Our latest blog by Master Gardener, Mike Wohl
If the available growing space you have is short on direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day or the afternoon, and maybe you have had discouraging results with your fruit, veg and herbs?
There are, however, many ways you can counteract the lack of sunlight.
USE REFLECTED LIGHT.…..You can paint existing surfaces with highly reflective coatings, create additional surfaces positioned to reflect the maximum amount of sunlight, and even coat the surface of your growing containers with white or metallic reflective stones or coatings.
REDUCE AIR CURRENTS……..The wind-chill factor we notice on a windy day making the temperature feel cooler than it really is actually affects plants too to a very noticeable degree. Plants are under stressed conditions if situated in a draughty location and struggle to grow successfully. Artificial windbreaks can help, though solid surface windbreaks can increase localised draughts around the plants. Ideally a flexible material with some 25% permeability to wind works well, this can be coupled with reflective treatment to its surface if appropriate.
ENSURE REGULAR WATERING AND CORRECT AMOUNTS FOR VARIETY…..if plants, especially young seedlings, are not watered regularly, they are stressed by that too. Plant growth is delayed as a result and over-watering can have as much of a detrimental effect. Ensure your water supply is handy or fit an additional tap or better still water-butt to facilitate your watering. Remember to arrange neighbours to cover holiday periods or fit auto-irrigation devices. Many plants need additional plant food as they grow too.
CONSIDER RAISING CONTAINERS TO INCREASE TIME IN DIRECT SUN…..depending on the hight/aspect of surrounding buildings, you can increase the hours of sunlight your plant experiences by raising containers higher up. Staging or shelving can be created for this purpose. Many ideas are available on line through catalogue companies and this website has useful ideas verticalveg.co.uk
USE IDEAL SOIL MIXTURE FOR VARIETY GROWN……..if you want to maximise the chance of success with fruit veg and herbs where the sunlight is less than ideal, then try to make sure all the other growing conditions ARE ideal. Select the growing medium that suits the variety of plant you are growing with care. Level of sand/grit in soil varies according to what you are growing as does the plant’s preference for acidity/alkalinity. These can be checked in a reference guide such as the book The Vegetable Expert. The correct minimum depth of soil/compost is also critical as does the surface area needed per plant.
START YOUR SEEDLINGS INDOORS EARLIER IN THE YEAR…….some people will buy a seedlings in a garden centre then pot them out on their balcony without thinking if they will have enough time to grow/fruit. If the sunlight is limited the growing will be slower. To counteract this, try to start sewing or buy seedling plants as EARLY AS POSSIBLE, and grow indoors for a while to give the plants the best possible start. Then harden off the plants for several days by placing the outdoors ony during the day before finally potting them in their final growing spot.
SUPPORT YOUR PLANT STEMS IF THEY NEED SUPPORT AND TRIM THE SIDESHOOTS APPROPRIATELY……unsupported plants will struggle and plants should be trimmed to give the maximum yield and not the biggest or leafiest plant.
SELECT VARIETIES OF PRODUCE THAT REQUIRE LESS SUN……some plants DO do well in shade, so you may want to choose more of these, but you will be surprised if you take precautions and experiment just how much can grow in poorly lit areas. Refer to seed packets and gardening books for information.