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GARDENING: LET THERE BE LIGHT

January 28, 2018

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Californian poppies thrive in sunshine
Californian poppies thrive in sunshine

New to gardening and all geared up to rush out and plant the seeds you have so enthusiastically bought?

A word of warning: quite simply ... don’t!

At least not yet, as there is much to be done prior to sowing a single seed if you are to have any measure of success.

Adequate sunlight is essential for proper plant growth

Creating a garden isn’t simply a matter of scattering seeds — or sticking plants — into a patch of ground and then standing back to witness green miracles: it takes far more than this to bring a garden to life.

First and foremost, and before you do a single thing, it is necessary to figure out what can be grown in the area of land you intend to use. You may already have set your heart on establishing a glorious flower garden or a productive vegetable garden but the question that needs to be answered is: is your plan a feasible one?

Soil conditions can — with care, knowledge, hard work and some unavoidable expense — be altered to meet the needs of the plant species you have in mind. But light conditions are liable to be permanently fixed and not all plant species will thrive in what may be too little or too much direct sunlight for them to survive, let alone flourish and produce an acceptable end result.

A general, all-year round vegetable garden for example, needs an average of six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day to produce crops in abundance:

Fruiting crops — this includes tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins — do best with eight hours and more of direct sunlight.

Root crops — such as potatoes, carrots, beetroot, radish and so on — like six hours of sunlight.

Green crops — cabbages, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce for instance — manage on just four to six hours of sunlight and a few others (some were detailed in this column on November 19, 2017) will manage on less.

(These recommended hours of daily sunlight do not have to be continuous; if it is eight hours for example, it can be four hours in the morning and another four hours in the afternoon. What matters is that the total number of sunny hours adds up to eight hours.)

Roses need six to eight hours of direct light
Roses need six to eight hours of direct light

Flower gardens are less light-specific than vegetable and fruit gardens as some flowers want full sun all day long, others prefer sun for just a few hours each day, some fall into the ‘partial shade’ or ‘dappled shade’ categories while others want shade and lots of it. Therefore, depending on the light in your garden — or in different areas of the garden — you can, with research, select flower species to suit the existing light conditions.

A garden that basks in full sunshine all day long can, with inventive creation of shade, be made highly productive but one which suffers badly from lack of direct light is a very different, extremely difficult kettle of fish as all plants — edible or otherwise — need a certain amount of chlorophyll which is obtained via their natural chemical interaction to sunlight to survive. Hence, no chlorophyll equals no life.

There is little you can do to improve light conditions if your garden area is surrounded by high buildings or high walls. So, if this is the case, keep careful note of exactly how much direct sunlight manages to enter your garden, of the places it hits and only then decide what you can try to grow and in which season of the year.

Don’t forget that most plants each have their own growing season: some thriving in summer heat, others in winter cool and yet others do best in spring or autumn weather. There is no point in sowing seeds for summer flowers in November as they are highly unlikely to grow. A little bit of research about planting times for various flowers/vegetables/herbs can save you a lot of disappointment, heartbreak and expense — as can keeping your eye on this column where a seed sowing guide is given on the first Sunday of each month.

Asiatic lilies like partial shade
Asiatic lilies like partial shade

If your garden is densely overshadowed by evergreen trees, having an expert trim the trees back may allow more light into your garden but don’t forget that the tree roots will continually take up nourishment — and water — from the soil. If this is the scenario it should still be possible to create a garden if you utilise what are known as ‘raised beds’ or lots of assorted plant pots and other containers which can be placed in the spots receiving the most light.

If the trees are deciduous (these shed their leaves in winter) it may be best if you concentrate on growing a winter garden when light coming in is at its maximum even though daylight hours are shorter than in summer.

The importance of having enough direct sunlight in your garden to grow the plants you desire, must not be overlooked and please, if you feel light is there but insufficient, do not be put off as there will be something that you are still able to grow. Just ask for advice and guidance and it will be given.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 28th, 2018