Q: How can I tell if my garden beds are full-sun, part-shade, or shaded?
Although it can seem like a rudimentary question to ask, it actually is extremely important. Many times I have overestimated or underestimated how much sun a spot gets, and consequently there are usually casualties. I have found the surest way to kill any of my plants is to just guess how much sunlight would beam down on them throughout the day.
In Kansas, we already struggle with so many extremes in temperature and humidity and moisture, that trial-and-error usually just results in error. It’s time to get more scientific.
The best way I have found so far is to conduct an all-day test. Once an hour from sunup to sundown I go out and see how much sun the location is getting. Tally up the hours, and you have a very good estimate. Keep in mind that garden beds located near trees and buildings will need to be tested when the trees have leafed out and preferably in late spring or early summer.
Due to the earth’s rotation on its axis, you will get different amounts of sunlight on a garden bed during different times of the year. The closer you get to the summer solstice — when the sun shines the longest and is at its highest in our skies, June 21st — the better judge you will be of the peak amount of sunlight you will get.
For a spot to be considered full-sun, it needs an absolute minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. Most full-sun plants like at least eight hours of sun, especially if they are labeled as drought-tolerant. Partial-shade is anything between four and six hours of sunlight, and most plants in this category don’t like strong afternoon sun. Full-shade is anything less than four hours, and plants here generally like being under trees or on north-facing sides of buildings.
Conducting this simple, free test of your friendly skies will give you a good estimate of your sunlight. You will probably find yourself being very surprised at how much, or how little, you actually get. Your plants won’t sulk, and neither will you, when you custom-fit your plant choices to the reality of your location’s taste for exposure.
Q: I need a good ground cover for shade, but don’t want a vining plant and not something too invasive. Any ideas?
I’ve definitely got a suggestion, and it happens to be one of my most favorite plants. You might have heard about it under its common-law name: lily-of-the-valley, or Convallaria majalis. It is a perennial, and spreads at a moderate pace by underground rhizomes, or thick stem-like roots. It is hardy in our area, and is a reliable and low-key plant that only needs minimal care. It produces upright, dark green leaves in a vase shape, and in April and May blooms with arching sprays of bell-shaped white flowers. The fragrance is renowned for its delicate floral scent, and is found in many perfumes and fine body products.
The plant grows about six inches tall, and one “pip,” as the young plants are called, can slowly fill in one square foot of space. They will grow faster if they like the location, and slower obviously if they don’t.
In my experience, pips growing in average dirt with only enough water to get them through our droughts will fill in a square foot of space in about 4-5 years. Once they seem like they are getting crowded you need to dig them up and divide them, and giving away your excess will buy you lifelong friends. When you give it away, though, remind your friends that they are, like many of our perennials, considered poisonous and shouldn’t be eaten. And one last word of advice: be careful when ordering them online or buying them locally.
When it comes to plants, cheap is almost never a good sign. Look up online reviews of companies and order from the good guys.
If you’ve got more questions, post them on our Facebook page at www.facebook/leavenworthmastergardeners, or call the hotline at (913) 364-5700.
A Master Gardener training session takes place the second Wednesday of every month at Riverfront Community Center. The session usually starts at 11:15 a.m., and lasts 30-45 minutes.
On Wednesday, Charlotte van Wormer and Candy Dials will flutter our hearts with their top-notch butterfly presentation. On June 11, Brian VoorHees will give us a snapshot on photographing birds. Admission is our gift to you from the Master Gardeners, so please join us.
And, at our Leavenworth Public Library on May 20, the Master Gardeners are going at it again with two fabulous presentations. The first at 10 a.m. is on “Clearing the Air with Houseplants,” and will explore which plants can impact the air quality in our homes. Jo Domann is the lucky lady giving us the benefit of her research into NASA’s intensive study of 50 common houseplants.
I will make the second presentation at 7 p.m. on “How to Go Organic on a Blue-Collar Dime.” Three years ago, I started trying to figure out how to "go local" and "go organic" on a working class income, and was amazed at how affordable it actually was.
Get ready for a very practical presentation on how to start incorporating organic and Leavenworth-local food into your life. It will include not only budget tips and where to find locally produced and organic food, but also ideas for how to start growing your own food in your backyard.