Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bamboo privacy hedge, Part 1

For all of you who are lucky enough to build the suburban budget version of your dream home... I feel your pain when you see something like this developing in your hard-won field of view:

It was like Boardwalk Bullet's little brother or something!  A giant wooden structure towering above me and making me want to scream!!  The sight of it dominated our tiny back yard.  We had been hoping that the future buyers of this subdivision lot would choose a small one-story house plan like ours.  No such luck, obviously. 
For you out-of-towners who didn't get my Boardwalk Bullet joke, it's a giant wooden roller coaster that looms above our flat coastal plain environment. 

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia
Those neighbors of ours are great people.  They have a larger family and they need that big house, and of course they had every right to build it.  But my idyllic garden view and ambiance certainly got shot to hell with its construction, eh?  Here I am spending years of my free time building this one-of-a-kind back yard, aaaand someone else's windows look straight into it from just a few feet away. 


So like every other predicament I face in life, I was determined to find a workaround for this jarring loss of privacy.  I needed a really, really tall and really narrow hedge to do it.  As in, I needed the thing to be at least eight times taller than it would be wide, because we have such microscopic yards and narrow setbacks that I can't afford to have a lot of width to any vegetation screen placed here. 

And what cultivar could possibly be trained to grow at least eight times taller than it is wide?

The right bamboo species would do the trick.  I can't find a photo on the internet of the type of screen I'm attempting to grow in this suburban setting, but this photo gives the impression of the effect I'm trying to create between these two narrowly-spaced houses. 

Screengrabbed from this DIY Life site
Whatever I grow here must be absolutely majestic.  Otherwise it will be visually overwhelmed by the massive house behind it.  This is definitely a case of "go big or go home" (pun intended). 
Nothing looks the least bit majestic here, eh?  This was taken in December 2011, on the day this bambusa malingensis (aka "Seabreeze bamboo") went into the ground. 
I mentioned previously having purchased these three small malingensis starts from CayDee Caldwell in Rosenberg.  She's the local expert on all things bamboo, and that was her recommendation for growing a medium-sized timber bamboo species in our area. 

But here's the thing: I can do the research, but malingensis is a rare choice and a relatively new cultivar (it doesn't even have its own Wiki page yet).  I don't know of anyone else who is growing it in Galveston County (as opposed to other bamboo species) so it's not like I can drive somewhere and look at an example of how it might turn out when planted in these soils and in this microclimate.  One never knows how well a given species will do until it is tested.
Here's the same view 18 months after planting.  Ignore the present shapeless mass - I will skinny that up into a very narrow groomed form once it starts to attain more height (right now, the shapeless bulk is supplying the energy it needs to get it established, and height gets enhanced as it out-competes itself for sunlight).  The important thing is that it is attaining good height, in just a year and a half.   
 Most of this year's culms are coming in a good four feet above last year's, which is encouraging.  If conditions are ideal, the thing can get up to 40 feet in height, but 25 feet is more common.  Even 15 feet would work well in this location. 
So my malingensis is indeed rising, and maybe I should make a betting pool on how high it will eventually go.  Once it gets to between fifteen and twenty feet, then I will be able to start grooming it into that sought-after majestic vertical privacy screen, so stay tuned for that.
Only the malingensis knows how tall it can get in these particular growing conditions, and it's not tellin'.

Something else I've noticed about this new growth: it's so dense that it significantly muffles the sound of my neighbor's A/C compressors, which are on the other side of our shared fence. 

Incidentally, for the sake of politeness, I did discuss my intentions with my next-door neighbors before planting the malingensis.  They had trouble visualizing what I was talking about, which is understandable because this kind of thing is unprecedented for our area.  But they weren't opposed to the idea, and I think they'll enjoy the screen, which will filter the western summer sun which currently beats relentlessly on the side of their house.    

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