Is your bamboo not behaving itself? Is what started out as a dainty garnish in one particular corner of your yard and now out of control? Perhaps you’re the new homeowner of a garden already littered with unkempt patches of these hearty shoots. Maybe you’re just not a fan of bamboo and want it gone. If you fit into any of these scenarios, sorry friend, but you’ve got your work cut out for you! Like unwanted body hair, trimming or yanking are nothing more than temporary solutions with ugly results. Good news though, in this case, you won’t need to invest in expensive laser treatment.
What makes bamboo such a great renewable resource also makes it incredibly difficult to get rid of. Bamboo contains rhizomes. Rhizomes are a type of stem that spread out horizontally through the soil and sprout new shoots (culms). What could look like several individual plants might very possibly be just one, where each culm is interconnected underground. This makes it difficult to trim away undesired culms, as you won’t be able to predict from where new ones will sprout. Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible to uproot all of the rhizomes. Some will inevitably remain in the soil, and bamboo will continue to grow.
If your aim is to contain the bamboo, building a barrier is essential. You can adapt the same technique we suggested last week in the blog post “Get started with your Bamboo Garden”. Be sure to dig a trench far enough away from the existing bamboo so that no stray rhizomes remain outside the barrier. This can be difficult to guarantee, especially if you’ve uprooted some of the existing growth. Building a stream or pond is far more effective, as bamboo will not grow through bodies of water. Concrete will work in place of water, but just doesn’t look very nice and will eventually succumb to the elements.
Although management and adaptation is environmentally ideal, if you simply must kill your bamboo your best bet is using a natural herbicide like vinegar. This is a tricky and time-sensitive process. Using a pair of shears, cut the culm about 6 inches from the ground. With a paintbrush, brush the vinegar onto the end of the culm. The goal here is to have the sap in the exposed end absorb the herbicide and carry it down the culm into the rhizomes, thus killing the whole plant. If it takes you longer than 15 seconds to apply the herbicide, the sap has already receded down the culm and it will be too late for the herbicide to have any effect. Here’s hoping you weren’t reading this step-by-step as you gave it a shot!
The herbicidal method is only viable if you’re ridding yourself of a manageable number of culms. For removing bamboo en masse, you may wish to hire professionals. The technique involves a backhoe and large quantities of gravel. On the smaller scale though, all you need is yourself, some diligence, and a little bit of elbow grease to succeed.