How To Get Rid Of Bamboo (A Cautionary Tale)

My first bit of advice is this : DO NOT PLANT BAMBOO!!!

Pardon my yelling, the point needs emphasis.  Bamboo is incredibly hardy, impressively strong, and wildly invasive. It is not just a weed.  It is “The Weed”.  In Connecticut, it has been illegal since 2013 to plant bamboo near road or property lines.  The fines for violation are impressive, and accumulate daily.

I planted my bamboo in the front of my yard, about 20-odd years ago, my ambition being to grow my own bamboo curtain to wall off the yard from the road.  I have no one to blame but myself. The bamboo loved its’ location. It grew up. It also grew left, right, back, and front.  Two out of four of these was not actually a big problem. There was plenty of room on my property for expansion. But when it began trespassing in my neighbor’s yard, showing one slender stalk, I immediately went to remove the intruder, because I wished to be a good neighbor.  I spent the next two hours removing a dozen or so runners headed into my neighbor’s immaculately manicured lawn.  The battle was joined.

The next spring, I was driving home when I saw something unusual in the roadway in front of my house.  It was a bamboo stalk, coming up through the brand new asphalt.  I was horrified.  I knew the highway department would not approve.  Herbicide was applied immediately (one of the few times I would ever think that necessary), but a way to prevent this needed to found.  I decided to dig a trench in front of the bamboo, so that fresh shoots could be seen before they got to the street.  Additionally, I took some leftover ceramic tiles and buried them along the border with my neighbor, to at least delay invasion into his yard.

The bamboo also grew tall.  As the tops waved in the wind among the power lines, I realized pruning was now needed.  So, the nice Roger was called in because ladders and I are not friends, and the tops of dozens of stalks were cut off.  I had my wall, but it was a lot of work to contain it.

But as the bamboo grew into a thicket, eventually reaching approximately 30′ in length and 10′ in width, I realized something really weird, and rather cool.  I could step into the bamboo and disappear from view.  This delighted my California nephews during a visit, when they declared that I live in a jungle, in the middle of a forest.  And the bamboo seemed to sing in the breeze, leaves rustling softly.  I admired its’ strength and tenacity, even as I was swearing at it as I pulled up another 10′ runner trying to expand the bamboo’s territory.

Last spring, I decided that the bamboo needed to go.  The work needed to maintain it was just too much.  I thought that removal would not be a complicated process.  We would cut it down, hire someone to dig up the roots, put the roots in a dumpster, the dumpster gets hauled away.  Simple, no muss, very little fuss.  And the goddess of landscaping projects looked down upon me and said, “I don’t think so.”

Roger and I cut it down, hauling the 10-12′ stalks on tarps to our yard waste berm at the back of our property.  There were hundreds of stalks.  Hard work, but not crippling.  A neighbor with a backhoe was hired to dig up the root mat.  And here’s where the roadblock to very little fuss was thrown up.  We couldn’t remove the bamboo roots from our property.  No landfill would take them, because of bamboo’s invasiveness.  So we were left with no alternative but to have the chunks of root mat and dirt piled up in the backyard while I consulted with my gardener girlfriend who gave me the bamboo twenty-some odd years ago.  Terri’s advice was, “You have to remove the roots from the dirt.”

Ok.  We are looking at a pile of dirt and roots.  The backhoe dug down about one foot.  My rough estimate of area is 300 square feet.  According to a quick look on the Google, a cubic foot of moist dirt weighs about 78 lbs.  That gives us an approximate total weight of 23,400 lbs.  Estimating that half of the cubic footage is root, not dirt, I’ll halve that weight to 11,700 lbs.  It is, by any estimate, a lot of goddamn dirt.  And roots.  Roots which began sending out fresh shoots within days, from all sides.  That plant wanted to live in the worst way.

The dismantling began.  Roger used a pick to break up the larger chunks of root into smaller chunks, I used a smaller hand pick to do the final removal of roots from dirt.  The roots were piled on top of the previously cut stalks, so that there was no possibility of contact with the ground.  Roger built a screen, with 1/2″ chicken wire, and the remaining dirt was screened for rocks and roots into a large wheelbarrow, to be returned from whence it came, sans bamboo.  My neighbor buddy Shane was provided gainful employment assisting with this operation, which went all through spring, summer, and into the fall.  As winter fell, the pile of dirt we had been playing in for months was smaller, but not gone.

Yesterday, the ninth of May, we finished sorting around 6 tons of dirt and roots.  I had left the subsoil under the bamboo thicket exposed, just to be sure that there was no new growth, that we had indeed gotten it all.  So far, so good.  As we finished screening the last of the dirt pile this spring, I found fresh growth.  Not a lot of it, but enough to confirm that we had been right to be thorough.

This is my tale of yardwork, taken to a ridiculous extreme.  I’m going to plant wildflowers this year.  Hopefully, nothing invasive.