East Texas Ag News: Bamboo plants take over landscapes

Bamboos are botanical “grasses” that are perennial. We know them as one of the most difficult...
Bamboos are botanical “grasses” that are perennial. We know them as one of the most difficult to control ornamental plants.(Retha Ferguson
Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 5:39 PM CDT
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LUFKIN, Texas (KLTV) -From time to time, I’ll get a question about how to plant and establish bamboo to use as a screen or fence substitute along a property line. More often than those inquiries is somebody trying to beat back and kill the awful invasive jungle of bamboo that has taken over much of their landscape.

So if you are interested in some privacy, let me ask you, are you really, really sure that you want this?

Bamboos are botanical “grasses” that are perennial. We know them as one of the most difficult to control ornamental plants. They are distinguished from other grasses by their woody stems, branched growth, and often large size. They can grow anywhere from one to seventy feet tall. While often considered beautiful, they can quickly turn into a homeowner’s worst nightmare if not properly maintained. Once established, bamboo can take over landscapes, stream banks, and woodlands.

If you look at the USDA field guide “Invasive Plants in Southern Forests”, the first invasive grassy plant they list is Golden bamboo. It is common to many old homesites and has now escaped. Native to Asia, it was planted as an ornamental plant and used widely for fishing poles.

Another grass-type weed listed in that identification guide that folks fight is Giant Reed. It has more of a corn plant looking structure that reaches up to 20 feet tall and has migrated from old home sites as well. It is considered an “old world” plant (read European origination) that is also from western Asia, and North Africa. In addition to an ornamental, its reeds were used for woodwind instruments.

Overall, there are about 1,200 species of bamboo with many of these being sold in the nursery trade. There are two basic types of bamboo: clumping and running. Clumping bamboo species grow in large clumps and are relatively slow in spreading. Their root system can be quite large and compete with surrounding plants. This type can often be removed by digging up the offending plants. Unfortunately, many of the more popular types of bamboo sold in the nursery industry are more invasive, spreading types. Running bamboos can be very problematic once established, as they spread by thick, tough, underground stems called rhizomes. These rhizomes can spread more than 100 feet from the mother plant and are very resistant to adverse environmental conditions and most herbicides.

Every effort should be taken to control a bamboo infestation in its entirety. Because bamboo is so aggressive, it can re-establish rapidly if any small section is left untouched. Homeowners with bamboo infestations must be patient, as this weed requires an intensive control program over several years.

The first step in controlling bamboo should be to remove as much of the root mass and rhizomes of the plant as possible. This can often be done by hand with small infestations but larger problem areas may require the use of power equipment.

Regular mowing is another method that can help control bamboo if you have two to three years of consistent pressure. Because bamboo is a grass, it can tolerate occasional mowing but does not tolerate frequent mowing. Mowing practices, similar to that in a home lawn can eventually deplete the bamboo rhizomes and offer some control. Again, two to three years of regular mowing are often needed to see results.

A final, and often necessary, method of control for bamboo is the use of herbicides. A non-selective herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate is the best option for homeowners. Glyphosate has little to no residual soil activity and will only kill plants that receive direct contact. For glyphosate to be effective, the bamboo must be mowed or chopped and allowed to regrow until the new leaves expand. Glyphosate should then be applied to the leaves. Keep in mind that one application of glyphosate will not eradicate the bamboo infestation.

Once again, it can potentially take two to three years to gain complete control.

As incredibly safe as glyphosate products are, do not apply these products directly to water or to areas where surface water is present unless you use an aquatic labeled glyphosate product. For bamboo control next to creeks, lake basins, wetlands, or other water sources where spray drift will contact the water, choose a glyphosate product labeled for use near water. Look for product labels such as Eraser AQ, Hi-Yield Killzall Aquatic Herbicide, Rodeo, Pondmaster, Aquamaster, or Aquapro. Aquatic formulations of glyphosate may be mixed with a non-ionic surfactant, such as Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker Non-Ionic Surfactant or Southern Ag Surfactant for Herbicides, to improve control.

As always, when using herbicides, please be sure to follow all label instructions.

While bamboo control is not impossible, it can often seem that way. Staying on top of the problem is one of the most important things to remember. An intensive control method over several years will be necessary to eradicate a bamboo infestation.

One of the best methods of control is prevention. If you really want to hide a certain view, I know of some tremendous fencing businesses around Lufkin. Build a privacy fence and plant lots of trees and shrubs to soften the view.

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