There’s a new foreign invader in town, breaking in to our homes and destroying them without a care in the world. Before you know it, roots have spread and it can be almost impossible to get rid of.

Yes, bamboo, staple of gardens across the land, has gone rogue. In recent weeks, the news has been filled with stories about invasive bamboo attacks damaging property, undermining foundations and even cracking concrete.

Should we be worried, or is this just another ‘silly season’ story designed to wind us all up? Here’s my guide.

Is bamboo really a risk to my property?

Put down those shears and put the kettle on. Because not all bamboo is out to destroy your property.

Bamboo is beloved by gardeners because it’s fast growing and hoovers up and stores water, which is useful for gardens that get waterlogged.  But that aggressive growth can also stifle other plants and leave you teetering on rickety stepladders trying to prune it numerous times a year too.

There are loads of different varieties of bamboo but two main types:

Clumping: Bamboo that has a central root mass with canes that tend not to stray too far from the roots.

Running: Bamboo that sends out rhizomes (horizontal stems that can produce roots and new plants). These can move quickly and can travel 30 ft from the original plant!

Running bamboo varieties are the tricky ones that can cause. However, it’s not illegal to plant or own them. In fact, many people inherit this type of bamboo when they move in to a new property.

Because of the speed and distance the rhizomes can travel, there is considerable potential for running bamboo varieties to cause damage to your property or that of your neighbours, particularly if the house or garden hasn’t been tended to for some time.

What damage and disputes can arise from bamboo?

Given the distance that bamboo can travel and the fact that trivial factors like boundary hedges and fences are of no concern to it, dealing with an unwanted infestation can be pricy – particularly if it’s invaded your neighbours.

The worst-case scenario is bamboo that’s found its way in to your home. If the plant has established itself under your house, then you could be looking at major costs to locate the bamboo and definitively remove it. Bamboo can also worm its way through air vents, pipes and other gaps and cracks in your property. There’s also the possibility of subsidence if a major part of the structure of your property has been damaged.

Sadly, your insurance contract may not cover problems caused by bamboo, either the cost of removing it or repairing the damage caused by it. Insurance contracts vary widely, so speak to your insurer to find out more about what your contract covers if you’re worried about a neighbour’s bamboo bush encroaching on your property. The Times reported on a particularly tricky bamboo invasion here.

Because not all insurance contracts will cover bamboo damage, disputes with neighbours can often end up in court. If you’re the one affected, then this is by no means a ‘done deal’. Firstly, your neighbour would need to have been aware of the problem and have failed to adequately keep the plant under control. But even if the bamboo damage comes as a surprise to everyone then you may still be able to recoup your losses. Most solicitors will recommend trying to resolve the matter amicably first before running to court. Boundary disputes between neighbours can be legendarily expensive if they drag out for years. So be reasonable and willing to compromise where possible.

You don’t have to disclose you have running bamboo on your property, so legal action against former homeowners may not succeed. However, if there have been previous problems or acknowledged issues then you could reasonably argue that the sellers/agent should have told you about it. You could also negotiate a lower fee if you’re unhappy with problematic bamboo plant.

How do I get rid of invasive bamboo? 

Not unlike that other invasive ornamental plant, Japanese Knotweed (more on that later), bamboo can be tricky to remove once it’s established.

Bamboo is pretty herbicide resistant, so you’ll need to get manual if you want to tackle the problem. I’ve spoken to a number of horticulturalists and gardeners who are agreed that cutting the canes to the ground, then digging out the clump (all of it) is the best way to tackle troublesome bamboo. In the process, you sever the rhizomes, which you should also lift out, removing any contact points with the earth where they are threatening to establish new colonies.

Of course, you can also pay professionals to remove the bamboo. Costs vary enormously, depending on the size and scope of the job, so check with the specialist first and get your quote in writing, covering what action they will be taking and over what timeframe. Ask about disposal costs too, given most bamboo that’s gone rogue isn’t going to fit in to your green bin. Costs start from around £120 according to Checkatrade, but more wide-ranging treatments and specialist herbicide options – which you may want to consider if the bamboo has got in to the fabric of your building – may be upwards of £1,000.

Removing a species as hardy as bamboo is not necessarily a one-shot deal. Be prepared for a resurgence if the plant has managed to surreptitiously establish itself elsewhere.

What about other invasive plants?

The two words that strike fear in to the heart of gardeners and homeowners across the land are: Japanese Knotweed.

Like many invasive species, we have the Victorians to thank for this pretty, devastating plant. Introduced around 1850 in to the UK as an ornamental perennial, the fact that its natural habitat was as a ‘pioneer plant’ on lava fields should have been a warning.

Flash forward to the present and Japanese knotweed is the number one plant enemy in the UK. This is because the plant can spring in to life from particularly small sections of rhizomes, has deep roots and despite dying back in the winter, it comes back with a vengeance each spring.

But that’s not all. Japanese Knotweed is exceptionally difficult to remove effectively. Cutting it back and digging it up doesn’t work, and those tricky rhizomes can travel meters deep, which means they can sprout and return despite extensive removal work. As a consequence, only spraying with (approved) chemicals can kill off the plant. You’ll need specialists with the appropriate qualifications, permits, waste exemptions and assessments too. And even then, the Government guidance is that it will take three years to remove.

What does the law say about Japanese knotweed?

Unlike bamboo, Japanese knotweed is legally designated a ‘controlled’ plant under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. That means it is illegal to allow the spread of the plant in the wild (even accidentally, which is why disposal is so important). It is legal to have the plant on your property, but you could face a hefty bill or even prosecution if the plant invades a neighbour or anywhere outside of your property boundaries. In other words, you are legally responsible for the spread of the knotweed beyond your home.

You can find a full list of the plants on the naughty list on the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) here.

The law says that you must disclose if you have Japanese knotweed on your property. Failure to do so will result in a fine of £2,500. But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the costs you might face for the removal of the plant that’s escaped your home territory – and legal costs for damage too.

Because of its ‘controlled’ status, lots of laws relate to Japanese knotweed. However, the other law you need to bear in mind if you have an infestation is the Environmental Protection Act of 1990. The law in this instance relates to the disposal of the plant – including the soil! So both you and your contractor must follow the rules to the letter. Fines can be high for not following the law.

Knotweed and neighbours

As with invasive bamboo, your first port of call if there’s a dispute over knotweed is to have an informal chat with your neighbours about the problem. Because of its fearsome and costly reputation, many people go in to denial about knotweed on their property, so prepare for a bit of pushback.

Though it’s not illegal to have the plant on your property, if it spreads, you are responsible for containing and removing it. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014 states that if the knotweed has a “detrimental effect of a persistent or continuing nature on the quality of life of those in the locality” then not only can you be forced to control it, you could be prosecuted.

But the big problem is selling a house where Japanese knotweed is on the property. When you sell your house, you must complete a TA6 Property Information Form, which gives the buyer vital information about the property. You need to disclose Japanese knotweed on this form, along with your plans to remove it definitively.

If you’re buying you might find the presence of the plant makes mortgage lenders nervous and this can delay the process. As a result, knotweed can have an impact on the value of a property (and surrounding homes) – and some people lie to avoid these losses.

This is an exceptionally bad idea. Because when the knotweed is discovered, you could face legal action and a potentially huge bill, far exceeding what you saved in the property sale.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

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