116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If your yard went from shady to sunny and plants still aren’t faring well, it may be time for a transplant
When the derecho swept through Cedar Rapids nearly two years ago, it took down hundreds of large, mature trees that cast ample shade. That shade nurtured a variety of hostas, lily-of-the-valley, bleeding heart, ground covers, astilbe, hydrangeas, ferns and other plants that require shade to thrive.
In the following months, many of those plantings were destroyed. During cleanup, feet and heavy equipment trampled them. And newfound sun blasted shade-loving plants, most of which can’t tolerate more than four to six hours of direct sunlight a day.
So what to do with all this newfound sun in your landscape?
For some gardeners, the additional sun has been a benefit, and sun-loving plants that struggled in too much shade are now thriving. But many other gardeners are finding the additional light a problem. Shade-loving plants, no longer protected by tall trees, have suffered sun scald or are constantly drying out.
Some plants will adapt to their new conditions and regain overall health. But if your plantings of shade-lovers are still struggling two years after their source of shade has been removed, it’s time to rethink your plantings.
How much light?
As a rule, full sun is defined as at least six hours of full, unfiltered light. Part shade/part sun is defined as four to six hours. And deep shade is four hours or less.
The good news for anyone with newfound light in their landscape is that full sun hosts a far greater variety of plants than shade. This includes most vegetables and most of our favorite annuals, like marigolds, petunias, geraniums and many more.
But if you find your shade plantings still struggling, spring is the ideal time to get them taken care of by digging them up and transplanting them.
Time to transplant
To transplant plants, first make sure they are well-hydrated. That means their leaves look firm, not wilted or withered. It’s always a good idea to water plants a day before you plan on transplanting them, or to wait until after a good rain.
It’s also ideal to transplant on a cool or overcast day. Hot, sunny and windy days dry plants out more quickly and stress them.
Start the process by digging up as much of the rootball as you can, leaving as much soil as possible intact around it.
Transplant it into its new home with more shade, being sure to dig a hole that is twice as wide and deep as the plants’ roots to allow for good drainage. It’s also ideal to work a couple spades full of compost into the hole to improve soil quality and nutrients. Plant so that the top of the soil around the plant is slightly lower than it was originally. Then fill the hole and make a little basin or depression around the plant so that water puddles there, assuring it will stay better watered in future weeks.
Depending on the type of plant, it may help it get better established if you trim off about two-thirds of the foliage. This allows the plant to focus on establishing new roots and taxes the plant less since there will be less leaf surface for water to transpire and create wilting.
Water the plant well, allowing water to soak down several inches. Then water the plant daily for the next two or three days. After that, water it every three or four days for the next couple of weeks (skip any days that it rains, of course).
Replacing shade plants
Once you’ve removed the plants that are not doing well in full sun, it’s time to assess the soil in the area where you lost the tree. Mature tree roots can make it difficult to dig planting holes.
The ideal is to remove as many of the roots as possible. Dig up as much of them as you can and trim them out with hand shears or loppers. Others that won’t come out of the ground can be dug around. Then use a hand saw to cut out the portions that you can access. In some cases, a small hand ax can be used to hack out chunks of roots.
Be careful if using a chain saw near the ground. Chains should never touch the soil. Dirt and little stones dull the cutters and wears out the chain links faster, causing the chain to stretch. Also, dirt wears the sprocket at the bar tip. Using your chain saw to repeatedly cut in the dirt is a good way to ruin the chain saw.
If removing the roots isn’t an option, you can create a raised bed in the area. Even spreading three or four inches of soil on top of the roots, held in place with bricks or similar materials, can make it far easier to plant.
If you also have a stump to deal with, have fun with it. Top it with a big, broad pot and fill it with your favorite sun-loving plants or a basin to serve as a bird bath.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.