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Relief in the Heat: Planning for Shade

By Marlys Bell

Now that the beautiful, crisp days of autumn have arrived, I have almost forgotten how I yearned for shade in the heat of last summer. The unrelenting, high overhead sun penetrated every corner of my yard, forcing me to retreat to my carport for relief.

While those memories are still vivid, I am taking action so that next year my shade loving plants, my house and I will be more comfortable when the temperatures exceed 100 degrees. The following strategies are worth considering.

Plant Trees. Now, through the rainy season, is the time of year to plant trees. Nurseries are stocked with many fast growing, deciduous, shade trees such as maples, fruitless mulberry, crabapple, elms, ash, and Chitalpa that, with their wide spreading limbs, will quickly provide a shady canopy for you and your plants. Over time, if enough trees are planted, the canopy will provide filtered sunlight and more opportunities for shade loving plants that thrive in those conditions. For those with more space who are willing to wait longer for relief, consider the slower growing native oaks, toyon and Ginkgo biloba.

Trees can also be used to shield windows from the heat of direct sun. Strategically placing trees near windows on the east and west sides of the house will reduce indoor temperatures and cooling costs in the summer and provide sunlight and warmth in the winter. Select deciduous trees with more compact shapes such as Liquidambar, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and plum, the larger crape myrtles, and western redbud but consider their ultimate size and do not plant too close to the house. Some trees that have foliage year round such as olive and bay may also be effective, if planted so they will not obstruct windows from capturing the warmth of the winter sun.

In addition to providing shade, many of these trees (such as the maples, Liquidambar, ginkgo and plum) provide brilliant fall color. Others have spring flowers (crabapple, redbud, and pear). The crape myrtle and Chitalpa are summer flowering trees. If the trees you want are not in stock, ask your nursery to order bare root trees that will also be less expensive. Although planting trees during the rainy season will help them get acclimated, they will need to be watered, at least during the first summer.

Create Shade. Because of my experience last summer, I am converting my carport into a garden room with comfortable furniture and the shade loving plants I cannot grow elsewhere. If you do not have a space to convert into a shady retreat, canvas garden rooms or tents like those used by vendors at the Farmers Market are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Awnings and large umbrellas will help in some places. Other solutions are to build arbors that can be covered with vines (such as honeysuckle, grapes or wisteria) or to put up some poles and horizontal supports to create a structure for shade cloth like they have at the nurseries.

Right Plant, Right Place. The many months of cloudless skies and intensity of the summer sun in the Mother Lode means that almost all plants appreciate some relief from the late afternoon western sun. Until my trees grow large enough to provide shade, I am going to be careful to buy plants that love only full sun. Some of those are lavender, yarrow, roses, ornamental grasses, Salvia, Nepeta, and some succulents.

When planting at this time of year, remember the position of the summer sun is not where it is now. The summer sun is higher, more overhead, and the winter sun much lower.

Relocate Distressed Plants. Since now is the time to transplant, I am surveying my garden and finding shadier places for those that shriveled under the summer sun. Some are going into containers in my garden room. Others may go to friends with more shade. There are a few that I will not to move, for what I hope are good reasons. As examples, I have a young Japanese maple and dogwood. Hopefully, over the years they will toughen and acclimate and, in time, the fruitless mulberry will also provide more protection. In the meantime, I need to devise temporary solutions to help them through another summer. Options include shielding them with large beach and/or patio umbrellas or creating structures over which to drape shade cloth during the worst of the summer. Other short-term solutions are to put a larger plant behind or above them such as a sunflower, or something else, which will not compete with their root systems. A trellis with a fast growing vine would also work in many situations.

By incorporating shade planning into my fall activities, my plants and I will be ready for next summer, no matter what the temperature.

See You In the Garden.

Marlys Bell is a Master Gardener who is starting her 2nd year of gardening in the Mother Lode.

Master Gardener note: Be sure to check with a reliable nursery person or other gardening source regarding trees that are suitable for your particular climate and growing conditions.

Reminder: Final Garden demos – Composting, Saturday, October 21, 10:00 a.m; Herbs, Saturday, October 28, 10:00 a.m. at the master gardener Cassina Demonstration Garden, 251 S. Barretta St., Sonora. Turn into the parking lot, drive through to the back, the garden is on the right.