Bamboo is a wonderful ornamental to grow, but if left unchecked, it can quickly invade other areas of your garden, or even your neighbor’s yard. If you’re searching for a way to control or kill bamboo, you’ll need to go to its source – the roots. However, you can’t just blindly soak bamboo roots in weed killer to kill them. Instead, you have to take several steps to make sure your efforts are safe and effective.
As bamboo roots can extend far and deep beneath the soil, it’s impossible to spray them directly with weed killer. Rather, weed killer is used to kill bamboo and its roots by destroying the bamboo’s ability to sustain foliage growth, eventually resulting in the plant’s death. Multiple controlled applications of weed killer, patience, and persistence are essential to ensure that your bamboo has died back as desired, including the roots.
Other non-herbicidal chemicals may damage the roots on contact, such as Jeyes Fluid. However, there’s some controversy surrounding the use of such products as a method of bamboo control due to the environmental damage and lackluster effectiveness. In this article, we’ll look at the different options for chemical control of bamboo to keep those roots in check!
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Running vs. clumping bamboo roots
If you want to kill bamboo roots, you’ll need to start by figuring out which type of root system you’re dealing with. There are two main types of bamboo: clumping bamboo and running bamboo.
Of the two, clumping bamboo is generally regarded as non-invasive due to its shallow and slow-spreading root structure. As the name suggests, clumping bamboo grows in clumps, and is relatively easy to control manually by cutting or mowing new shoots. To kill an entire clump of bamboo, some hard labor with a shovel or repeated mowing is usually all that’s required. For more established clumps, chemical control is also an option.
Running bamboo, on the other hand, can quickly become invasive if it’s allowed to grow unchecked. This is because unlike clumping bamboo, running bamboo spreads under the soil through thick, underground stems known as rhizomes. These rhizomes are more difficult to kill directly as they can extend far from the parent plant. This makes running bamboo more difficult to control, often requiring repeated efforts either chemical or non-chemical in nature.
Is it possible to kill bamboo roots with weed killer?
Without a root barrier in place, running bamboo in particular is notorious for spreading its roots far from the parent plant. If you’re looking for a way to kill such roots, or even kill an entire bamboo plant at the source, you may be wondering what types of weed killer are effective at killing bamboo roots.
Below, we’ll dig into the pros and cons of popular weed killers such as Glyphosate and Imazapyr, and take a look at whether you can achieve the same results with Jeyes Fluid. Spoiler alert: you can’t!
Keep in mind that when used improperly, all weed killers can pose a risk to the environment and surrounding plants or trees. If you want to avoid using chemical weed killers, you may want to start by trying non-chemical methods for controlling your bamboo roots first.
Killing bamboo roots with Glyphosate
Glyphosate is a non-selective systemic herbicide that spreads through the vascular tissue of plants. In particular, it blocks the enzyme in the plant known as 5-enolpyruvyl-3-shikimate phosphate synthase (EPSP), which synthesizes the amino acids that a plant needs to survive. In other words, without this enzyme, a plant will die.
Glyphosate is one of the more easily accessible herbicides and is typically used to successfully kill grasses and many other weeds. While bamboo is not officially listed under the targeted plants of most Glyphosate products, it can be used to kill bamboo if applied correctly and diligently.
Generic Glyphosate vs. Roundup
Roundup, a product of Monsanto, is perhaps the most well-known herbicide out there. But did you know that its main ingredient is Glyphosate, which can be found in many other generic weed killers?
Roundup uses Glyphosate as the active ingredient in the form of isopropylamine salt. If you compare Roundup to other generic brands of Glyphosate products, differences are minimal. So whether you buy Roundup or another brand, it doesn’t really matter.
How to apply Roundup or Glyphosate to bamboo roots
Only tiny amounts of Glyphosate can effectively be absorbed through bamboo roots, so simply spraying the soil with this chemical solution will not be enough to kill the bamboo roots. In fact, doing so may cause more harm to the rest of your garden, as Roundup and other Glyphosate products are mostly non-selective, meaning they’ll kill other plants, too!
The most effective way to treat bamboo with Glyphosate weed killers is to spray the bamboo directly. To treat bamboo with Glyphosate, first mow down the shoots as much as possible, then immediately apply the solution to the stumps while the ‘wounds’ are still fresh.
As it can take a while for the bamboo roots to be sufficiently damaged, you’ll need to repeat this process with any new shoots or foliage. Of course, follow the instructions on the label of any weed-killing product and take proper precautions to protect yourself, nearby plants, pets, and wildlife.
How effective is Glyphosate at killing bamboo roots?
While bamboo has not been classified as resistant to Glyphosate, it’s unlikely that a single application of Glyphosate weed killer will kill your bamboo (roots and all) upon contact. Instead, several treatments are often required, which can extend over multiple years in some cases!
Results can also vary depending on the particular brand that you use, as well as the concentration of the product. Naturally, products with a higher strength may be more effective than others and may reduce the number of treatments required. Persistence and proper use is the best way to ensure that Glyphosate is effective.
Tips to increase the effectiveness of Glyphosate
Many people insist that the speed at which you apply Glyphosate herbicides to the bamboo once mowed will increase the effectiveness, with some saying it should be applied as quickly as 15 seconds after cutting the culm. Others are adamant that pouring the solution down into the hollow culms increases the efficacy of the weed killer, but this is more likely to result in over-application, which can harm the environment.
