How to remove bamboo: hard work, but not hopeless


Removing a bamboo again is something for the patient in species with strong runner formation. With these tips, you can get rid of the annoying bamboo runners for good.

Bamboo looks pretty all year round and is actually easy to care for. However, certain species can become a nuisance when they grow too large or when runners of bamboo take over the whole garden. One has no choice but to remove and destroy the bamboo, a tedious but not hopeless endeavor.

Originally planted as an opaque and robust ornamental grass, bamboo can quickly grow too large and send runners in all directions. Old plants in newly adopted gardens or those that were simply planted years ago without a rhizome barrier are especially problematic. Removing the bamboo then takes a lot of effort and time. Simply digging it up and paving the area or creating new beds doesn’t work. If rhizome remnants more than 5 cm (2 in) long remain, new shoots will soon push their way out of the ground or through the paving joints. Weed killers also do not have a lasting effect, especially when it comes to removing a large bamboo.

What bamboo is difficult to remove?

Up to 100 square meters (1076 sq ft), that’s how much garden space bamboos like flat-leaf bamboo (Phyllostachys), but also arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica), Sasa, Pleioblastus or Semiarundinaria can easily conquer under ideal conditions. For large gardens a beautiful opaque jungle, but for small gardens completely unsuitable.

When it comes to removal, bamboo species with so-called leptomorphic growth are really nasty and stubborn: not only do they form large and hard root balls, they also send a network of long underground runners, so-called rhizomes, through the garden. These then reappear somewhere abruptly and continue to grow as new bamboo. Bamboo runners are pointy and can damage pond liners or home insulation, and they don’t stop at neighboring gardens.

If you plant bamboo with leptomorphic growth, do so only with special rhizome barriers at least 70 cm (28 in) tall. Mason jars or edging stones are by no means escape-proof. Bamboo needs a lot of space, and the expected final height is also about the diameter of the plants. Before removing or destroying the bamboo, see if you can still install a rhizome barrier after the fact to keep the bamboo in control. In many cases this is the better and easier way, because you then only have to dig up and remove the bamboo rhizomes that are outside the new barrier.

Which bamboo species can be removed easily?

Bamboo with so-called pachymorphic growth forms dense clumps and hard, spreading root balls, but no super-long sprawling rhizomes. If you want to remove these plants, it is much easier. In the worst case, there is the threat of extensive digging. With large plants, this can also be tedious, but it is also done. This applies, for example, to bamboo such as Borinda, blue fountain (Fargesia) or subtropical species such as Dendrocalamus, Bambusa or Chusquea, which, however, are not always hardy.

Removing bamboo: step by step

  1. First cut off all above-ground shoots. You can still use some of the straight shoots as support sticks for other plants.
  2. Use a spade to tap around the root ball and expose as much of the root ball as possible. Cut through the stronger, hard rhizomes with an axe.
  3. Get the root ball out of the ground. For large specimens, this can only be done in partial steps. You will need a saw to cut the root ball. Knives or spades are completely inadequate with the hard roots, the root balls are firm and matted. Do not take a chain saw, it immediately becomes dull when it comes into contact with soil. Saber saws, which have no problem with soil, are ideal. For large and particularly stubborn specimens, you can also take the help of a jack with boards underneath and use it to lever the root ball out of the ground.
  4. You should collect, dig up and remove all, and that really means all, plant parts, roots and rhizome pieces. Bamboo rots very slowly in the compost. It’s best to dispose of the remains with your household trash or take the bamboo to the nearest composting facility.

Some reworking will be necessary. If a few new shoots still appear, don’t dig after every stolon. By doing so, you often increase the bamboo instead of killing it. Cut off the new shoots continuously and directly above the ground or keep running over them with the lawn mower. Eventually, even the most vigorous sprout will give up when it can no longer produce leaves. To sprout, it must help itself to stored nutrients that are slowly running low. When they run out of energy, the rhizomes simply rot in the soil.

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