Tips for Growing Vegetable in the Shade

We humans used to be mostly foragers and obtained our nutrition by being hunter-gatherers. Foragers use to enjoy a comparatively leisurely life with good nutrition by working just a few hours each day, while those in agricultural communities toiled almost ceaselessly and had comparatively poor nutrition. What happened to make us the agricultural society we are today?

Cool and warm season vegetables

The end of the ice age occurred at the same time that foragers migrated around the globe. Warmer, wetter and more productive climates may have increased populations in some regions. The increased population pressure. may explain why some communities of foragers began to settle down and begin growing food. The rest is history. Many of us are returning to growing and producing our own food whenever we are able. Even on a small scale, a garden, a few fruit trees, a chicken or two or three, all help to put healthy, nutritious food on our table.

Enter 2020. As we all are staying close to the homefront I’m grateful that it’s spring and I can be out in the garden. And this is the year I plant more edibles. Yes, I battle squirrels and chipmunks as well as shade but I believe I can outsmart them if I put my mind to it. That’s the plan anyway. In the meantime here are some guidelines I’ll be following.

There are three types of shade. A partially shady location is one that receives 2-6 hours of sun, either in the morning or in the afternoon. It can also refer to a full day of dappled sunlight. Most edibles that prefer full sun will grow in partial shade, especially if they receiver their hours of fullest sunlight in the morning. A lightly shaded garden receives an intermediate level of shade. While it may receive only an hour or two of direct sun during the day it is bright enough the rest of the time to allow a variety of edibles-especially leafy greens to grow. Full shade is found under mature trees that have dense, spreading foliage. Unpruned oaks and maples cast this kind of shade in summer. Heavy shade under mature evergreens is often dry. A fully shaded location like this is fine for woodland plants but in not a great place for edibles.

See how much $ you can save by growing your own Sungold tomatoes

Whatever level of shade you have in your yard, make the most of the situation. First, if you have the choice, opt for afternoon shade. Shade in the afternoon is more hospitable in the summer when the sun is fierce. The severe temperature swings created by a combination of shade in the morning and blazing sun all afternoon are difficult for most plants to withstand. Gardens facing east will enjoy bright sun all morning and shade in the early afternoon.

If you garden under deciduous trees you can give plants a head start by starting the seeds indoors or direct seeding early before the trees leaf out. All trees, however, bring roots as well as shade to the garden and tree roots will compete with garden plants for water and nutrients. Any plant grown where there are tree roots will need extra water and fertilizer to make up for the competition. If you can’t get the garden out of the dense shade of trees, at least get it past the tree dripline where most of the roots are located. If that’s not possible, it might be better to plant in containers beneath the trees to prevent tree roots from invading the root zone of your vegetables.

Be patient. Your tomatoes will take a little longer to mature in a shady garden.

Shade tolerant vegetables for your brightest spots-the partial shade areas- include beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, summer squash and early maturing tomatoes like Early Girl, Stupice, San Francisco Fog, Isis Candy as well as other cherry tomatoes. Corn and peppers will be lankier and bear later and only modesty in partial shade.

Root crops and leafy plants can tolerate more shade than fruiting crops. Beets, carrots, celery and turnip will grow quite happily in partial shade. So will shallots and bunching onions, cilantro, garlic, chives, kale, leeks, parsley and thyme. Leafy plants can tolerate partial to light shade because their leaves grow larger to absorb the sunlight the plants need. In very light shade areas concentrate on leafy green like Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, radishes and tarragon.

Shade can be decidedly helpful to some crops. Leafy greens will be more tender and succulent, without the bitterness they tend to acquire when conditions are too hot. A combination of a bit of afternoon shade and an abundance of moisture will help cut-and-come-again crops like broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and celery stay in good condition longer in hot weather.

