Britain in grips of a bamboo crisis: Homeowners reveal hell at hands of ‘Japanese knotweed 2.0’ that was popularised by 00s garden shows but has now forced its way through driveways, floors and ovens

Britain in grips of a bamboo crisis: Homeowners reveal hell at hands of ‘Japanese knotweed 2.0’ that was popularised by 00s garden shows but has now forced its way through driveways, floors and ovens

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It was more than 15 years after moving into her new home that retired nurse Beverley Koonjul first noticed an issue with bamboo.

She had asked a professional to bed in two bamboo plants to help create a bit of privacy in the garden of the home she shared with her husband in Hastings in 2007.

They thought nothing more of it until 2022, when the plant suddenly began to sneak beneath their and their neighbour’s gardens, with shoots popping up – despite the two properties being separated by a narrow path with slabs on top.

‘My neighbours were a bit annoyed,’ she said. ‘Then it came so close to the house and I got really scared. It’s a huge expense that we could really have done without, but there’s nothing we can do about it.’

Beverley’s experience represents one of a growing number of horror stories involving the invasive plant, which grows at astonishing speed and can cause damage quickly – often without the homeowner’s knowledge.

And a clue as to why it is becoming more of a problem may lie with bamboo’s popularity in garden makeover TV shows. 

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It poses a legal risk if bamboo encroaches onto neighbouring properties or comes up through the floorboards in a home, and can result in prosecution or thousands of pounds worth of fines

Beverley's experience represents one of a growing number of horror stories involving the invasive plant, which grows at astonishing speed and can cause damage quickly

Specialists have had to be called in for cases where the bamboo invasion has caused major problems, in some case costing tens of thousands of pounds to repair when it has found its way under a boundary all and into a neighbouring garden

A neighbouring bamboo plant came through the raised beds, made of bricks and railway sleepers, in Isobel Chetwood's garden

Rooting out bamboo can be difficult work - and can even require strenuous digging

The roots had to be removed from under a patio by a specialist, costing the neighbours' landlord £10,000

What to do if you think you have invasive bamboo 

  • Do a little bit of digging – literally. Invasive species of bamboo should be relatively easy to spot
  • Take a trowel and start to explore where the root ball sits. Bamboo should not be planted too deeply into the soil, so this should not require a professional gardener
  • The thing to look for is if the bamboo has runners – horizontal roots. If it doesn’t, you should be fine. But any runners longer than 25cm will likely need immediate work
  • If so, sever the runners. This can be done a couple of times a year to keep the bamboo contained. You could also consider repotting into a strong ceramic pot, or creating a proper barrier
  • If the runners are longer, with bamboo clumps of over 5-10sqm, seek professional help. Consider getting in machinery to remove the root ball. But the main thing is to take help immediately. Consider checking for runners every year


Emily Grant, director of operations at UK-based invasive plant specialist Environet, said ‘This is Japanese knotweed 2.0.

‘I think 15 years ago, every week gardening programmes were showing people putting bamboo in, it was literally everywhere. 

‘The extent of its popularity is very evident now. It was the ‘thing’ 15 years ago.

‘But it can quickly get out of control.’

It was a similar story for homeowner Isobel Chetwood from Cheshire.

The 68-year-old former GP practice manager was only aware there was a problem with the bamboo planted by neighbours along the adjoining boundary when shoots began to appear in a raised bed made of heavy railway sleepers and bricks she had designed for her strawberry plants.

Ms Chetwood began to cut down the new growth, but the plant quickly became unmanageable.

She said: ‘Last year the bamboo shoots started appearing prolifically and I could see it was clearly coming from next door.

‘My raised bed is constructed of brick and heavy wooden sleepers, which you’d think is fairly robust, but in no time at all the bamboo was forcing its way beneath the sleepers, pushing them apart.’

The landlord of the property next door treated the problem with weedkiller. But that only served to cause it to grow more vigorously into Ms Chetwood’s garden instead, with new shoots popping up.

A survey later revealed the extent of the infestation, and she sent it to the landlord.

She said: ‘I think that’s when he realised we needed professional help.

‘Fortunately, his landlord’s insurance covered the cost of excavating the bamboo on my side of the fence, but he had to pay for the removal on his side since it had been deliberately planted by tenants.

