Getting rid of bamboo, once and for all


This week’s article reminds me of the old joke, “Once upon a time there was a Chinese couple. Now look how many there are!”

Once upon a time, around 50 years ago, there was no bamboo in any Southeast Texas landscape. Now it’s everywhere, and everyone’s asking me how to get rid of it.

Photo: Getty Images

I suppose bamboo has an appeal for some people, probably from a distance. And I’m pretty certain bamboo gained some popularity in the 1980s and ‘90s as pools and hot tubs were added in Houston backyards .

Today, however, we know that running bamboo is a no-no for Houston landscapes, because it will reproduce and take over an entire area. It’s also hard to remove, much less eradicate. Clumping bamboo is also a chore to get rid of, just not as difficult to purge as running bamboo.

After doling out gardening advice for more than 25 years, I’ve pretty much found the best method for bamboo control or eradication. I wrote a piece about it for the website around 14 years ago, but the bad news is it seems to have disappeared. The good news is I get to rewrite it here and make sure we cover everything.

I have found that there is really no chemical control that will be effective on an existing stand of bamboo. Herbicides may burn up the leaves, but they can’t penetrate that hard outer layer, so they fail at getting into the vascular system of the plant.

So, excavation is the best control. But who can bring a backhoe into a residential yard and get it all dug out? There are pickaxes and shovels, of course, but that’s excruciating, back-breaking work. Cutting it down to ground level with super-sharp loppers and axes might be the next best option, but you know it’ll will come roaring back if you stop there.

So, here’s where the ultimate control procedure comes in. After cutting it down to the ground, cover what remains with heavy black plastic, plywood, thick cloth, or a tarp and anchor it securely. The covering should be firmly locked in place. Leave the area totally covered for a minimum of six months. With no sunshine for that period, the stumps and roots will rot away.

Photo: Randy Lemmon

Now you may be asking why you can’t just spray the pruned-back area with brush killer. You can’t because it will be a months-long process that will require way too much herbicide. It will poison the soil so severely you probably will not be able to plant anything there for two years. And there’s a possibility the herbicide will spread through the soil and kill the roots of neighboring plants.

Now, I realize it may not be possible to cover every square inch of the area where the bamboo once stood, but cover as much as possible. If you see new growth emerging from an uncovered spot, you can hit that small area with brush killer. Just make sure the active ingredient is triclopyr.

If you think you’ve got a better method, let me hear from you this weekend on the radio show.


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