Tree trimming lets in the sun—too much of it!

Our small backyard is dominated by four sweet bay trees (Laurus nobilis), which over the course of 20 years have grown to 35+ ft. Luckily, their horizontal spread is rather limited compared to what would have been the case with, say, a sycamore or an oak. Still, the time had come to do some major trimming to keep the trees away not only from our house but also our neighbor’s. While we do light trimming throughout the year, this was a job for the pros so we called in a licensed arborist. A half a day and hundreds of dollars later the bay trees are once again held at bay (couldn’t resist the pun). Hopefully we’re good for at least 5 years before we have to do this exercise all over again.

Bay trees in our backyard prior to trimming
Bay trees in our backyard after trimming
Stitched panorama of bay trees after trimming—before, they had touched the house

This post is actually not so much about the tree trimming as it is about the sudden change in sun exposure that has resulted from it. From the photo above, it may not seem like that much was removed from the bay trees, but believe me, the difference is enormous. Our backyard is much brighter, and much sunnier. Spots that previously were in the shade all day long now get direct afternoon sun. In many cases that might be a welcome change, but depending on the kinds of plants that live in that spot, it might spell disaster.

Case in point: A large spotted leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum 'Kagami Jishi') that had lived very happily between two potted bamboos (Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’ and Fargesia apicirubens ‘White Dragon’) was all of a sudden hit by the late afternoon sun like dead rays from an extraterrestrial spacecraft. Although the exposure was only an hour or two, it left the farfugium wilted like lettuce long past its prime. While it recovered throughout the evening, I cannot imagine that this semi-lethal dose of sunshine is good for the leaf cells of this tender woodland dweller, so I decided to move it across the yard. Now it resides under our Japanese maple, next to a small menagerie of juvenile bamboos in pots. There it gets a hour of late morning sun and is protected from the late-afternoon sun.

Spotted leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum 'Kagami Jishi') after unaccustomed exposure to late-afternoon sun
Close-up of wilted leaves
In its new home

While it’s impossible to prevent these radical shifts in lighting and sun exposure when trimming trees, be aware of the plants that might be affected by it and move or protect them as needed. Otherwise you might walk into your garden one evening and find a beloved plant fried to a crisp.


  1. How true is that! Only a few years, after spending most of the day somewhere else we came back and remarked how unusually bright our garden is, to quickly realise our next door neighbour cut down all of his trees. Suddenly we had more sun and a few plants suffered. Our own plants have grown since providing shade that was lost then.

    These Farfugiums are much tougher than given credit for, glad to see it looking fine after the exposure and move :)

  2. If you didn't have the time to move the plant right away, a potted bamboo could have provided some shade for a few days. A lawn chair might have worked too if you were short on bamboos, but it's hard for me to tell how large that plant is.

  3. Mark and Gaz, I agree, they're tough, but if I'd left them in that spot permanently, they would have eventually fried. As it is, a couple of leaves didn't recover, and that was only after a few days of hot afternoon sun. The farfugium is much happier in its new place.

    Alan, this potted farfugium is 28 inches tall and 36 inches deep and wide. I tried a lawn chair but the angle of the sun was too high. Permanent relocation was the only solution. Luckily, this was a potted plant and moving it was easy.


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