Bamboo War

Bamboo plant fully grown

Eighteen years ago Linda purchased a single stock of a bamboo plant from a local nursery. Over the years this plant grew and grew becoming bushier and taller. It grew to be twenty feet or more in height. It swayed in the wind and when we got one of our rare snowfalls it would bend over to the ground with the weight of snow then pop back up again once the snow melted. We really enjoyed this big, beautiful bamboo plant.

I built a trellis that made a nice entryway into the area around the bamboo plant. Under it, Linda placed a pagoda. I made a sitting area with decorative stepping stones to sit. I also installed an electric outlet, and a shelf on the fence to put your drinks and laptop onto. We called this our meditation corner.

Archway leading to the meditation corner.
Archway leading to the meditation corner.

We really enjoyed the view from our back door out into the yard toward the bamboo plant.

Backyard view of bamboo plant.
View from our backdoor of our bamboo plant.

Over the years the bamboo plant in spring would send out a runner or two. We found these and cut them out. It was very manageable. But in the spring of 2020, the bamboo plant went into full reproductive mood. Bamboo sprouts started to pop up in our yard and our neighbor’s yard. As the shoots appeared we dug them up.

Bamboo shoot and root being dug up.
Linda digging up the bamboo root runner from the original plant.

Then more and more runners appeared, then even more. This bamboo plant had decided it was going to take over everything around it within 100 feet it seemed. In just in a month and half, about 1,000 shoots appeaed! The bamboo plant had to go. We could no longer deal with it.

Bamboo root
A piece of a bamboo root. We found these to be up to 30 feet long.

Online research and phone calls to a nursery that specialized in bamboo plants made it apparent that the only way to deal with this monster in the back yard was to totally remove it. We also learned at this time that every root had to be removed from the ground. If any root was missed it would begin to send up bamboo shoots as a new independent plant!

Cutting down bamboo plant.
Bob cutting down bamboo shoots and spraying them with 30% vinegar.

Our first step was to cut the bamboo plant down to the ground. Once the shoots had been cut we sprayed them with 30% vinegar compound trying to kill the thing. Its response was to send up even more shoots! It was determined to survive!

Cut down bamboo shoots at the root ball.
Cut down bamboo shoots at the root ball.
View after bamboo plant was removed
The view out of our backdoor changed once the bamboo plant was cut down to the ground.
After cutting down the bamboo plant to the ground there was still more work to do before removing the bamboo roots. The fence along the property line had to be removed. The beautiful Japanese Red Maple tree had bamboo roots passing under it. We were afraid that might be able to save it. When we dug up the Japanese Maple we found that it had shallow roots and we were able to remove the bamboo root that passed under it and save the tree. We transplanted it into a new location.

Still not grasping just how big of a project this was to become, we began to find and remove by hand the roots from the ground. The only way to remove the roots its to shove a needle bar into the ground under it. Then using a wooden block pry the root up out of the soil. Pure manual labor that takes a lot of time. We spent about three weeks doing this and working our way back to the main root ball of the plant.

Removing bamboo roots from the ground.
Prying up bamboo roots from the ground.

Once we got within five feet of the root ball there were so many roots all intertwined with each other it become impossible to dig them out by hand anymore.

We also found that the bamboo roots had grown under the seven arborvitae trees along the property line. The bamboo roots were mixed in with the tree roots and there was no way to remove them. The trees had to be cut down and the stumps removed.

This bamboo war was just becoming bigger and bigger!

Dan from Cougar Tree Service removing trees from yard.

We now had our yard and the yard next door all torn up removing bamboo roots. Seven tree stumps and a large bamboo root ball still needed to be removed out of the ground. It was time to call in some heavy machinery. I could no longer deal with this.

A trip to Philchuck Rentals and a Kubota mini-excavator was rented. My son Brandan knew how to operate the excavator. A weekend date when he was off work was set and the machine rented.

Kubota mini-excavator
Philchuck Rentals delivered a Kubota mini-excavator to our driveway.

I also rented a dump trailer to remove debris from the yard and take to the garbage transfer station.

Dump trailer behind my truck.

Brandan went to work digging up the tree stumps.

Removing tree stumps with mini-excavator.
Brandan removing tree stumps.

Brandan removed the tree stumps and put them into a pile to load into the dump trailer I rented.

Loading stumps into dump trailer.
Brandan loading stumps into the dump trailer.

Once the tree stumps were removed and loaded Brandan next attacked the root ball of the bamboo plant. He tried at first to dig it out in one scoop and the excavator lifted right up off the ground! He had to resort to breaking it up with the bucket and taking it out in pieces.

Have you tried to undo a knotted ball of twine? That’s what this ball of bamboo roots were, all interwoven and thick! It would be impossible to remove by hand. This video tells the story.

Breaking up and removing the bamboo plant’s root ball.
Brandan loading the bamboo plant root ball into the dump trailer.

