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Mapping the Sun


Six craft sticks | String | Scissors | Container with lid | Watch or clock

            Any time you want to garden around a building, it's important to find out in advance how much the building might block the sunlight for your plants.

            The first thing to do in choosing a garden spot is to find out which way is north. Then you can find out the other directions. Stand facing north, and you know that the east is on your right hand, the south is behind you, and the west is on your left hand.

Most plants need as much sun as they can get. So it's chancy to plant a garden that's up against the north side of a building . . . unless you want to plant shade plants such as hostas. That's because the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. If there's a building that blocks the sunlight, there's likely to be shade on the north side most of the day. Plants that need the sun's energy to bear fruit or blossom into flowers probably won't get enough sunlight in a shady place, so don't plant them there.

But even then, you have to be careful. If you are planning to transplant some hostas, which are shade plants, and a building's northwest corner is nice and shady in the morning, beware. You need to come back at noon, at 2 p.m. and at 4 p.m. to check out whether that nice, cool shade has disappeared because of the pattern of the overhead sun.

            Many times, a patch of ground that is cool and shady in the morning is scorching hot and sunny in the afternoon. And vice versa! So you need to be a private investigator of sunlight throughout the day!

            Here's how:

1.        Plan to do this on a day when at least one person from your team can come over to your garden spot and do this activity at five different time slots during the day: 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

2.        Assign times.

3.        Write each time on a different craft stick with the marker.

4.        Measure five pieces of string in 10-foot lengths.

5.        Tie one end of each piece of string to a different craft stick.

6.        Place one craft stick in the corner of the building where you are mapping the sun.

7.        Leave the five craft sticks tied to string in a container on site.

8.        At 8 a.m., one gardener should come to that corner and note where the line of shade is.

9.        Tie the free end of the 8 a.m. craft stick to the corner craft stick, and stretch out the string along the line of shade.

10.     Stick the 8 a.m. craft stick into the ground to hold that line secure.

11.     At 10 a.m., the next person should do the same thing, and so on until 4 p.m.

12.     Next time the group meets, you can see the effect of the overhead movement of the sun on the shade and sunlight patterns in your garden space. Then you can plan plants accordingly!

By Susan Darst Williams • • Nature Ed 01 © 2010


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