Whatever plants you grow in your shady garden, be sure not to crowd them. Plants tend to sprawl there and if placed too close together they will compete for available light. Place your vegetables plants wherever they will get the most light even if it means putting different crops in separate places. A small harvest is still better than no harvest at all. Your vegetables may take a bit longer to mature without full sun so be patient.

Ways to Enjoy the ‘Staycation’

Make this simple border for your flower bed from found wood pieces.

Enjoy your time outdoors while “sheltering in place” and take advantage of the opportunity to make some additions and modifications to your garden. It might be a long summer.

Picture you and your family this spring and summer outdoors during your “staycation”- relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining hopefully, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard. Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.

Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable. Whether it’s several umbrellas that provide the shade, a handmade gazebo, a tree or a combination, no one wants to bake in the sun. Plus your beverage gets hot if left in the sun.

A simple path can lead you to a quiet spot in the garden.

If you decide you need a shade tree in the yard, there are so many good choices for our area. First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions. Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak. Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple. If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.

What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, brick or pavers? If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.

Place a bench where you can enjoy your garden.

How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden. Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.

And what outdoor living place would be complete with a cornhole game? Friends of mine take this bean bag toss game everywhere. Camping, the beach, poolside or on the patio it’s fun for everyone. Even a rookie can toss, slide or airmail the bag directly in the hole while pushing his opponent’s bag off the board or, as often is the case, pushing it in the hole along with your own. It’s a fun game for all ages and you can easily make a DIY board if you want. Even two can play and make a game of it. I had no idea it was America’s favorite backyard game. There’s even a Pro Cornhole Championship on ESPN. Who knew?

After you’ve planted your tree, planned your hidden getaway, set up your corn hole game and sat around the fire pit in the evening, take advantage of the rest of the seasons to enjoy your own piece of paradise.

Things To Do in the March Garden

My Blireiana flowering plum is fragrant and starts blooming each February & March

Spring is in the air, flowers blooming everywhere, birds singing in the trees, bees buzzing in the breeze. What’s a gardener to do on a day like this when just being outside is a celebration of life? Here at The Mountain Gardener headquarters- my office with the big picture windows overlooking the Blireiana flowering plum and several bird feeders- I’m taking my time to do the following gardening tasks this month:

Old fashion Bleeding Hearts signal spring in the garden
  • Check drip systems for leaks or emitters clogged by dirt or earwigs. Flush sediment from filters and check screens for algae. You may need to add emitters if plants have grown significantly and move the emitters farther away from the crown of the plant and out closer to the feeder roots which are under the drip line.
  • Spread fresh compost or wood mulch around all your plants. Good soil is the secret to successful gardening. The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil and it will feed the plant. Remember that all gardening used to be organic. Layer 2-3″ of compost or mulch on top of the soil and let it slowly decompose and filter down into the earth. Bark nuggets do not increase your soil’s fertility like compost or wood chips do but they do conserve moisture and help keep weeds at bay.
  • Transplant any plants in the garden that have outgrown their space or are not with other plants requiring the same water usage Now is a good time because plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. As you plant new additions to the garden add organic matter to the soil if it’s sandy. Organic matter enriches and allows it to hold water more efficiently. If your soil tends toward clay, organic matter will loosen it and improve drainage. In fertile soil, plants grow deep roots, are hardier for cold, more resistant to disease and more drought tolerant. Organic matter such as compost, planting mix and well-rotted manure boosts nutrition and improves soil structure.
  • Fertilize if you haven’t already done so. Citrus may be looking yellow from lack of nitrogen and iron which is not absorbed easily during the cold season. Shrubs and fruit trees just emerging from dormancy are begging for their first meal of the season. Lawns -if you still have a small section- and ground covers begin their spring growth now also and benefit from a boost of organic nitrogen. Spread a thin layer of compost over everything. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to shade the roots as it get warmer and as they break down they help feed it, too. Perennials benefit from both a fresh layer of compost or composted manure and a light application of balanced fertilizer. They respond to the phosphorus from bone meal especially in the spring for root growth, stem sturdiness and flower development. Wait until azaleas, camellias and rhododendron have finished blooming and you see new leaf growth starting before feeding them.
  • Weed – Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Weeds rob your plants of precious water. Think of weeding as free gym time. And don’t remind me of how many spiny-ball hedge parsley weeds have germinated all over my property last year. I truly picked every single one before they set seed but November rains have exposed more of the seeds that were down deeper. Oh well, I’m on it and will not be defeated.
  • Check for aphids. They are out in full force sucking plant juices from the tender new leaves of everything from roses to hellebore to Japanese maples. A strong spray from the hose may be enough to dislodge them. If they still persist, you can spray organic insecticidal soap, neem oil or horticultural oil to kill them. As with all pesticide sprays, do this early in the morning or later when they are not in the sun. Be sure to test first to make sure the spray doesn’t burn the new growth and always mix according to the directions.

