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Controlling bamboo in landscape plantings

By Dr. Joseph C. Neal, NCSU Weed Scientist
Posted Sunday, September 6, 2009

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Bamboo ControlToo often I receive the following plea: "My neighbor planted bamboo and now it is coming up all over my yard. I have tried to kill it and nothing seems to work!. What can I do?" Bamboo is one of the most difficult to control "escaped ornamentals." Once established, bamboo can take over landscapes, stream banks, and woodlands. I have seen bamboo shoots actually breaking though concrete driveways. Unfortunately, postemergence herbicides such as Roundup seem to only burn back the foliage, providing no real control.

There are many species of bamboo sold in the nursery trade, some more invasive than others. Creeping types are, as a rule, very invasive once established. There are clump-type bamboos that spread at a much slower rate. Clump-type bamboos can be removed by digging up the offending plants. Unfortunately, many of the more popular types of bamboo sold in the nursery industry are the more invasive, spreading types. The plants spread by thick, tough, underground stems (rhizomes). These rhizomes are resilient to adverse environmental conditions and most herbicides. To control such aggressive weeds you must eradicate or contain the entire infestation. Treating only a part of the infestation will be doomed to failure because bamboo can re-establish rapidly. Also, bamboo control programs will require an intensive control strategy over several years.

Containment of creeping types of bamboo is possible, because the rhizomes are typically fairly shallow (less than one foot deep in the soil), but difficult because they can grow over the top of barriers. Barriers made of concrete, metal, plastic, or pressure-treated wood should be installed about 18 inches deep. A barrier does not stop rhizomes, only deflects them. Therefore, the barrier should be installed with the top slanted outward and projecting an inch or two above ground level so that when the rhizomes hit the barrier they will turn upwards and can be easily seen. Inspect the barrier once or twice a year and remove any rhizomes that are visible. We have also had temporary success using a fabric barrier impregnated with herbicide (Typar Biobarrier). Temporary success, because over time the bamboo rhizomes grew over the top of the fabric barrier. A word of caution: no barrier will be permanent. Annual inspections to spot "escaped" bamboo will be required.

Start with physically removing as much of the rhizome and root mass as possible. For large infestations, this will require the use of power equipment. It will be impossible to remove all pieces; therefore, follow-up treatment with herbicides will generally be required. Few herbicides are effective on bamboo. The only treatment regime that has been proven to be effective are winter applications of diclobenil (Casoron or Barrier) combined with summer spot sprays with glyphosate (Roundup). Diclobenil will kill many of the rhizomes and prevent others from re-establishing through early summer. After that time new sprouts will emerge and must be controlled to prevent re-establishment. Recent research has shown that glyphosate (Roundup, Roundup-Pro, Glyfos, others) works better than other postemergence herbicides (such as Finale) for this purpose. However, Roundup does not translocate well to the rhizomes and bamboo will re-sprout. Reapply Roundup whenever new growth is present. It will take at least two years of this regime to attain control. In that time you will not be able to plant herbaceous ornamentals, hemlocks, or many other shrubs because diclobenil can kill these ornamental species. If the bamboo is growing in plant beds where these herbicides cannot be used, remember bamboo is a grass and can be suppressed with selective grass herbicides such as fluazifop-p (Fusilade II, Ornamec, or Grass-B-Gon) or clethodim (Envoy). Such selective grass herbicides can be applied over the top of many broadleaf ornamentals but are not as effective as glyphosate.

Another option is to put the entire infestation into turf for several years. Bamboo does not tolerate frequent mowing – when the entire infestation is mowed regularly. Mowing only a portion of the infestation will suppress the bamboo, but new sprouts will continue to emerge from rhizomes creeping into the turf from adjacent stands.

Regardless of which method of control you choose, an intensive effort over several years will be required to eradicate a bamboo infestation. Of course, the best way to prevent bamboo from becoming a weed is to not plant the invasive, spreading-type bamboos in the first place (and ask your neighbors to refrain from this also).

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Controlling bamboo in landscape plantings
The best way to prevent bamboo from becoming a weed is to not plant the invasive, spreading-type bamboos in the first place.

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