That said, it’s generally more effective to spray Glyphosate in the later summer or early fall, giving the new shoots more time to grow before killing them back. Additionally, the more concentrated the herbicide is, and the more diligent you are about spraying the new growth, the more effective the control will be.
Once the bamboo dies back, remove roots from the soil with the help of a shovel. We recommend removing bamboo roots from the soil, even if they appear dead, to ensure they don’t grow back.
Glyphosate concentrate is a more concentrated dose of Glyphosate, less-diluted with other chemicals, preservatives, or fillers. Depending on how you apply the Glyphosate concentrate, it can be more effective than an over-the-counter weed killer. However, even with concentrated Glyphosate, you still need to attack the bamboo multiple times to fully kill off your bamboo roots.
Using Imazapyr to kill bamboo roots
Imazapyr is another type of weed killer similar to Glyphosate and is effective at killing bamboo plants, including bamboo roots. Like Glyphosate, Imazapyr also halts the synthesis of amino acids in plants, preventing foliage growth and eventually resulting in root death. However, Imazapyr also requires multiple foliar applications and will not kill the roots on contact.
How effective is Imazapyr at killing bamboo roots?
Imazapyr is very effective when killing bamboo plants, including the roots. However, much like other foliar herbicides such as Glyphosate, multiple treatments are required for the bamboo to fully die and to prevent it from growing back. So, once again, persistence and patience are key!
How to increase the effectiveness of Imazapyr
A similar method will be required for applying Imazapyr to bamboo as Glyphosate. First, cut the bamboo culms to the soil level and apply Imazapyr directly to the wounds (not the soil!). Then, apply this weed killer once again to any new shoots that grow until, eventually, no more shoots emerge, indicating that the roots have died.
As one might expect, Imazapyr is much more effective at killing young bamboo growth than fully mature culms. However, repeated, controlled applications will kill even the most established bamboo plants.
Once the rhizome and roots are dead, they can be removed easily from the soil, which will help prevent regrowth.
Imazapyr vs. Glyphosate
Both Imazapyr and Glyphosate have similar properties, for example they’re primarily absorbed through plant tissue (i.e. leaves) and block the amino acids that plants need to survive. There are some differences between the two weed killers, however, which may impact which weed killer you choose to kill your bamboo roots.
For instance, Imazapyr will dry faster than Glyphosate, which is helpful if there’s rain in the forecast. This means that more of the chemical is absorbed into the plant even if it gets wet.
On the other hand, it tends to be slower to kill off the target plant. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Imazapyr is less effective than Glyphosate. However, if you’re anxious for immediate signs that the bamboo stumps are dying, it may not be the best course of action for you.
Which is more effective in killing bamboo roots?
The College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences in Georgia conducted a study where bamboo culms were injected with either Imazapyr or Glyphosate to test if this may be a more effective approach to kill invasive bamboo. This treatment resulted in complete culm death for the bamboo injected with Imazapyr, while the bamboo injected with Glyphosate was more than 80% damaged.
While the study didn’t examine the bamboo roots specifically, we know that foliar weed killer eventually results in root death due to lack of photosynthesis. So the more effective the herbicide is at killing the foliage, the more effective it is at killing the bamboo as a whole, roots and all.
Using Jeyes Fluid to kill bamboo roots
Jeyes Fluid is advertised as an outdoor cleaning product that kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses on drains, planters, greenhouses, and driveways. While not its intended use, people have suggested it’s an effective herbicide because it’s highly corrosive and kills or severely burns organisms upon contact.
Unfortunately, this often comes at a tremendous cost to microorganisms in the soil, including beneficial insects, neighboring plant life, and wildlife.
Is Jeyes Fluid effective at killing bamboo roots?
According to the brand’s FAQ page, they express that they cannot confirm or recommend using this product on plants. Instead, they defer to EC Regulations set in 2003 that the product is ineffective at killing plants or preventing regrowth.
While anecdotally, it’s suggested to be an effective weed killer, including for killing bamboo. However, it’s considered a very controversial treatment method due to safety concerns and environmental impacts. In addition, the few instances where it has been used indicate that multiple treatments are still required, similar to Imazapyr or Glyphosate.
So while it may be harmful to bamboo roots, the environmental impacts outweigh the effectiveness.
FAQ about using weed killer on bamboo roots
Are there more natural ways to kill bamboo roots?
Yes, you can attack bamboo roots without chemicals! Some environmentally friendly ways to kill back bamboo roots include pouring boiling water or vinegar onto exposed roots. Another effective, yet labor-intensive, method includes repeatedly mowing new shoots and digging/cutting out roots.
These methods require the same level of persistence (if not more) than chemical herbicides. However, they are a safe alternative for you and the environment.
Should you remove the dead bamboo roots?
If you can remove your dead bamboo roots, this will greatly decrease the risk of having the bamboo regrow. Bamboo is a tough plant, and while the root may appear dead, there may still be some life in it, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Luckily, dead bamboo roots are easier to remove from the soil than ones that are viciously clinging on to dear life.
What can I do if I want to keep some of the bamboo alive?
If you only want to kill some of your bamboo roots, you can still use weed killer selectively. However, the chemical could travel to other parts of the plant, causing unwanted damage. Take extra care when applying your weed killer so you only apply it to the roots and rhizomes you want to kill permanently. Alternatively, kill back unwanted rhizomes by severing them with a shovel or spade.
However, as long as part of the parent plant is alive, it’ll continue to keep sending out new growth. To keep the plant in check you’ll have to repeat your efforts at least once or twice a year.