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Home > Types of Gardening > Shade Gardening > Competition for Nutrients
Competition for Nutrients
Plants growing in the shade often must also compete with roots of shading trees for nutrients and moisture. Shallow rooted trees such as maples and willows are particularly troublesome.

Adding organic matter to shade garden soils will help. Most woodland species are accustomed to growing in soils rich in leaf litter compost. Raking and removal of leaves each fall in the typical landscape disrupts this natural nutrient recycling process. If leaves are not removed, they can mat down and smother shade garden plants, but shredded leaves can be safely applied as a mulch. Another option is to compost the leaves first, and apply the compost in core aeration holes or in small pockets dug into the garden. Do not haul in several inches of compost-rich amendment to till into soil under shade trees. Some species, such as oaks, are extremely sensitive to changes in soil depth within their root zone. In addition, tillage will damage many of the tree`s roots, starting a decline from which the tree may never recover. If the gardener is patient, earthworms will eventually incorporate surface-applied organic matter. Organic matter loosens heavy clay soils, improving drainage. In sandy soils, organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity. As organic matter breaks down, it also releases nutrients to the plants. Roots competing for limited surface water may cause shade gardens to dry out more quickly than sunny sites during extended dry periods. Some shade-tolerant plants are adapted to low moisture situations, while others require moist shade. Provide water according to the plants` needs.

Poor air circulation

Poor air circulationBranches or walls that cast shade also block air movement. Poor air circulation coupled with lower light levels means foliage of plants stays wet longer in the shade than in sunny areas. Most plant disease problems are worse under these conditions. Prevent disease problems by selecting disease-resistant varieties when available. Space plants farther apart in the shade to allow more air movement around each individual plant. Water with soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems to avoid wetting the foliage. Removal of lower tree limbs may funnel breezes underneath the tree canopy, thereby improving air circulation.
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