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Did You Know there is a GRASS that has Evil Superpowers? It’s Called “Running Bamboo”

By Elaine Kolish


Running bamboo may not be able to leap tall buildings but it can run underground as much as 15 feet a year, including going under a road and emerging on the other side. Running bamboo even can be found as far away as 100 feet from its parent plant. Its horizontal rhizomes also can go through brickwork, and weak spots in concrete. This means sidewalks, driveways, pool liners decks and foundations can be damaged. Unfortunately, it also suppresses native plant species, including our much needed native trees that provide many benefits for our environment, such as capturing carbon to help reduce the devastating effects of climate change.


How extensive is the Running Bamboo invasion?

Originally, non-native bamboo was imported from Asia for garden decoration and screening. But its aggressive growth habit did not respect private or public property lines. It now can be found in large groves in yards, and acres of it can be found in local parks. For example, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) has estimated that it has 250 acres of bamboo spread across more than 185 patches on its properties. Fortunately, FCPA has received $400,000 to start tackling this enormous problem. But it needs far more. It estimates it will take more than $9 million and 15 years to treat the affected acreage it has identified. Simply put, with no natural controls from insects, diseases or wildlife, this grass has become a nightmare. Our National Zoo doesn’t even have Giant Pandas any more that could at least eat a teeny-tiny portion of our available supply.


How can homeowners stop running bamboo in their yards?

Although there are no estimates of how extensive running bamboo is on private property, it is easy to spot throughout our neighborhoods. Consequently, homeowners have an important role to play in containing or eliminating this destructive grass. Running bamboo will start growing again in the spring, and this is a good time to start getting rid of it. But be aware, its growth pattern makes it difficult to remove, and a sustained, multi-year effort usually is necessary. Below are four methods you can try.


Barriers. One containment method involves installing vertical root barriers 30 inches below ground (and 6 inches above) to deflect rhizomes so they go towards the owner’s property and to make the rhizomes visible at the barrier. Strong materials, such as metal or high-density plastic, must be used for the barrier. Regular monitoring and cutting back rhizomes that have escaped also is necessary.

Mowing. Another containment method involves frequently mowing the bamboo so that the rhizomes eventually become depleted of nutrients and give up trying to grow. It could take two to three years to see any success.

Herbicides. Hack and squirt, involves cutting the bamboo close to the ground carefully and immediately (within five minutes) applying herbicide with a foam brush to the cut top. A high concentration of glyphosate or another herbicide that states on the label that it treats bamboo is necessary. Remember to always read and follow the directions on the herbicide container!

Digging. Alternatively, a homeowner might wish to remove the bamboo completely. Digging it out of larger groves may require heavy equipment. (Don’t forget to call Miss Utility first.


What can you do when bamboo from your neighbor’s yard invades your property?

Several local jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have addressed this situation: Fairfax, Stafford and Fauquier Counties. The Fairfax County Bamboo Ordinance went into effect on January 1, 2023. It is designed to help homeowners experiencing incursions of bamboo from their neighbors’ properties. The ordinance says that bamboo owners, whether or not they planted the bamboo, must not allow their bamboo to spread from their yards to any public right-of-way or any adjoining property. Although maintaining bamboo on one’s own property is legal, it is illegal to allow bamboo to spread beyond your property’s boundaries. Violations incur a vine. In Fairfax County, you must dispose of all cut bamboo and roots in the TRASH, not in a compost pile or bin for lawn debris. If you want to dry the culms or canes for another use, such as stakes or crafts, do not do so on soil, which will risk the bamboo taking root.


What are alternatives to bamboo for screening?

There are many native plants and grasses that can provide screening and ecological benefits. Plant NOVA Natives, for example, has a whole section on hedges and screening options on its website. Similarly, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia has a fact sheet on bamboo and native alternatives.


Don’t wait. Come spring, be a super hero: contain or eliminate that invasive bamboo in your yard. Your actions will make a difference!

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