Ants can also bring aphids up into trees and shrubs such as camellias, citrus and roses. Ants feed off honeydew secreted by aphids, scale and other plant-juice sucking insects. Ants also protect these pests from natural predators. To keep them off, wrap trunks with a 1-2″ wide strip of masking tape and coat with a sticky barrier like Tanglefoot. Keep the barriers free of dirt and check them periodically for breaks. Reapply when necessary

The most important to-do is to take time out and enjoy your garden and our beautiful surroundings. Those last few weeds will be there tomorrow but you’ll never get another today.

Vines- Fragrance and Beauty

Zepherine Drouhin rose growing up ginkgo is mostly shade.

My office window looks out on a gingko tree. Hanging from its low branches two bird feeders are visited throughout the day by many songbirds. A Zepherine Drouhin rose used to grow up into the branches and I miss those vivid, dark pink flowers. I think a gopher contributed to its demise. This spot wouldn’t be right for a trellis so if it weren’t for the help of the gingko I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the new vine I’m going to plant soon. In your own garden think about trees, shrubs and even sturdy vines as support for other vines.

Creating an outdoor room with vines can make your yard feel cozy. They readily provide the walls to enclose a space. Views from one part of the garden may be partially open, framed by vines or blocked entirely. Shrubs can also be used to create garden rooms but vines form a thin living wall that is quickly established. Creating boundaries with vines also adds vertical design elements to an otherwise flat landscape. By adding walls and a ceiling to your garden, you’ll be able to enjoy another dimension in addition to more color and fragrance too.

If your trees aren’t big enough to provide shade yet, vines on a pergola or lattice work can cool a west facing patio. They can also block the wind making your garden more comfortable. Vines with large, soft leaves can soften sounds that would otherwise bounce off hard surfaces. Birds will love you for your vines. They offer shelter for many species and nectar for others.

I’m always amazed at the variety of vines my friend Richard grows up into the canopy of his many trees. From Lady Banks rose to clematis to blood-red trumpet vine to a spectacular double white pandora vine his trees do double duty in his garden.

For a vine with long lasting interest, try growing an orange trumpet creeper up into a tree. It blooms from midsummer to early autumn and hummingbirds love it. It can tolerate wet or dry conditions, sun or shade and is generally pest free.

Fragrant clematis armandii blooming right now.

Plant vines for fragrance in your garden. Evergreen clematis (clematis armandii) bloom with showy white fragrant flowers clusters above dark green leaves. They’re in full bloom right now. There’s one growing over a fence up the road from where I live. I can smell it when I drive by if my car windows are open. Clematis montana is another variety of clematis that’s covered with vanilla scented pink flowers in spring also. Carolina jessamine’s fragrant yellow flower clusters appear in masses from late winter into spring.

