You might think Sean McBride is a bamboo enthusiast. The Mount Rainier resident has used the tropical plant to build a gate and two trellises for his back yard, and he has shown his friends how to build similar structures.
But McBride’s experience with the plant has more to do with overabundance than the development of a new hobby.
McBride, 34, has spent numerous hours and hundreds of dollars trying to get rid of bamboo plants growing into his back yard since he moved into his home on 29th Street three years ago. Along the border between his yard and the neighbor directly behind him, there are 30-foot-tall bamboo plants. The plant also grows in other neighbors’ yards around his home, although no one seems to know how the bamboo got there. McBride said he has spent some weekends using an ax to chop down the plants and has sometimes needed the assistance of a friend.
As a result, McBride and some of his neighbors want city officials to prohibit residents from planting any bamboo or other invasive plants, such as kudzu, a fast-growing vine with large leaves. They also want those who already have invasive species in their yards to properly maintain the plants so that they do not affect other residents.
McBride and two of his neighbors, Tom Crone and Jane Steiner, addressed the issue at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting. They said aside from the bamboo in their yards, they have seen the plant growing at a park near their homes and in other public areas in the city.
“My two major concerns are not so much for myself,” McBride said, “but for people who are older or may have a disability and might not be able to keep up with it. The second is the city itself, in case [bamboo] starts encroaching on public lands.”
Bamboo that is considered a “runner” can spread quickly underground if it is not properly planted and cared for, said Nancy Moore Bess, a member of the Northeast Chapter of the American Bamboo Society who has written a book on the cultural attributes and growing properties of bamboo in Japan. The only way to deal with bamboo that has spread to other yards would be to eradicate the plant, which would require digging up the plant’s root structure, she said.
Bess, who lives in Amherst, Mass., said it would be a mistake to prohibit residents from growing the plant without understanding that it could be taken care of properly. Those who grow running bamboo can add a 2-foot-deep enclosure around the area where it is planted to prevent it from spreading, she said.
“It is such a beautiful plant,” she said. “To eliminate it from a landscape would be a huge loss.”
Assistant City Manager Michael Jackson said that bamboo is widespread across the city but that he has heard complaints from only McBride and his neighbors. Jackson said he knew of a resident who needed to completely excavate a yard to get rid of the plant.
“It is very costly,” he said.
Crone, 64, and Steiner, 63, said they paid a landscaping company about $3,800 several years ago to remove and haul away most of the bamboo in their back yard. They still have to cut a few shoots that start to grow every now and then, they said.
“It is frustrating because it is a problem that is not going to go away and because there does not seem to be any remedy,” Steiner said.
In 2011, College Park officials passed an ordinance that allows residents to lodge complaints against neighbors who grow bamboo that encroaches into their yard. Offenders are fined $200 for the first complaint and $400 for every 30 days the issue is not addressed.
At the Mount Rainier meeting Nov. 13, Councilman Bill Updike (Ward 1) said an ordinance should ban the planting of invasive plants, including bamboo, and set rules for those who have the plants in their yards.
Councilman Brent Bolin (Ward 2) said city staff should research the ordinance in College Park and a similar ordinance in Takoma Park. He said he would write an ordinance on the issue and bring it back to the council to discuss in January.