Once the root ball was removed Brandan used the excavator bucket to scrape the ground and remove the remaining bamboo roots from the soil.

Once the root ball of the bamboo plant was removed Brandan began to scrape the ground with his bucket to remove all traces of the roots from the soil.

Next Brandan used the bucket claws of the mini-excavator to scrape the soil down about 10 inches in search of bamboo roots to remove them from the ground. I had outlined the area to be dug up with yellow marking paint for him.

Scraping bamboo roots from the soil with mini-excavator.
Brandan scraping the bamboo roots out of the ground with the mini-excavator’s bucket claws.

Their was nothing left of the two backyards in the area where the bamboo plant had grown with all it’s roots and runners.

Brandan found one big and two smaller bamboo roots that I had missed when searching for them with my needle bar.

Holding up bamboo root found with the mini-excavator.
Brandan holding up the large bamboo root he found while scraping the ground with the mini-excavator.

As Brandan searched for bamboo roots he piled up the soil into one big pile. I originally had planned to take all the soil to the garbage transfer station and put in new soil that I knew was free of bamboo roots. Once I figured out the cost be ton to take waste to the transfer station it became obvious that was not an economical thing to do.

Pile of soil to be hand sifted to remove the bamboo roots from it.
Brandan making the pile of dirt to be hand sifted to remove the bamboo from so we could reuse the soil.

I built a 3′ x 4′ frame on legs with a half inch wire cloth screen to sift the bamboo out of the soil. My son Laddrick came to help with this part of the project. We spent two days sifting though the dirt that Brandan had piled up. Brandan would put the dirt on the screen with the excavator, then Linda, Laddrick and I took turns working to shift the dirt. We sifted and removed a lot of bamboo from the dirt in those two days!

Once we finished shifting the dirt Brandan spread it and leveled it with the blade of the excavator.

Finally, the removal was complete! Now to restore some beauty to our garden!

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  • Hi, we are dealing with the same issue and rhizomes have travelled from our neighbors yard to ours. Can you send a photo of the wire screen and sifter you made to check the soil? Thanks!

  • Great write up about your travails!
    I have a 20’x2′ patch of (thankfully) barrier-enclosed bamboo that I started digging up today.
    It is probably 15 years old and all went to seed last year, which is a whole other issue. But essentially it died inasmuch as bamboo can. New shoots had already started to reach 5ft, but the main stalks had lost all leaves and only had seed clusters. So I cut it all down and started at it today with a pickaxe, sawzall, shovel and a trailer tiedown wratchet/straps. After 2 hours I managed to break the pickaxe, bust my shin with the over-tensioned wratchet strap, get an achy back, curse a whole bunch and remove roughly 1sqft of this evil mess.

    Looking into an excavator now. Thanks for the videos so I know what to expect

    Do you remember what the ton-rating was on the machine you rented?

  • OMG, The videos and pics were great. This is by far the besy reasearch and explaination i have read! We are having same problem. And about the same time frame. I was like that explains the sudden burst! I knew we were in trouble! Unfortunately ours is on a hill? But we are going to try to do it ourselves! Thank you! God bless!

  • Great job Bob and team. The real question now is has it come back yet…any new baby shoots coming up?

    Also, do you know how big of an excavator you rented, what tonnage? I’ve read about folks using backhoes and skid steers too. Do you think you had the best equipment for the job?

    I’m looking at doing a similar project in our backyard. A friend of ours said they spent $12k hiring someone to do this for them. Your post (and that pricetag) has inspired me to look elsewhere.

    • Freddie, It is now the 2021 growing season. As of mid-July 2021, we have found one bamboo runner. I dug it out by hand after it sent a shoot up above the ground. I found the end of it about 15 inches below the surface near where the French Drainpipe for our roof gutter runoff is located. It had grown down for the water. When Brandan scraped this area with the excavator bucket he didn’t go down that deep. It left this runner in place under the ground and over about 8 months grew back up to ground level and broke through. The only one we have found.

      • Hi Bob,
        I almost forgot, is it necessary to remove all the tiny roots from the soil? I know the rhizomes are about finger size. What size screen did you use to sift the dirt? And we have alot of clay like soil, im guessing we will have to get rid of that clay dirt.?
        Thank you,
        Roberta McDonough

    • Do you know who can do this job in the Dallas Fort Worth area in Texas? I have been searching and all I get from companies is mention of cutting or grinding and applying chemicals to the bamboo which I know will not work. I am really looking for the right company to dig out the bamboo, remove the soil, replace with clean new soil and install barriers for future prevention. It spread from my neighbor’s yard.

  • Do you know why the bamboo suddenly went into overdrive on shoot production?

    • We did some research and found that when bamboo reaches a state of maturity around 15 years of age the tree sends out a massive amount of runners to reproduce.


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