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Shade happens

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Shade creeps over a once-sunny bed of flowers.

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Shade creeps over a once-sunny bed of flowers. Photo Store

Is it only my garden? The coneflowers procrastinating, sedum pouting, peonies trying to pack up and move.

I’ve shown them the lovin’ and yet it persists. There is more harrumphing than growing going on out there. All I can say is, shade happens.

Lack of flowers, stunted growth, long leggy stems, or stretching towards the sun can all be symptoms of a plant not getting enough sun.

You want your plants to thrive so selecting plants that match the existing growing conditions is essential. The tricky part is anticipating changes to those growing conditions, particularly with regards to light.

Shade provided by buildings and fences is predictable and not going change. It’s the shade provided by trees that can blindside you.

Many years ago, that tree may have been a mere stick. Whatever the cultivar, it has an expected mature size. Hard to imagine that stick creating shade of any substance, but one can imagine. The things one can’t account for are overreaching branches, a growth spurt triggered by overzealous pruning, or a cultivar that reverts back to the species.

What to do when shade creeps into a formerly sunny bed?

A good thinning and opening up of the tree canopy by a certified arborist is a first step. This will open up the canopy and allow light to pass through it to the ailing plants in its shadows.  
Thinning is good, but it may be that there is one branch that is the source of the problem. Or perhaps the whole tree has gotten lopsided and branch-heavy on one side. A proper pruning can benefit the tree as well as the plants ailing in its shadows. Done every few years or so, this kind of pruning is good for the tree’s health.

Aim to have the tree thinned out rather than the top lopped off. Topping the tree will definitely solve the shade problem — but only temporarily, and will in fact make the problem worse.

Pruning of any sort actually stimulates growth. Thinning a tree helps guide its growth. Topping a tree unleashes growth. The tree will send out multiple shoots from the topped branches. Goodbye sun, hello misshapen tree that may never fully recover.  

If thinning or careful limb removal doesn’t solve the problem, then it’s time to accept that the growing conditions have changed, and moving sun-loving plants out of the shade is the best for all.

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