Battling Invasive Bamboos

Lately I've been having some plant issues.

Major issues.

The giant bamboo in my backyard (some of which exceeds 50 feet tall) is galloping into the neighboring woods at an astonishing 20 feet per year. Wherever it grows, it creates a monoculture. My neighbor planted it in the 80's as a novelty way of distinguishing the property line and providing some privacy. Now, about 35 years and two acres later...well, you get the idea.

Bamboo allows little to no light to penetrate the canopy.
Bamboo allows little to no light to penetrate the canopy.

One mistake on researching the right species to plant has cost our neighbors (and us) countless hours chopping, digging, and burning the culms (stems), which sound like fireworks when they burn due to the hollow stems. Every time we burn, there's at least one neighbor who comes down to inquire what the "gunshots" are from. Since I'm an entirely organic gardener, I've never used herbicides as a remedy for the nuisance bamboo. I have, however, been considering using herbicides sparingly if spraying will ultimately cause less damage to the environment than allowing a destructive plant to destroy the ecosystem. I'm still deciding on the best course of action.

Bamboo surrounding a pine in my backyard.
Bamboo surrounding a pine in my backyard.
Bamboo creates a monoculture wherever it grows.
Bamboo creates a monoculture wherever it grows.
A closer look reveals a network of surface roots.
A closer look reveals a network of surface roots.
Here's some perspective: the trees are well over 100 feet tall.
Here's some perspective: the trees are well over 100 feet tall.

Bamboos where introduced in the late 19th century as a horticultural novelty. People liked the unusual, tropical look they provided and their ability to form large clumps in a relatively brief period of time. Unfortunately, some species spread faster than people thought, and soon, became naturalized throughout the United States.

The offending species are mostly from the genus Phyllostachys and Sasa. Phyllostachys are the bamboos that most people think of, with large culms in a rainbow of colors. The giant timber bamboo that I am currently battling is Phyllostachys bambusoides.

This species can be well behaved if you have thick, clay soils heavy in nutrients and moisture. If your soil is sandy and poor, like mine, they will spread like wildfire in their endless search for the prime growing conditions.

Sasa is a genus of smaller, scrubbier bamboos that are usually less than 10 feet tall. I've seen entire woodland floors swamped with Sasa palmata, displacing the native ferns and sedges and eventually killing the trees they surround. Bamboos in the genus Sasa are endless wanderers. No matter what your soil conditions are like, they will always march forward, and are nearly impossible to eradicate.

Here's the million-dollar question: "If they are as tough as you say, how do I ever eradicate them?"

 

I've made a sizable dent in the bamboo forest (with help from my neighbor's tractor!).
I've made a sizable dent in the bamboo forest (with help from my neighbor's tractor!).

Although I'm by no means an expert on managing invasive species, I have experimented with various methods on my own stand of bamboo and have found only two viable options. The first effective (and organic) way of controlling them is by hard manual labor - cutting the stalks down to ground-level and continually weedeating and removing any new shoots that emerge. This method works if you have the time to do a twice-weekly cut of any emerging shoots. Eventually, the roots will become starved and die off.

This method might be effective if you have the time, patience, and grit to overcome a tough infestation of bamboo, but what if you’re like me and don’t have the time? Well, at that point you’re about out of luck. Using an herbicide might be the only effective solution to permanently eradicate it. Like I’ve said before, if using an herbicide will be the least harmful way (better than leaving it) of removing a stubborn bamboo, it might be worth it to choose the lesser of two evils.

I want to end by saying that not all bamboos are bad. Many are amazing assets to the landscape, providing interesting colors, forms, and textures to the garden. Just make sure and do the research before you plant!

Does anyone else struggle with bamboo issues? I’d love to chat in the comments below about eradicating bamboos, or better-behaved cultivars to grow.

P.S. If getting rid of an invasive bamboo is not an option, you may as well utilize the resources it provides! Bamboo leaf litter decomposes into some of the richest soil around – use it to mulch your garden. The stems make excellent (environmentally friendly) stakes for the garden, not to mention most bamboos have edible young shoots. As you can see, even though some species may be invasive, they could also be turned into an asset!

The Monthly Newsletter

Join the growing community of gardeners and adventurers seeking to connect with each other and expand their gardening know-how!

!
!
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Travis

About Travis

Hi there! I'm Travis and have been gardening for over 10 years now at my home in Ruston, Louisiana. I currently run a garden consulting business and enjoy experimenting with new plants and techniques in my own garden. My goal is to help everyone by providing advice based on experience and enabling people to garden confidently. My greatest passion: connecting with the younger generations (including my own) and helping them see gardening for what it truly is.