Mark Lockwood-Sykes wanted to make sure that the bamboo planting distance I wrote of in ''Green Fingers'' on Jan 27 was not a typographical error. ''You talked about planting bamboo six to eight metres apart. Is there a good reason for this?'' he asked. ''I live next to a khlong and although there is a two metre fence, the shambles of a house on the other side is an eyesore.
''There were several beautiful large and spreading trees, which obscured the view, but these have been removed to make way for more concrete in the name of 'improved flood control' (we have never had a flood), to make the khlong navigable, perhaps. Now that the trees are gone I have six metres of space next to the fence. Do I buy two balled plants and put them at opposite ends? Or could it be a typo?''
It was not a typo; I did write to plant six to eight metres apart. The bamboo sold at Chatuchak mid-week market are not balled and burlapped singly, but in clumps containing three to five canes. Bamboo grows and multiplies very fast, especially in the rainy season, and in a few years the distance between the clumps is covered by offshoots. However, if you want to have a living fence faster, the clumps may be planted closer together, even two or three metres apart. The canes can be thinned out and the older ones removed if they become far too dense for comfort.
I was not thinking of canals when I wrote about bamboo as a deterrent against soil erosion, however. What I had in mind were the banks of such rivers as the Chao Phraya, Ta Chin or Mekong, which are wide and eroded in parts by surging floodwaters. The dry leaves that fall into the river serve as food as well as nursery grounds for fish and crustaceans.
However, if Mr Lockwood-Sykes' khlong is a canal where the water is placid and there is no aquatic life, planting bamboos on its bank is not advisable as the leaves will collect and rot at the bottom of the canal, putrefying it and eventually making it shallower, thus flooding the surrounding areas if the water overflows in the rainy season. I have bamboo in front of my house so I know the amount of leaves that fall every single day, especially in the dry season.
It would be all right to plant bamboo if there is a considerable distance between them and the canal, otherwise it would be better to plant trees to replace those which had been removed. At Chatuchak there are balled and burlapped trees tall enough to effectively screen the eyesore on the other side of the khlong. Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) for example, is pyramidal in shape so it does not require much space. MacArthur palm (Ptychosperma macarthurii), known in Thai as mak keow, is another that comes to mind.
If you want ornamental trees with fragrant flowers, you can choose between white and orange magnolia, better known in Thai as champee and champa, respectively, or you can plant both. Ylang-ylang is another tree with flagrant flowers. Pyramidal in shape, all three species grow fast and make effective curtains of greenery, but don't plant them too close to your house as they can eventually grow to the height of a two-storey building.
OUT WITH THE UGLY: These ball and burlapped Chinese juniper, above left, and MacArthur palm trees, above, are tall enough to screen out eyesores.
I would plant a couple of coconut trees like the dwarf variety I saw at the Kaset Fair which could yield up to 50 fruit per bunch. The tender meat and fragrant juice of young coconuts are very refreshing, so coconut trees both screen an unwelcome sight with their sprawling, feathery leaves and serve as a steady source of nourishing young coconuts. The Kaset Fair ended last week, but finding coconut trees to plant should not be difficult.
If you don't care about coconuts, a very good alternative is Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, or mak lueang. The neighbour across the street from our house used to have a wooden fence with this attractive palm along it, and the graceful feathery leaves screened her compound so well that people outside could not get a glimpse of what it was like inside. It grows in clumps and multiplies very fast so three clumps spaced evenly should be enough to cover six metres of space.
Another good thing about palms such as coconut, mak keow and mak lueang is that they don't litter the surrounding area with their leaves like other trees do. All the trees mentioned above grow best in full sun.
When transplanting a tree, make sure to dig a hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the root ball plus a few centimetres of breathing space in both depth and width to make it easier for the tree's roots to establish themselves in the soil. Mix the soil with organic matter like compost and well decomposed animal manure, and water thoroughly after planting. After a month or so, apply a handful of complete fertiliser (NPK 15-15-15, NPK 16-16-16 or their equivalent) for better health and development.
About the author
- Writer: Normita Thongtham