Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Light Tips for Gardening


While sunshine may not literally make the world go 'round, it does power the process of photosynthesis, which makes many things possible. Photosynthesis allows plants to make their own food, using only air and water. As they grow, plants provide food for grazing animals that in turn provide sustenance for higher levels of the food chain. Since sun provides the start for the whole food pyramid, it's vital to give it the respect it deserves in the garden.

Garden Ideas Image Gallery

Watch how shadows and sunlight hit the ground under deciduous trees to help you determine light conditions.
Watch how shadows and sunlight hit the ground under
deciduous trees to help you determine light conditions.
See more pictures of garden ideas.

Many plants, especially lawn grass, flowers, roses, vegetables, fruit trees, and conifers (needle-leaved evergreens) thrive in bright sun, which provides abundant energy for growth, flowering, and fruiting. But some plants, particularly those native to forests and glens, need shadier conditions. Learn the sun requirements of any plant you intend to grow so you can put it in the right place.

Watch how shadows and sunlight hit the ground to determine how much shade exists during the growing season under deciduous trees (which drop their leaves in fall). This test will determine which shade-loving plants will thrive there.

  • Full shade is found under thickly branched trees or evergreens. A garden that's located here will receive little or no direct sun and remain gloomily lit. Only a limited number of plants are suitable for this situation. You should choose flowers and ferns with evergreen leaves.
  • Partial shade can be found under trees that allow sunlight to penetrate through the canopy and dapple the ground throughout the day. A garden grown under a lightly branched honey locust tree would fall into this category. A larger selection of plants are capable of growing under these conditions than in full shade.
  • Light shade is found in places where plants are in direct sun for a portion of the day. This could be found in a garden under mature trees with long barren trunks. The sun can shine in under the high leaf canopies. Light-shade conditions also exist on the east or west side of a wall or building. Here you can grow many shade-loving plants as well as shade-tolerant plants, which are sun-lovers capable of growing moderately well in light shade.

Faced with a garden that is mostly shaded? Learn tips on the next page that will help get things growing.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

More to Explore