“Battling Bamboo? Take a Cue from a Good Neighbor Tori Garten”

You may have heard or seen that Rock Creek Park has an invasive plant problem.

After a 9-year battle with bamboo in her backyard, Tori Garten knows first hand the challenges of fighting invasive plants.

When Tori first bought her house in Randolph Hills, she noticed a stand of bamboo was taking over the backyard and spreading into the neighboring parkland of Rock Creek. Tori explains, “The bamboo was on the ‘cons’ side of the pros and cons list. I knew at some point I’d have to deal with it.”

Like so many invasive plants, the bamboo started as something ornamental to create a privacy screen. It quickly spread by out-competing the native plants and taking over the local ecosystem (not to mention Tori’s garden and the adjoining parkland.) Rock Creek Conservancy and other local environmental groups lead regular invasive plant removal efforts to support our public lands struggling to combat this “growing” challenge. To keep these invasive plants from gaining (and re-gaining) footholds, park neighbors are essential partners to take action from their own homes and communities.

Bamboo at the back of Tori’s yard was taking over her garden and spreading into Rock Creek Park. Inspired by Rock Creek Conservancy’s mini-oasis restoration sites, she decided to do her part to address the park’s invasive plant problem and remove the bamboo stand. Credit – Tori Garten

Dealing with the dense stand of bamboo would turn out to be no small task for Tori. The bamboo, which was originally planted by a previous owner more than 30 years ago, spread fast, ultimately taking over most of her yard.

“My backyard is about 60 ft wide, and the bamboo patch extended end to end–at least 20 feet deep to my property line and then even further back into the parkland. It was very dense and impossible to walk through. Every spring and fall it would try to take over more yard”

Tori wanted to reclaim her backyard and do something good for her little piece of Rock Creek. Inspired by Rock Creek Conservancy’s mini-oasis restoration work, she reached out to Backyard Bounty, a business that designs sustainable gardens. Together they removed the bamboo, dug out the roots, and installed plastic sheeting to keep the roots from returning. The project is ongoing.

As the patch of bamboo began to come down, Tori could see more of Rock Creek Park. Next year, native plants will be planted where the bamboo once stood. Credit – Tori Garten

“Now that the bamboo is removed, I can see the beautiful trees that were hidden,” says Tori. “In the early evenings when the sun is setting, the light reflects off the trees in a way I never saw before.” She has even seen barred owls perching on the edge of her yard, where the bamboo once stood.

Next spring, Tori aims to begin the process of building a more natural landscape where the bamboo forest once reigned supreme. But Tori isn’t done with her fight against bamboo. Along the edge of her yard, the patch of bamboo that spread into Rock Creek Park still stands tall.

“Now that the main patch from my yard has been dealt with I hope to figure out how to reduce the patch that is in the park.”

Rock Creek Conservancy works with partners in DC and Montgomery County to provide training to people, like Tori, who want to remove invasive plants on public lands. These specialized volunteers, called Weed Warriors, are essential in the effort to restore the unique natural oasis of Rock Creek. You can help too!

A barred owl (Styx varia) sits on a tree surrounded by bamboo at the edge of the park and Tori’s backyard. Bamboo quickly spreads on the edge of the forest, overtaking most of the native greenery. Credit – Tori Garten

Take Action to Protect Rock Creek 

1. Be A Good Neighbor Like Tori!

Remove invasive plants from your yard (or encourage your building managers to do so).

The plants in your yard will reproduce, birds or dogs will spread their seeds, and they could end up invading our local parks. Check out our blog “Plant This, Not That” to get started!

2. Volunteer in the Park

Volunteer at a Rock Creek Conservancy event (there is one almost every weekend!) where you can remove invasive plants and help restore Rock Creek. Already volunteer and want to step up your stewardship? Consider becoming certified as an official Weed Warrior so you can remove invasives on your own time. Email to learn more.

3. Give to Rock Creek

Support Rock Creek Conservancy. We work throughout Rock Creek and its 33-mile watershed to tackle the issue of invasive plants. Individual donors keep us going year-round.

The upcoming Rock Creek Gala on October 5, 2019, is a great way to give back and have a great time at the same time. Register here! (Plus, you could have a chance to bid on a Backyard Bounty garden design for your own yard at the gala’s exciting silent auction.)

Can’t make it? Consider donating to advance our work.


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