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Lifestyle Stories

Bamboo Screens Culm In Handy

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2013 at 07:27 AM

Nature's own privacy fence isn't made of vinyl or even wood. It's grass. Tall grass. As in something Alice In Wonderland might have skipped through down the rabbit hole.

Say you're tired of looking at your next-door neighbor's four-story tick-tack-toe of windows still masking-taped from 2004. Plant the rare Betung Hitam bamboo (on your side of the property line, please), water well, and before you know it, you won't even be able to count the missing shingles up top.

Betung Hitam is all about coverage - it grows 100-feet tall.

"Most people use bamboo for screening," says Bill King, who grows and sells it with his wife, Ellen, at their bamboo nursery, Dunroven Farm, in Rutland (Sumter County).

"Then they discover the stem."

The stem, or culm, may be 2 inches across or 10. Some varieties are bright red, some yellow. Some have bulges, which give them a misshapen look or a graceful sculptured appearance, depending on your taste. The aforementioned Betung Hitam's stem is black and striped with lime green like a jungle snake. Since the leaves grow only at the top, the effect of a small forest might well bedazzle even Alice.

If you've been warned about bamboo's ADHD tendencies, just stick with clumping varieties, says Bill, who has a bachelor's degree in forestry and a master's in landscape architecture. They're easily contained. The ones to fear are the kind that put out runners, underground shoots that can pop up 20 feet away. Make sure you know what you're buying.

All pictured here are clumpers. They like full sun but can take some shade. Add organic material, such as manure or mulch, to the soil, and water daily if you want them to spread and grow quickly. They are drought tolerant, though, Bill says. If the leaves start to curl, they need water.

Dunroven Farm is open by appointment; call (352) 330-0766. For bamboo varieties and prices, visit www.kingsbamboo.com.

Penny Carnathan

Won Chuk (Royal)

Bambusa textilis Kaanapali

Though it has pretty, palm-like leaves, Won Chuk is most prized for its culms, which are green with a blue cast and get up to about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. It's also known as weavers' bamboo because the stems are used to make fabrics. It grows up to 50 feet tall.

Kimmei Bamboo

Bambusa ventricosa

Golden-yellow stems with green and red stripes grow up to 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 55-feet tall. The leaves are also striped. Keep it in a pot, and it will stay relatively small. In the ground, it becomes a giant with zigzagging lower branches.

Blue Bamboo

Bambusa chungi

This rare bamboo has a dark-green stem with a whitish coat that makes it look blue. It grows about 30-feet tall and 2 inches in diameter. It sells for $100 for a 3-gallon pot at Bill's nursery.

Betung Hitam

Dendrocalamus asper "Betung Hitam"

This very rare variety is Bill's pride. He paid $300 for one and has grown a second from it, which he's selling for $300. "I love it. That's why I bought it," he says. "I'm betting it'll be a hit." The black stems striped with green grow up to 8 inches in diameter and 100-feet tall.

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