurring groves of the species Arundinaria gigantea in native US locales I have never ever heard of a single grove of running bamboo in the US or Europe coming from a natural flowering & seed cycle. Never, not once.
Going forward I refer only to the running forms that spread via long rhizome branches, the clumping forms we can love without regard. The bamboo grove you wish to eradicate was very likely started by someone properly making a rhizome division from an established grove and carefully transplanting & tending it. This original rhizome division contained dormant rhizome buds, some of which will sprout into new culms and some into new rhizome branches.
The new culms sprout from the rhizomes generally in April each year and once the new culms have begun to leaf out the rhizomes will start to sprout new rhizome branches. As the bamboo spreads visibly above ground it is spreading even more below ground. As a rule of thumb the rhizomes will spread annually a distance equal to the height of the culms. So if the culms are 10′ tall the rhizomes will have spread 10′ outward from the culms that you can see. Left unchecked, within the first 3 years or so the bamboo will have grown from a single division to a large colony. This is how the grove spread from a single division into the grove that has taken over your yard.
The engine for growth:
The above ground foliage – leaves, branches, & culms – captures sunlight and through photosynthesis converts starches & sugars into stored rhizome energy for future growth of new rhizomes and culms. Bamboo must have above ground plant parts in order to survive. Without the photosynthesis cycle the rhizomes will be unable to generate new growth. This is the key to understanding how to kill off a grove. You must exhaust the stored energy reserves of the rhizomes.
Killing a Grove:
Cut down everything above ground. Every single culm must be removed. This means that if the grove has encroached upon neighboring properties those culms also must be culled for as long as the rhizome colony has photosynthesizing culms anywhere along the rhizome branches the rhizomes will continue to produce expanded growth. In the event that one of the neighboring property owners is unwilling to cut down the growth on their side the only recourse for you is to trench along your property line so that you sever the connection from the rhizomes in your yard from the culm engines in their yard. And future growth from their now isolated bamboo will spread back into your yard unless you maintain that trench annually.
The rhizomes will quickly respond to the sudden culling of all culms by producing an emergency flush of new culms. You will notice that this new flush of culm growth will be smaller than what was cut down. This is a sign of loss of rhizome energy. Let the new emergency culm sprouts reach the point where they start to produce branches and at this point string trim/mow down the new flush of culms. The rhizomes will again react to this with another flush of emergency culms, even smaller than the previous push. Again, keep the cycle of mowing waiting for new growth, mowing until you see no new growth. The rhizomes will eventually exhaust themselves of energy reserves but this may take as long as 2 years but routine maintenance such as mowing will be sufficient to kill off the grove.
The eradication of bamboo can be simply stated as a process of:
- Removing the photosynthesis engine of above ground growth
- Do not let new any above ground growth become established
You do not have to remove the rhizomes from the ground in order to kill the grove however future use of the ground for planting other things may require the removal of the dead rhizomes. Additionally the culm stumps may be unwelcome in your yard and the easiest way to remove them is by removing the rhizomes they are attached to. This is where the eradication process can be costly, in the recovering of the ground for alternate use.