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Yes, REALLY Tough Weeds Like Thistle and "Running Bamboo" CAN Be Beaten!

Question. Mike: A neighbor planted 'running' bamboo as a "natural fence" around his property, and not surprisingly, it's out of control. The culms are about 12-16 feet high; both plant and root system are invading my property. It also blocks out the sun and sucks up all the available water so that I can't seem to get anything else to grow in my backyard. I've read that bamboo is technically classified as a "perennial grass" which means that growing it violates a township ordinance requiring grass and weeds not to be higher than 10 inches. If the township orders it to be removed, how do we get rid of it safely without damaging the environment? Thank you.---Curtis in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Hello, Mike McGrath: What can you recommend to get rid of thistles in my garden and lawn? I have tried extreme weeding and professional chemical treatment, but they're back!!!!!!! Thank you.
---Valerie, Rockville, MD


Answer.  These are two of the toughest weeds you can face, especially the bamboo, which 'runs' at an astonishing rate and will happily take over acres I fallowed to— although your terminology is somewhat off, Curtis. Those aren't plants AND roots invading your domain—its one big plant with one giant honkin' root system that expands to cover the earth like horticultural concrete a few inches under the surface. Some thistles form similarly impenetrable root systems. (Val— never let thistles flower; if you do, then you've got roots and seeds to worry about!)

These are not easy plants to beat, and as Val discovered (Bad girl!), toxic chemical herbicides won't do the trick. Those poisons are good at killing off single plants, but they don't affect huge underground root-systems; so don't waste your time, money and life fooling around with them.

There are three basic ways to do the job well and safely, all of which involve you first cutting the above ground growth to the ground repeatedly. Cut it all down, allow it to grow again; cut it all down again, let it grow again, etc. Two, three, four times; the more the better to deny the roots their solar energy collectors. In fact, if you just do this continual cutting for several years, the plants and roots will eventually die.

For more immediate satisfaction, cut and then do one of the following:

1.    To kill a patch on your property alone, mulch, mulch, mulch the entire area with something THICK and HEAVY (sheet-metal, old carpeting …) weighted down with a few inches of soil or woodchips on top. May be soak the area with a high-strength vinegar (see #3) first. Make sure the mulch extends a good couple of feet past where the plants were growing. Regardless, the root system will likely send plants out on a scouting mission and try to creep up around the edges. Be vigilant, and mulch these pioneers and/or spray them with high-strength vinegar. Leave the mulch in place for at LEAST a year. Or better still, leave it there forever, and make a nice raised bed filled with 'wanted' plants over top.

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You Bet Your Garden   ©2004 Mike McGrath