How do I get rid of invasive bamboo that is taking over my backyard?
District of Columbia County District of Columbia
Running bamboos are tenacious spreaders, with rhizomes that are aggressive and difficult to contain. Removal requires vigilance, persistence, and patience, and multi-pronged approaches will be the most efficient.
Non-chemical control involves physically removing as much growth as possible: both the above-ground culms (canes, stems) and the underground rhizomes. Rhizome removal is the more effective but most labor-intensive approach; it will be more disruptive to a landscape and cost significantly more than other approaches. Rhizomes may also be inaccessible if tree roots are in the area, as they should not be damaged to protect tree health.
Cutting culms results in minimal environmental impact. This removal of all foliage is intended to starve the root system of stored energy, which can be a long process with bamboo. Look for sprouts that appear outside of your yard so they don’t circumvent efforts to starve the plant. Tender new culms, which typically appear only between March and May, can simply be kicked or knocked over. They grow rapidly, however, so monitor plants to avoid missing this opportunity. Culms that re-appear in summer will need to be cut down again.
Rhizome removal by hand is extremely difficult and requires sturdy tools and lots of effort. Heavy power equipment is the most practical approach in areas free of trees, and even then, it can be tough for the machines to remove entrenched growth. Equipment will need room to maneuver or else desirable plantings will be damaged. There will also be soil compaction and possible regrading needed after removal. Missed fragments of rhizome re-sprout, so be prepared for their reappearance.
Chemical control requires non-selective systemic herbicides that are absorbed and transported down into the roots. (Glyphosate is one example.) Be careful with applications, as non-selective herbicides damage desirable plants if spray drifts or drips onto them. Due to bamboo’s waxy leaves, the inclusion of a surfactant (also called a spreader-sticker) will help the spray adhere instead of beading off. Look on the product label to see if a surfactant is necessary. For summer re-sprouts, spray the foliage in fall (October) and allow the growth to remain undisturbed so the chemical has time to work. Remove dead growth in spring as you search for more new shoots to knock over.
The approach to use when treating with herbicide involves performing any physical rhizome removal first, cutting or knocking down new growth, and then treating the resulting sprouts with herbicide in autumn. This will minimize the amount of herbicide needed. The cutting, kicking, and spraying repeats each year the bamboo returns.