Goldflame honeysuckle

Another way to double your pleasure with vines is to let the thick stems of a mature, vigorous vine such as grape, wisteria, passionflower or a large climbing rose like Lady Banks serve as a framework for a more delicate stemmed vine like clematis or Goldflame honeysuckle (lonicera heckrottii)

Or you can enjoy the classic combination of a flowering clematis like purple Jackmanii intertwined with a white Iceberg rambling rose for another great look. Other vines that are beautiful and easy to grow is our native honeysuckle, lonicera hispidula, with translucent red berries in the fall. Violet trumpet vine, white potato vine, hardenbergia and Chilean jasmine are also good choices.

Growing vines is easy if you follow a few guidelines. To encourage bush growth on young vines, pinch out the stems’ terminal buds. If you want just a few vertical stems, though, don’t pinch the ends but instead remove all but one or two long stems at the base.

Hardenbergia ‘Happy Wanderer’

Often when I’m called out to take a look at a vine that has gotten out of control the only advice I can give is to cut the entire vine to the ground in late winter or early spring and start training it all over again. You can avoid this drastic measure by pruning periodically to keep your vine in bounds. Just before new growth begins, cut out unwanted or dead growth. If you can’t tell what to remove, cut the vine’s length by half and remove the dead stems later. On vines like hardenbergia or Carolina jessamine that bloom in late winter, wait to prune until after they have finished flowering.

Many vines require only deep but infrequent watering. They provide so much beauty for so little effort.

Tips for Planting Success

Wood chips used as a mulch around this Little John bottlebrush

With our gardens coming to life at this time of year we are hopeful that each plant will achieve its full potential during this growing season. But that doesn’t always turn out to be the case and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what exactly went wrong. Growing plants isn’t an exact science. What works over at the neighbor’s yard doesn’t always apply to ours. What are the different factors that makes a plant thrive or just mope along? And how can you plan when one source shows the plant’s size at 6 feet tall while another has that same plant as 8-12 ft tall and just as wide? What’s a gardener to do?

When designing a garden, I take into account the growing conditions such as soil type and fertility, winter low temperature, space and light. All plants need water to carry moisture and nutrients back and forth between the roots and leaves. Some need more water than others to do this but all have their own levels of tolerance. Too little or too much water can be harmful to your plant’s health.

Mt. Tamboritha grevillea with pebble mulch

Choosing the right plant for the right spot is another important factor. How do you determine how much light your garden has? In our area a good rule of thumb in deciding if your plant is getting enough or too much sun is to note how many hours of full sun, part sun or bright shade your area is receiving during the middle of the day. it’s not as important what”s going on during the winter but knowing the summer conditions is crucial. Too little light can make plants weak and leggy with few flowers or fruit. Too much sun for a particular plant and the foliage will burn.

Most plants enjoy morning or late afternoon sun. Winter conditions are not always as important as those of the summer. Then again if your area gets no winter sun and your soil is heavy clay that sun-loving native plant might not survive. Sometimes it’s complicated. Sorry, but it’s true.

Allow enough space for your plant to grow. Plants can become stunted without enough room to grow and overcrowded plants often get diseased when air doesn’t freely flow between them. There’s a difference in a plant that just needs a little time to kick in and really start growing and one that is not thriving. Be patient.

Healthy soil provides an anchor for plant roots and helps support the plant in addition to providing nutrients. Healthy soil contains micro organisms and adding organic matter in the form of top mulch will increase your soil’s fertility. Fresh wood chips can rob your soil of carbon and nitrogen as they break down but sometimes that’s all you can get. It’s a trade off.

Plant your new addition correctly. Dig the planting hole at least twice as wide as the container but no deeper than the depth of the root ball. You can loosen the soil around the planting hole even wider if it’s compacted. Leaving the bottom of the hole undisturbed helps prevents the plant from settling too deep .Planting a bit higher than the surrounding soil also allows for a 2 inch thick layer of mulch. Don’t bury the crown of the plant and keep mulch away from the stem or trunk. In soils containing a high percentage of clay, score the sides of the planting hole with a shovel to aid root growth outward.

