Can You Grow Bamboo in Florida? Tips for control, the law

Can You Grow Bamboo in Florida? Tips for control, the law

While bamboo is a popular plant in Florida it is sometimes misunderstood and has a reputation of being hard to contain, which can lead to you not choosing to plant it. 

The good news is – bamboo is legal to grow in Florida and it is easy to keep your neighbor happy if you choose the right place and species to plant. 

Bamboo is native to Florida

Arundinaria is the only bamboo genus native to North America, more specifically to the south-central and the southeastern United States. There are three species currently recognized as belonging to this genus. All of the species are commonly known as canes or canebreak.

The native species are:

  • Arundinaria appalachiana – Hill cane
  • Arundinaria gigantea – River cane
  • Arundinaria tecta – Switch cane

They can be found in the region from Maryland south to Florida and west to the southern Ohio Valley and Texas. The plants grow from the Coastal Plain to medium elevations in the Appalachian Mountains.

Arundinaria have running rhizomes and are woody and tree-like. The height varies a lot and can reach anywhere from 1.6 to 26.2 ft (0.5 to 8 m). A distinctive feature of the canes is a fan-like cluster of leaves at the top of new stems.

Now, even though Arundinaria is native to Florida, in most cases it is better to choose a clumping bamboo species for your yard. 

Florida bamboo laws

You may have heard that bamboo is becoming illegal and maybe are hesitant to plant it because of it.

However, when you check the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website and specifically look at the official Florida Noxious Weed List you can see that bamboo is not mentioned there and you don`t need to worry about it. 

So where did the rumors come from? While Florida has no specific regulations on bamboo, there are other US states that are debating or have already adopted laws or ordinances regarding the plant.

New York was the first state to ban 2 running bamboo species – Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) and Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata). Connecticut followed New York but was not so strict as to ban the species outright. The state requires that bamboo plantings of the genus Phyllostachys, be setback from property lines a minimum of 40 feet.

So far these are the only 2 states that have passed laws regarding bamboo. But there are communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina and California and maybe more that are considering regulating bamboo. 

The reason is that bamboo becomes a problem when running species do not stay where they are planted. 

In order to keep your neighbors happy and protect yourself from any future regulations, you can choose to plant clumping bamboo species on your property. And there are plenty of beautiful clumping species to get that will thrive in Florida weather! 

Bamboo control

Choose wisely

Bamboo has a bad reputation with many Florida gardeners. And while it’s true that some do spread aggressively, there is a whole category of bamboos that do not.

In my opinion, the first and most important step in controlling bamboo is choosing the right species for your property.

There are two main groups of bamboos: runners and clumpers. Running bamboos can spread quickly all over yours and your neighbors’ yard, but clumping bamboos typically grow only a few inches wider each year.

Clumping bamboo grows tightly together which makes it an excellent visual screen and sound barrier, without the risk of taking over the neighborhood.

Clumping bamboo (williamnyk CC BY 2.0)

Bamboo will tolerate a wide variety of soil types and weather conditions, but for best growth, plant your bamboo in full or part sun,  water on a regular schedule, and don’t forget to mulch. 

If you, on the other hand, have acres of land and want to grow a bamboo forest as quickly as possible, then go ahead and choose running bamboo. 

Contain the bamboo

There are some very beautiful running bamboo species and you may think – well, if it really spreads too fast, why not just plant it in a container and it`s going to be fine.

That`s a mistake! There are bamboos that are well suitable for containers. However, you should not use a container as a way to control running bamboo.

In my post on growing bamboo in containers, I already wrote how that is the fastest way to get into trouble. The running bamboo will run its rhizomes deeper down than it normally does, will escape through the drain holes at the bottom and will spread just as aggressively as it would if planted directly in the ground. Because the rhizomes will be deeper, it’s going to be extra hard to eradicate it

Getting rid of bamboo 

Whether you have a running bamboo that’s gotten out of control or you wish to get rid of clumping bamboo in order to make changes to your landscape you will need to do some work. Bamboo is a resilient plant that will show resistance to your attempts to eradicating it. 

It is especially true with running bamboo varieties. They grow a large network of underground rhizomes that store energy for the plant. In order to stop these varieties from growing and spreading, the entire rhizome network must be exhausted and eradicated.

Digging

Digging out the whole plant can work for a clumping bamboo but it will be pretty much useless for a running bamboo as you will not be able to find and dig out the whole network of rhizomes.

But even for a clumping bamboo after you dig it out, you will need to watch out for a couple of seasons for any stubborn shoots coming up from pieces of rhizome you didn’t manage to take out of the ground. 

Mowing

Mowing is commonly used for controlling plants. But bamboo easily tolerates occasional mowing as it is a grass. You will need to mow the bamboo as often as you would your lawn to get rid of the bamboo. It will take up to two seasons of rigorous mowing before the goal is achieved.

Herbicides

It is going to be hard to get rid of bamboo using just digging or mowing. So you may consider using herbicides to speed up the process. 

Unfortunately, there are currently no herbicide labels that list bamboo as a controlled species. But, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,  there are herbicides that are relatively effective on bamboo. 

Glyphosate (Roundup and others) and Imazapyr (Alligare and others), used at high rates, will control bamboo.

Research has shown that for herbicides to be effective, the bamboo should be mowed or chopped and allowed to regrow to a height of approximately 3 feet, or until the leaves expand. Glyphosate at a 5% solution or imazapyr as a 1% solution can then be applied directly to the leaves.

Imazapyr is more effective on bamboo than glyphosate. However, imazapyr will potentially kill hardwood trees, shrubs, and grasses if their roots extend into the vicinity of the application. if the bamboo is growing near any desirable plant species, imazapyr should not be used. 

Glyphosate, on the other hand, will only kill plants that are contacted with the spray solution. This makes glyphosate a more useful herbicide option for most areas where bamboo grows.

One application of glyphosate will not eradicate bamboo immediately. You will likely be required to mow and spray as many as 4 times for complete bamboo control to be achieved. Be patient and persistent!