Catch that “Running Bamboo” in Fairfax County or Risk a Fine!

By Elaine Kolish

During the dog days of summer, it may be difficult to look ahead to January. But for property owners and tenants in Fairfax County with “running bamboo” in their yards, January 1, 2023, is an important date to mark now. On that date, a Fairfax County Bamboo Ordinance goes into effect to help homeowners suffering from incursions of bamboo from their neighbors’ properties. Fairfax County adopted this ordinance after the Virginia state legislature (like some other states in the North East) passed a law in 2018 designating running bamboo as a “noxious weed” and allowing localities to provide for control of it (Section 15.2-901.1 of the Code of Virginia). No other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, besides Fairfax, have such ordinances at this time. [Editor’s note:] After this piece was posted, we learned from Petra Riedel-Willems that there are two other counties in Northern Virginia—Fauquier and Stafford—with bamboo restrictions that predate the Fairfax ordinance. We appreciate the comment from Ms. Riedel-Willems that is posted below this article. And we believe that this information is valuable for others who may want to deal with running bamboo in their own yards or communities.

The Fairfax County ordinance says that bamboo owners, whether or not they planted the bamboo, must not allow bamboo to spread from their yards to any public-right-of-way or any adjoining property. While maintaining bamboo on one’s own property is legal, it is illegal to allow bamboo to spread beyond your property’s boundaries. Taking action now rather than waiting for a complaint to be filed against you is something to consider.

This ordinance was adopted because running bamboo (distinct from clumping bamboo to which the ordinance does not apply) is a destructive, fast-growing grass. Its horizontal rhizomes spread underground as much as 15 feet per year. Its roots can go through brickwork, patios, and weak spots in concrete. It also suppresses native plant species that are beneficial for our environment. 

Running bamboo’s aggressive growth habit makes it difficult to remove and a sustained, multi-year effort may be necessary. A Fairfax County publication, “Running Bamboo,” recommends three containment/control methods: root barrier, removal, and cutting and herbicide application. The containment method involves installing vertical root barriers 30 inches below ground and six inches above to deflect rhizomes so they go towards the owner’s property and making the rhizomes visible at the barrier. Strong materials, such as metal or high-density plastic, should be used for the barrier. Alternatively, a homeowner might wish to control their bamboo by removing it completely. 

A fellow ARMN member whose bamboo created a visual block between their property and a neighbor decided to encircle a section of bamboo between the properties with a cement wall one foot wide and two and a half feet deep. The wall has worked well to contain the bamboo since its installation in 2008.

Photo of a patch of bamboo growing up to a curving cement curb.
Two and a half by one foot cement bamboo barrier that has contained bamboo effectively for fourteen years. Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget.

Digging bamboo out may require heavy equipment for larger groves and in that case should be addressed under Virginia 811 rules (va811.com). See the “Running Bamboo” publication noted above for additional information.

All cut bamboo and roots must be disposed of in the TRASH, not in a compost pile or bin for lawn debris under the Fairfax County requirements. If you want to dry the culms or canes for another use, such as stakes or crafts, do not do so on top of the soil, which will risk it taking root.

The Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance is responsible for enforcing the ordinance based on complaints it receives. After a Notice of Violation has been issued, each day that running bamboo remains unconfined may result in a fine of $50, up to a maximum of $2,000 in a 12-month period. The number to file a complaint is 703-324-1300 or file online at www.fairfaxounty.gov/code

Don’t wait. Catch that running bamboo now. This is good advice for Fairfax County residents and anyone else who has running bamboo on their properties!

For more information visit: Fairfax County Bamboo and https://extension.umd.edu/resource/containing-and-removing-bamboo.

One thought on “Catch that “Running Bamboo” in Fairfax County or Risk a Fine!

  1. Thank you for this article. Finally Fairfax County is helping homeowners who’s neighbors neglect impacts the way they want to user their property. However, Fairfax County is not the only County in Northern Virginia with a Bamboo Ordinance. Credit is due to both Stafford County and Fauquier County trail blazing Bamboo Ordinances that served as models.

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