Buyers are waking up to the risks posed by invasive bamboo, which can find its way up through floor tiles

Bamboo is an invasive plant that can ruin people's homes if left unchecked - although there are simple steps to help prevent it coming up through neighbouring gardens

It has the remarkable power to grow through even cement and asphalt

This image shows bamboo growing through a paving slab in a garden

It typically costs upwards of £3,500 to remove the bamboo from a residential property, although remedial work can run into tens of thousands of pounds

Isobel Chetwood, of Knutsford, Cheshire, noticed there was a problem when shoots of the fast-growing plant began appearing through a raised bed she had designated for strawberry plants

Emily Grant, director of operations at Environet, said invasive species of bamboo can quickly get out of control and suggested homeowners take a look at the roots of the plant to see if they need to be removed

The bamboo planted in Beverley Koonjul's home took 15 years before it started causing problems - both for her, and her neighbours

‘I’d advise anyone thinking about planting bamboo to avoid it at all costs. It shouldn’t be sold at garden centres at all in my opinion, or at least not without a clear warning.’

And it was a lucky escape for Lois Connelly, who was in the process of buying her first property – a terraced house in Bristol – last autumn when a survey raised an issue with bamboo in the front and back gardens.

Not only was the bamboo posing a threat to underground pipes and drainage, the survey said it was already encroaching on a neighbouring property.

Ms Connelly, 40, said: ‘It was my sister who spotted the bamboo initially when we viewed the property.

‘Although it had been cut back, we could see it had spread and was growing right up against the house on both sides. 

‘When the surveyor flagged it up on his report, recommending that it be checked by an expert, I realised I was going to have to do something about it.’

Ms Connelly set about renegotiating the sale price of the home with the vendor. It was only when she threatened to walk away over the cost of remedial work that the seller agreed a price reduction covering half of the amount it cost to remove it.

She said: ‘The bamboo was already on the run and it was only a matter of time until it started causing damage to the property. 

‘As it was already encroaching into next door’s garden, I was also worried about the risk of a legal case against me as the new homeowner. To me, this situation really highlights the lack of awareness around invasive bamboo, as even the seller’s estate agent didn’t seem to recognise the problem at first. 

‘I would advise anyone buying a property with bamboo in the garden to have a professional survey done and if necessary, be prepared to walk away if the seller won’t resolve it.’

Bamboo is removed by excavating the root ball from the ground and getting rid of every plant stem, including those that have been severed to prevent new shoots from emerging. 

It typically costs upwards of £3,500 to remove the bamboo from a residential property, although remedial work can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Runners - horizontal roots - can cause a major problem if they reach more than 25cm in length, including penetrating through brickwork and slabs

In one horror case two years ago, a bamboo infestation exploited a weakness in the foundations of a property in Hampshire to emerge through the floor in the living room, hall and kitchen, resulting in the excavation of the entire ground floor at a cost of more than £100,000.

But experts say there is a lack of awareness of the risks.

A YouGov survey of 2,000 people commissioned by Environet last year found that almost a fifth (18%) of British adults have had bamboo on their own or an adjacent property.

Yet, despite the serious threat bamboo poses, spreading faster and further than Japanese knotweed, only 24% of people would be concerned if it was growing near their home.

Environet’s Mrs Grant said: ‘I think the difference between Japanese knotweed and bamboo is that people don’t see it as a threat if they don’t have first-hand experience of it.

‘Just the mention of Japanese knotweed strikes fear into people, whereas bamboo doesn’t – people think of pandas, it doesn’t have the same negative connotations.

‘It’s also a plant that’s available everywhere. People have been lulled into a false sense of security, and they think: If I can buy it, it’s probably not going to be a problem.

First-time buyer Lois Connelly threatened to walk away from first home over a bamboo invasion

Experts said invasive bamboo can take several years before problems occur, and encouraged potential buyers to do some research beforehand

‘Garden centres are much better at not selling the invasive species because they frankly don’t want customers coming back in 15 years’ time and complaining, but they are still available to buy in places.

‘Bamboo can take quite a long time to present a problem, typically we hear from customers seven-to-10 years after the bamboo has gone in, telling us: It was never a problem, but now it’s everywhere.

‘And unless it’s dealt with, it will continue – it can get out of control.’

Helen Chen, a member of the British Bamboo Society, encouraged anyone thinking of getting a bamboo plant to research it beforehand.

She said: ‘There are about 300 types of bamboo you can grow in the UK and only a tiny number have the capacity to cause this type of damage.

‘You wouldn’t plant a tree without seeing how big it would grow, so it’s a good idea for anyone interested in bamboo to do a little bit of research – look at the height and speed of growth, how vigorous it can be, and talk to a specialist nursery.’

She suggested the Fargesia species was particularly low risk, adding: ‘Bamboos are a great group of plants, they add so much to the garden and are very low maintenance.’ 

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Ryan Hooper

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