Too Much of A Good Thing
The sun is critical for fruit tree and plant growth. The rays of solar energy get absorbed by the leaves, promoting photosynthesis, allowing the plant to thrive and grow. Because we eat plants (or eat animals who eat plants) we’re all considered to be solar powered! There is a downside; Just like too much sun can give us a sunburn and speed up dehydration, too much sun can harm plants.
In this article, I walk through a couple options to keep your plants from getting too much sun. This is especially during the hotter months where plants are already dealing with higher ambient air temperatures.
The easiest method I’ve found to to protect your trees and plants is to use inexpensive shade cloth. Shade cloth is usually made of a UV resistant polymer, and comes rated in percentages of sun protection. For example, a 40% shade cloth will provide 40% shade, while letting through 60% of the sun. Most fruit trees or other plants generally left in the open benefit from a 30-40% shade cloth. That moderate coverage ought to provide enough protection from the sun’s rays. For more fragile plants (veggies and flowers), a higher shade value (60-70%) could be beneficial.
How to Use Shade Cloth
I deploy shade cloth two main ways: I drape it over a tree or plant, and I use a wooden frame. Draping the shade cloth over plants is a very quick way to get your plants covered. I use garden clips to secure the edges of the shade cloth around branches to keep it in place in wind. It’s possible to also poke a stem or two through the shade cloth if you haven’t got clips available. One downside to draping shade cloth is that it makes contact with the actual plant. Depending on the plant, this added weight may cause some issues or damage.
For a longer term or no-contact method, I created wooden frames out of 1X2’s and a few nuts and bolts. I then stapled on sheets of shade cloth to the frame. Shade frames have a few advantages, especially for smaller trees and plants. They allow a no-contact method which limits smooshing or bending of branches you’d see with the draping method. She frames are easily deployed and allow you to select the angle of protection, as well as the height. The cloth doesn’t need to be clipped to the tree, because it is already clipped to the frame. One nice thing about these frames is that they fold up, allowing you to stack several of them in a small space.
Pro-tip: Weigh the bottom of the frame down with a block or rock, as wind can topple these.
Paint Your Trees!
This might sound like a crazy idea, but it’s important to paint or whitewash your trees in order to prevent sunburn and sunscald. This is a larger topic which I will cover further in another article. In short, whitewashing your tree’s trunk and main branches is an important step to preventing sun damage, much like sunscreen protects damage to your skin. There are two main ways you can whitewash.
For this method, you’ll want to get white interior latex paint. Mix the paint with water in a 50%-50% solution, and use a paintbrush to apply generously to the trunk and main branches. It’s possible to also put this solution in a spray bottle. Although, I’ve found that this sometimes creates clogs or my hand gets tired from all the spraying. There is a downside to using actual paint for this. While it isn’t dangerous to the tree or fruit, as the trunk expands, more and more paint will make its way into the soil, impacting the quality of the soil over time.
IV Organic 3-in-1 Plant Guard
Like the latex paint, IV Organic is painted on using a brush or diluted down into a spray bottle. Unlike latex paint, however, IV Organic is an OMRI certified organic whitewash. It contains many things that help guard against sun AND pest damage, such as diatomaceous earth, fragrant oils, etc. A big plus is as the tree trunk expands and bark falls to the ground, the soil gets better.
What’s the point?
Whatever you’re using to protect your plants from excessive sun exposure, you’re essentially trying to take the edge off. Like sunscreen on your own body doesn’t prevent all sun from getting through, these methods serve to reduce the amount of UV rays causing damage on the warmest days. Whichever method you use, ensure that you’re protecting against the direction the sun is actually coming from (in North America, make sure to paint or protect the Southern facing side).
Protect them from excessive sun and heat, and your plants and trees will thank you for giving them a reprieve from the sun, and will reward you with tasty, nutritious fruit and vegetables!