This was the first Summer in my 44 years of life that I did NOT go to the beach, not even once.
Why? Well, for one thing, we've got a pool now. But I never went to the beach just to go swimming. One of the reasons I like living on Long Island is because you're never more than a half-hour's drive to the ocean.
But no, I spent my days and evenings doing stuff around the house. For a change, I even stayed home when I took a week's vacation in August instead of heading to the family retreat on Valentine Lake.
I called this past season the Summer of Bamboo.
Pretty much all of my spare time outdoors has been spent eradicating the planet's fastest-growing, invasive, unkillable grass. Yes, bamboo is a grass. A grass that can grow 20+ feet tall in a few weeks.
The problem is not that it grows tall, but it also sends out roots about as far as it grows tall. The roots are called rhizomes. The rhizomes are about as thick as your finger, with sections similar to your joints. Each of these sections is capable of growing a new bamboo plant. As a matter of fact, if you see a large group of bamboo plants growing in the ground, it may look like there are several plants, but chances are it's really all ONE BIG PLANT. If you cut down one plant at ground level, it will leave a stump and then send up a new stalk (known as a culm) after a few days or weeks. The underground root system (which is attached to the other nearby culms) will keep the plant alive.
So the only way to get rid of bamboo is to cut down ALL the culms and then dig up ALL the rhizomes.
We had a large grove of bamboo growing around the shed in our backyard. There was a plastic barrier installed around it to keep it from spreading, but it was not nearly sufficient enough. The bamboo breached the barrier at the corner of the house and the rhizomes spread down 2 sides of the house. Every couple of feet, they would send up a new culm or bunch of culms. 2 or 3 of the culms even grew up under the siding on the house. There was one large stalk growing in the space between the house and the oil burner tank, right up to the roof overhang. The worst, though, were the rhizomes that decided to follow the oil line down the back side of the house, nudging its way inside the pipe's foam rubber insulation and entwining itself between the double pipeline.
As far as I can tell, 2 different species of bamboo were planted by the negligent former homeowner. There's Golden Bamboo (which I identified by a tag still on it from the nursery), which grows a lot like a leafy bush, and another species that I haven't identified which grows very tall before sending out pairs of thin, leafy branches.
We first noticed the new bamboo shoots breaking ground back in late April. It was then that I started researching bamboo and how to control it. I didn't realize how bad it had spread until I started digging it up. I thought I could keep it in check, but I couldn't.
So, the first weekend of June, I prepared for battle. First, I painted all-vegetation killer on all the new shoots (the tallest of which had grown to 23 feet tall). Then I armed myself with a shiny new lopper, a spray bottle of concentrated RoundUp, and latex gloves. One by one, I lopped off each culm a few inches from the ground and immediately sprayed the stump with RoundUp. It took me 2 full days to cut down the entire grove. The stack of bamboo culms was about as high as the 6-foot stockade fence that I tossed them over, and about 35 feet long.
After the grove was cut down, the rhizomes started to show their insidiousness. I went around a snipped any roots that were breaching the surface of the soil, as they occasionally grow like little green Loch Ness Monsters trying to get over other roots and obstacles. But little stalks and leaves started springing up everywhere: along the sides of the house, in the planting bed by our bay windows, and peeking out from between the slats of the wooden deck.
So now, for the past 4 months, my usual routine upon coming home from work is to come in the front door, kiss MaryAnn hello, and head out the back door to see where the bamboo is creeping up next. Like weeding a garden, I would look around the back yard and pluck any baby shoots I could find coming up from the rhizomes, in the hope that eventually the rhizomes would run out of energy (the plants can only live so long without photosynthesis).
On the weekends, I would go out and dig up as much of the root system as I could. It was dirty, exhausting work. It's like trying to dig tree roots out of the ground. What I would do is place the shovel where I could feel a bamboo root under the soil (they're usually no deeper than 4 to 8 inches under the surface) and then jump on the shovel with both feet. My 270 pounds was enough to slice through the branch-like root. Unfortunately, it also meant that I managed to slice through sprinkler hoses 3 or 4 times, so our landscaping was pretty dry this summer. Then I would pull up as much root as I could, kinda like pulling a loose thread from a sweater. Sometimes I would get lucky and pull up a nice long length of root (one was about 8 feet long!). Sometimes I would get a short length of root (and end up overexerting myself trying to move an immovable object) and have to dig some more using a chisel or hatchet.
I threw out my back after the second weekend, but that's gotten better.
I also developed something similar to tennis elbow from straining my arms while furiously whacking a stubborn root with the hatchet. That hasn't completely gone away yet, but it only really bothers me when I'm trying to scoop hard ice cream.
The bamboo seems to be under control now, at least somewhat. 3 weeks ago, I spotted a skinny little 8 inch culm popping up in an area I thought I had cleared. When I dug it up, I found that it was attached to piece of rhizome that escaped my shovel ...the piece of rhizome was shorter than 2 inches!!! yet it was ready to start a new plant!
The place that the bamboo is still in control is under the deck. I've chosen so far not to pry up the planks to get to it, but this past weekend I came up with a plan to deal with it. I sprinkled ice melt and salt on the deck and swept it into the cracks between the boards. Then I poured boiling water into the cracks. Then I added a little extra salt and a splash of bleach for good measure. I know that's kind of a scorched-earth policy, but it's not like I plan on planting anything else there.
I still have a ways to go. At least now I have Halloween to look forward to.