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Weekly Gardening Guide: Shine a Light

August 7, 2015

Shine a Light!

Hi folks, Its me… Bryan! Yes, I’m still alive!
For those of you unaware, 3 weeks ago I had a little disagreement with my bandsaw about how much I wanted to keep my right index finger. While the bandsaw appeared to have won at first, I am happy to say I still have all 10 of my little pigs. However, due to limited movement I have taken a couple weeks off writing these blogs. But I’m back!

I’d love to say “no worse for wear” but that’s not ENTIRELY true, as the digit in question still has a long road ahead of it until it is helping me knock out 1500 words on a Wednesday evening. But as I’ve said to many who have asked, I still consider myself lucky. I got to keep my finger, and the injury could easily have been much worse. The prognosis is good, and I should make a nearly complete recovery as long as I listen to my Occupational Therapist and follow recovery program she has given me. (I happen to have an OT for an older sister too, and she is always happy to bark orders at her little bro!)

The good news is for now, my typing fingers are 9/10ths in tact, which means, maybe I’ll only be 90% as long winded?? Maybe?? Lets find out!

Well the topic of this weeks blog is inversely related to this weeks sales! While we are offering all shade LOVING plants at steeply discounted prices this weekend, this blog looks to focus on getting more light to your sun loving plants!

I am reminded of one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs; “Shine a Light” (and the documentary which shares its name) “May the good Lord, shine a light on you, make every song, your favourite tune”

What does that have to do with plants? Nothing!! I’m not sure Mick Jagger is much of a gardener…. But it’s a great song!

Anyway, lets get back to it.

When we plant our gardens, many of us plant for what looks good now and often don’t think about, or can’t fully picture how our gardens will change several years down the road. This is especially true with trees and large shrubs.

Take that nice shade tree you planted in your front lawn 10 years ago – lets say it was a Linden. It was about 10’ tall when you put it in the ground and made a nice focal point from the street but was still relatively puny only casting shade on a very small portion of your lawn. Now its 17 feet tall, dense as can be, and it casts a large looming shadow on your west facing gardens all afternoon. Your previously healthy daylilies, spireas and barberry are starting to look spindly or woody and in the spaces between where you normally had billowing petunias you’re left with very sad looking annuals.  

The problem, of course, is shade… and the culprit is your now beautiful linden tree! So you would seem to have 2 options: a) cut down the tree or b) remove your sun loving plants and plant shade loving shrubs and perennials like Hostas, hydrangeas and dogwood. But that sucks! You love your linden, but you also love your sun gardens. If this was a TV Infomercial this is the part where the terrible actor would look at the camera with an exasperated expression and say “So what can I do?”

Well folks, what if I told you that with just 3 easy payments of $33.33 you could have your very own PORTABLE SUN-O-MATIC 3000! Take the sun with you anywhere you need it! Just put the Sun-o-matic in a shady area…. set it…. And FORGET IT!

Okay, just kidding…. Theres no replacement for the sun. All the water and fertilizer in the world, cannot heal a plant that is deficient in sunlight. So the only solution is finding a way to allow more sunlight to penetrate through the dense foliage of the linden – in this example – or any plant that is blocking sun from your gardens.

 It’s not just trees that block sun either. Overgrown shrubs can billow up and over top of the plants growing underneath them. You may not even realize it, but in many cases shorter plants planted too close to taller shrubs just aren’t getting enough light!

The good news is, most sun/part sun plants can survive, or even thrive in a “dappled” sunlight environment. Dappled sun is the term given to sunlight filtering through the trees, and flickering on the leaf tissue with the breeze. It sounds lovely and relaxing doesn’t it? And it is for plants too! It’s ideal in many ways because the plant gets to use small amounts of sunlight all day, while still receiving enough shade to prevent overheating or drought stress.

So the solution, as with many of life’s most difficult conundrums, is: Something in the middle! Don’t cut down the tree, don’t remove the sun plants – THIN OUT the tree!

Depending on the size of the tree, this may be something better left to the professionals. Let me offer up a disclaimer at this point: If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, please don’t do it yourself! From both a safety and plant health standpoint, pruning large trees is not for the faint at heart. But, if a small but manageable sized tree or shrub is causing the issue, please refer to my previous blogs on pruning for some help there!

A skilled (preferably certified) arborist, such as Jerome Bishop at Olympic Tree Care, can successfully prune a large tree to allow substantially more sunlight to penetrate the canopy, while still leaving enough foliage and branching to keep the overall aesthetic that you love about your tree.

If done at the right time of year (early spring, or late fall) you can remove up to 30% of a tree’s canopy without significantly impacting the tree’s health! When done during less than ideal times however, I wouldn’t recommend more than 10% canopy thinning per session – and space your sessions out at least a month. Of course in both cases, you need to be selective. Choose branches that are “redundant”. Not branches that are key to the size and shape of the tree, but ones that are merely overlapping each other and making it impossible for light to penetrate. I cannot possibly describe the process in a blog as it is more an art than a science, but sometimes you just gotta TRY!

When considering when and how to prune your over-dense trees and shrubs do what we in the golf course business call a “shade audit”. A shade audit involves going out in the morning hours, say between 7am and 10am and determining which branches are blocking out that wonderful morning sun. You can remove them right then and there if you have the time and ability or simply mark them for removal later. If your gardens don’t receive morning sun due to a building or fence, then do this shade audit during a time when your gardens SHOULD be getting sun, if not for surrounding plant life.

Morning sun is excellent for all plants, especially those that prefer part-shade environments. This is because the plant has just made use of the “dark cycle” (Calvin Cycle) for energy production all night long and it needs sunlight to replenish itself. Morning sun offers quality light, coupled with calm, cool conditions which reduce other stressors on the plant while it utilizes the photosynthetic energy from the sun.

If your gardens are on the west side of the house, and are totally blocked by morning sun, then that is where properly thinning a tree can be even more beneficial than removing it completely. Afternoon sun is hot and harsh. The light quality is good, but it is often coupled with intense heat which causes the plant to close its stomates (pores) and go into drought stress mode. As mentioned above, dappled shade can allow small enough amounts of sunlight through throughout the afternoon that are enough to mimic the gentle rays of the morning sun, without completely burning out the foliage.

Another reason to consider thinning a dense tree or shrub is for the sake of THAT tree or shrub! An overly dense canopy blocks out air flow which can lead to disease and insect issues. It can also block sunlight from reaching the inner branches of the tree leaving you with a very woody middle, with very little foliage. 

An interesting note about our garden centre: The shade cloth in our green house is made of mesh with strips of aluminum woven into it which block out a portion of the sunlight. Ours has 3 strips of aluminum for every 2 strips of open mesh, meaning we are only providing 60% shade, and still allowing 40% sun! Much the same as a “dappled” shade provided by a properly pruned tree!
The ideal ratio of sun and shade is impossible to say. Its going to completely depend on your plant selections and a variety of other factors. However, what is important to take away from my very disconnected and rambly return to the blog-tip world is that for the sake of both your dense trees and the surrounding plant life which is affected by the shade it casts – regularly audit and thin your canopy to allow that all important “dappled light” to reach your gardens, lawns and inner branches!

Please feel free to contact us with any further questions, and as mentioned before please do not attempt any tree work if you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself! We recommend a certified arborist who is licensed and insured for that kind of work.

I have included the contact information for Jerome Bishop at Olympic Tree Care as he has always done great work for us in the past!

Look at that, the finger didn’t even slow me down – 1490 words! (sorry)

Happy Gardening!

Jerome Bishop- Olympic Tree Care


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