The grass family, Poaceae, includes the bamboo subfamily, Bambusoideae. Bamboo plants range from 1 to 164 feet tall in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 12 depending on the species. While a clump may have multiple stalks, they are all one plant that is connected by underground rhizomes. Whether grown as decorative garden plants, as a fence or hedge, or for timber, the best way to cut down bamboo stalks depends on the size and age of the plant as well as your goals.
Newly Sprouted Bamboo Stalks
Young bamboo shoots are best cut down with a lawn mower. Generally, the shoots appear between April and June. The sprouts, appearing from the underground rhizomes of the plant, are easy to cut down while still small. Mowing over them halts that year's growth.
If the new shoots are not mowed, cut down or otherwise removed, they rapidly grow to their full height in two to three months. Over a few years, a clump with four stalks can become a thicket of 60 or more woody canes, also known as culms. Each year, the new culms draw upon the energy of the rhizomes to grow faster and taller until the bamboo plant reaches its maximum height.
Cut Small Bamboo Stalks
Put on safety goggles, gloves, long sleeves, long pants, closed-toe shoes and a dust mask before cutting down the bamboo stalks. Sterilize your cutting tools when cleaning up or trimming back bamboo clumps by dipping or spraying the blades with rubbing alcohol.
The best way to cut 3/4-inch-diameter or smaller bamboo stalks is with hand pruners. Anvil pruners allow you to easily cut the stalks at ground level or to trim back too-tall culms. A rachet-type anvil or secateur pruner will cut through thick or tough culms with ease even if you have small hands, are afflicted with arthritis or have other issues with your hand strength. When cutting thicker stalks that are up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, loppers provide the extra reach needed to remove dead or overgrown culms from the inner part of the clump.
Best Way to Cut Down Bamboo Stalks
Mature bamboo culms may be cut using a pruning saw or in the case of timber species, a chainsaw. While a pruning saw can be used on thick, woody culms up to 6 inches in diameter, an electric hand saw makes the job easy.
Chainsaw loppers and electric or gas chainsaws can also be used to cut bamboo culms. The electric lopper clamps and cuts culms up to 4 inches in diameter, while a chainsaw can be used to cut down the entire thicket.
While small, thin stalks are relatively easy to cut, use caution when cutting timber bamboos. The tall, thick culms may splinter while being cut and can "kick up" as the weight of the stalk pulls the culm to the ground. When using a chainsaw, follow all safety precautions. Make a shallow cut on the side that faces the direction that you want the culm to fall and then a second cut on the other side approximately 1 inch above the first so that it falls away from you and clear of other plants or structures.
Ruth de Jauregui is the author of 50 Fabulous Tomatoes for Your Garden. She writes numerous home and garden articles for a variety of online publications. She got her start as a book and cover designer in San Francisco for William (Bill) Yenne at American Graphic Systems. In addition to designing books, she wrote her first book, Ghost Towns. With several nonfiction books under her belt, de Jauregui recently published her first novel, Bitter.