Adapting To Changing Light Conditions In The Garden

By Laura Miller | April 8, 2022
Image by dmf87
by Laura Miller
April 8, 2022

For the most part, I hate change. Perhaps that’s why I’ve rooted myself in the same house for over three decades. In this time, I’ve come to discover that areas of the garden which were once shady are now sunny. Plus, spots where the sun shone brightly years ago are now in the shadows. 

Changing Light Conditions

As a gardener, I hardly noticed this change was happening. But there is no doubt this didn’t escape the attention of my garden plants. For reasons I couldn’t explain, I would find my established plants begin to falter. 

I have to confess that changing light conditions was not the first thought that entered my head. I would pass by these failing plants for months, repeatedly checking for pests or disease. Finding no evidence of either, I couldn’t understand why my plants were dying. 

It took a while for me to figure out the issue. Primarily because the amount of sunlight landing in my garden is determined by my neighbor’s trees, rather than those in my own yard. After all, I don’t pay attention to how fast the sugar maples in the neighboring yard are growing. Nonetheless, they add 1 to 2 feet (3-.6 m.) of vertical height each year. As they grow taller, they cast longer shadows.

Over the years, these shadows have penetrated deeper into my yard. These areas receive fewer hours of sunlight each day, which means spots which were once full-sun flowerbeds now meet the criteria for partial sun.

Likewise, when my neighbors cut down or trim back a tree, flowerbeds that were in shade most of the day can suddenly change to full sun. These changes can result in plants now being mismatched to their location.

Coping with Change

Unfortunately, I lost a lot of plants before I figured this out. The turning point was when I began losing the red raspberries growing along the west side of my barn. Futile as it was, I kept planting more raspberry bushes there. I simply could not understand why they stopped doing well in that location.

Finally realizing that my neighbor’s trees were casting more shadows on my barn with each passing year, I planted my red raspberry plants elsewhere. In their place, I chose a lovely selection of ferns. These flourished for years alongside my barn. 

That is, until my neighbor cut down the shadow-casting tree. I was then left with a bright, sunny flowerbed. Thus, in the course of my homeownership, this particular flowerbed slowly transitioned from partial sun to shade, then was quickly transformed to full sun.

As a gardener, I’ve learned to recognize and adapt to these types of changing light conditions. And if the truth be known, I see these transitions as an opportunity. The silver lining, so to speak. 

You see, I now have a blank slate in the form of an empty flowerbed. Will I choose a novel array of sun-loving flowers and shrubs or fill the area with my longstanding favorites? 

Oh, the joy of perusing the pages of plant catalogs and having a plausible excuse to visit my local greenhouse! Yes, sometimes change in the garden is a good thing.

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