Iris pallida happily growing at Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island

It’s best not to add soil amendments or fertilizers directly to the planting hole. Wait until new growth is several inches long before applying fertilizer. If you’re planting a bed of annuals you might amend that bed but unless your soil is extreme sand current research has shown that trees, shrubs and perennials do not benefit from soil amendments. Because their roots quickly outgrow the planting hole anyway amended soil could hold too much moisture and rot new roots or the plant roots will just stay within the amended planting hole and not grow wider.
After planting don’t till the soil again allowing the beneficial organisms to re-establish.

If you have a steep hillside, a super sunny, deep shade location or problem soil, the above tips are even more important for your planting success.

Landscaping for the Allergy Sufferer

Don’t blame Acacia for your sneezing

Everybody blames the Acacia tree for their allergies but they are not the real culprits for the allergy sufferer. I didn’t realize just how much redwood pollen is dispersed at this time of year. After those horrific winds a while back my patios were covered with 2 inches of thick yellow redwood “flowers”. Actually the flowers are the male cone but boy, can they put out the pollen. Ask a friend who is highly allergic just how much her life is affected by our dear redwoods. And because redwoods live in such a narrow band of coast line, there is no allergy shot for those highly affected by them. But back to what you can do in your yard if you suffer from allergies.

Yes, the acacia trees are in full bloom. Being one of the first flowering trees we see they get our attention. Blooming acacias are often blamed as the cause of allergic reactions at this time of year but acacias are largely pollinated by insects and their heavy pollen doesn’t tend to become airborne. It’s the non-showy, quiet plants you have to watch out for. If you’re an allergy sufferer some plants are worse than others for you.

About 25-30 popular landscape plants are responsible for the majority of plant-related allergies in California. During the height of the pollen season- from late February to June- there are often thousands of pollen grains in every cubic meter of air. One can breathe hundreds of them with every breath. Though pollen can travel many miles, the majority tend to stay in the general area of their origin.

Redwoods are wind pollinated. Not good for the allergy sufferer.

Redwoods, oaks, alders, ashes and other wind pollinated trees like olives, birch, box elder, cypress, elm, juniper, maple, fruitless mulberry, pine, walnut, willow and privet are the major source of spring pollen. Most native plants are good in the sneezeless landscape but if you have bad allergies or asthma it best to avoid wind-pollinated ceanothus, elderberry and coffeeberry.

You may not be able to avoid those culprits growing on other properties but you can get the most out of your own backyard by creating a sneezeless landscape. Replacing existing plants may be impractical but planning future plantings with these things in mind will save you a lot of headaches down the road and let you enjoy the sunshine outside in your garden.

Flower type is a good way to judge plants. The best looking flowers usually cause allergy sufferers the fewest problems. Plants with bright, showy flowers are usually pollinated by insects, rather than by the wind. These flowers produce less pollen and their pollen is larger and heavier, sticking to the insect rather than becoming airborne and lead to sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes.

Some trees that are good for anti-allergy gardens are apple, cherry, dogwood, magnolia, pear and plum. Shrubs like azaleas, boxwood, lilac, rose-of-Sharon, hydrangea and viburnum are also not likely to cause problems. Good flower choices include alyssum, begonia, clematis, columbine, bulbs like crocus, daffodil, hyacinth. Also good are dahlia, daisy, geranium, hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, petunia, phlox, roses, salvia, snapdragon, sunflower, verbena and zinnia. Lawns of perennial rye grass, blue grass and tall fescue blends are usually OK as they will not flower unless allowed to grow to 12 inches or higher. Bermuda grass, on the other hand, can pollinate when the lawn is very short, sometimes as quickly as a few days after mowing.

We don’t know what’s going to happen rain-wise for us this spring. Symptoms can become worse for the allergy sufferer if the body reacts to the disappearance of the pollen following its initial appearance only to have to have more of it later in the spring. According to Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, “You become sensitized to it, so when you’re…re-exposed, you can get an even more violent allergic reaction.”

Here’s to a sneezeless spring for you allergy sufferers.

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