Most of the time, things just keep on growing regardless of the conditions or consequences.  Most of the time, this is a good thing.  For instance, I certainly want the vegetables in the garden to carry on, even if they are getting too much rain or not enough nutrients.  When the tomato plants kick into high gear later in the summer, I’ll be happy if they are putting out new branches, even if they do so faster than I can keep pace with.  And I am very relieved that the Sugar Snap peas are faithfully producing pea pods even though mildly infested with aphids.

However, the mindless (but seemingly purposeful) persistence of plants is not always for the better.  An obvious example of this is the large family of weeds, most of which can grow profusely and lustily even in the bleakest of soil conditions (sometimes without soil!).  Dandelions are a particularly egregious member of this family.  With their deep taproots (which almost always snap off when pulled) and prolific seeds (which easily become windborne), they are practically impossible to eradicate.  More insidious, though, are the plants that I usually want to encourage that are growing in the wrong place or at the wrong time.  This group includes many of the trees growing on our property.

We live in a densely wooded area.  Perhaps three out of four trees is a sugar maple, a variety that turns brilliant (some would say gaudy) shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall and yields sweet-smelling, straight-grained wood that is well-suited for carpentry or burning.  These maples also produce thousands of seed pods that spin down to the ground in dense clouds and readily take root there.  Last fall, we had a bumper crop and in the spring, the lawn and gardens were thick with tiny seedlings.  We spent several days pulling them out.

In the woods—where we do not spend any time weeding—the seedlings are equally abundant but continue to grow into saplings, then poles and finally mature trees.  They do not seem to mind that their siblings are only a few feet away.  Instead, they adapt by abandoning lateral growth and devoting all of their energy to extending upwards towards the sun.  The presence of so many neighbors only seems to spur their growth to protect their relatively small share of the sun’s rays.

For the most part, this does not affect us beyond ensuring that the woods remain dark and cool all summer.  Where we do feel an impact, though, is in the areas that we want to keep in the sunlight.  This includes, of course, the vegetable garden but also the solar panels on our roof that heat the pool.  When we installed the panels three years ago, we trimmed some of the surrounding trees to improve their exposure.  That same trimming (in addition to tree removal 12 years ago when we renovated the pool) created the sunny area where we chose to locate the planters.

Now, a few years later, the trees to the east and west (the former on our neighbor’s property) have grown several feet higher.  The trees to the east block the early morning sun on the solar panels.  The trees to the west cast shade on the planters and the solar panels starting in the early afternoon.  This could be contributing to the slow growth in the west planter.  Tree maintenance is an ongoing activity and due to their insistent growth—growth not necessarily for their own good—the trees in our yard will be getting another trim soon.