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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 notsurprisingly, 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 outthe sun and sucks up all the available water so that I can't seem toget anything else to grow in my back yard. I've read that bamboo istechnically classified as a "perennial grass" which means that growingit violates a township ordinance requiring grass and weeds not to behigher than 10 inches. If the township orders it to be removed, how dowe get rid of it safely without damaging the environment? Thank you.            ---Curtis inCherry Hill, NJ.

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


Answer.    These aretwo of the toughest weeds you can face, especially the bamboo, which'runs' at an astonishing rate and will happily take over acres ifallowed to—although your terminology is somewhat off, Curtis. Thosearen't plants AND roots invading your domain—its one big plant with onegiant honkin' root system that expands to cover the earth likehorticultural concrete a few inches under the surface. Some thistlesform similarly impenetrable root systems. (Val—never let thistlesflower; 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 atkilling off single plants, but they don't affect huge underground rootsystems—so don't waste your time, money and life fooling around withthem.

There are three basic ways to do the job well and safely, all of whichinvolve you first cutting the above ground growth to the groundrepeatedly. Cut it all down, allow it to grow again; cut it all downagain, let it grow again, etc. Two, three, four times—the more thebetter to deny the roots their solar energy collectors. In fact, if youjust do this continual cutting for several years, the plants and rootswill 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(sheetmetal, old carpeting…) weighted down with a few inches of soil or woodchips on top. Maybe soak the area with a high-strength vinegar (see #3)first. Make sure the mulch extends a good couple of feet past where theplants were growing. Regardless, the root system will likely sendplants out on a scouting mission and try to creep up around the edges.Be vigilant, and mulch these pioneers and/or spray them withhigh-strength vinegar. Leave the mulch in place for at LEAST a year. Orbetter still, leave it there forever, and make a nice raised bed filledwith 'wanted' plants over top.

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You Bet Your Garden   ©2004 Mike McGrath