“Did you feel that? It just got 15 degrees cooler.”
A gardening friend pointed out the change one summer day when we stepped a few paces from the sunny part of my front yard to the shade of the big oak tree.
Most of our brightest flowers and almost all vegetables grow in full sun, but every garden – and every gardener – needs a bit of shade somewhere. Many beautiful plants thrive in full shade or partial shade. Shade patterns in a garden change as the sun moves through the day, and a wise gardener will head for those areas as much as possible when choosing where to work at a given time.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a good, big shade tree, take care of it. Have a certified arborist check your tree every three years for any signs of decline. Ask the arborist what you should watch for between visits. I was relieved to learn that the moss on our oak isn’t necessarily a sign of trouble. On the other hand, when I see someone’s tree with large sections of bark falling away from the trunk, it doesn’t take a trained eye to know that tree is in trouble.
Remember that a tree’s surface roots extend at least as far out as its branches, and the roots don’t go very deep into our hard soil. Protect those roots from excessive digging, and avoid smothering them with new paving projects. Raised beds are great in the sun, but don’t pile thick layers of soil or deep mulch on top of tree roots.
If you plant a new shade tree today, will you be around to enjoy its mature height? Maybe not, but plant one for the next generation. Besides providing relief from the heat outdoors, a well placed shade tree can lower cooling expenses for the house.
You can plant shade, or you can build it. Overhead structures like awnings, gazebos, or pergolas can shade larger areas. Even a vine-covered arbor provides a little shade, and a swing under the arbor can generate a cooling breeze.
A tall, wide trellis creates a good screen. It casts a shadow that shrinks in the morning but gets longer again in the evening. Keep a chair or two beside the trellis so you can sit down and cool off in its shade. A breeze feels stronger when it gets funneled through the openings of a lattice. Wooden lattices make great trellises. A cheaper alternative is a wire grid attached to a large wooden frame.
Any number of climbing plants can be used to cover a trellis or arbor. Annual vines include morning glory, black-eyed Susan vine (thunbergia), mandevilla, and even squash or gourds. Perennials include climbing fern, clematis, climbing rose, ivy, trumpet vine, and more. Plant wisteria only if you have a heavy duty trellis.
Summer gardening is hot work. Protect yourself from getting overheated. Work for short periods of time, and look for frequent opportunities to cool off in the shade.