Assess Your Garden Conditions

Assessing Garden Sunlight

Some plants require full sun to grow and thrive.

Sunlight plays an essential role in your garden. Sunshine powers the process of photosynthesis, which allows plants to make their own food using air and water. As they grow, plants provide food for grazing animals, who in turn provide sustenance for higher levels of the food chain. Sun provides the start for the whole food pyramid, so it's vital to give it the respect it deserves in the garden.

Many plants, especially lawn grass, flowers, roses, conifers (needle-leaved evergreens), vegetables, and fruit trees thrive in bright sun, which provides abundant energy for growth, flowering, and fruiting. Six to eight hours of direct sun a day is sufficient for most plants that need full sun. The term "full sun" doesn't actually mean plants must be in bright light every moment of the day, only most of the day. However, the six- to eight-hour minimum must be met for perennials, trees, and shrubs even during the shorter days of spring and fall.

Consider differences in sun intensity when planting on the east and west side of shade-casting trees or buildings. Even if east- and west-facing sites receive equal hours of sun, they will not produce identical results. Gardens with an eastern exposure are illuminated with cool morning sun, then shaded in the afternoon. They are ideal locations for minimizing heat stress in southern climates or for plants such as rhododendrons that can burn in hot sun. Gardens with a western exposure are shaded in the morning and drenched in hot sun in the afternoon. Sunburn, bleaching, and sometimes death of delicate leaves can result, especially in warm climates and when growing sensitive young or shade-loving plants. Afternoon sun can also cause brightly colored flowers to fade. The west side of a building is the ideal place for sun-loving plants.

Shady gardens need different kinds of plants, but these gardens can still be successful. Keep reading to learn about assessing garden shade.

Looking for more information about gardening? Try these:

  • How to Start a Garden: Find out how to get your garden started.
  • Planting a Garden: Once the planning is done and the soil is ready, the next step is planting your flowers or vegetables.
  • Annual Flowers: Learn about annual flowers, which continue to bloom throughout the growing season.
  • Perennial Flowers: Find out about perennial flowers, which return to grace your garden year after year.
  • Gardening: Learn the basics of successful gardening.