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Assess Your Garden Conditions

Assessing Garden Shade

In light shade, you can grow both sun- and shade-loving plants.

Shade, from partial to full, has a big impact on the plants in your garden. Watch how shadows and sunlight hit the ground to determine how much shade exists during the growing season under deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves in fall). This test will determine which shade-loving plants will thrive there.

Limb up trees or remove smaller, scraggly, or unwanted saplings and brush to brighten a densely shaded spot. Prune the lowest rung of branches off young trees to raise the level of the canopy in the future. Tall, mature shade trees can have their lower limbs removed (a heavy job requiring a professional arborist) to produce light shade. For even more light, arborists can thin out overcrowded branches in the canopy, leaving some openings in the foliage for sun penetration.


Prune low-hanging branches on a sunny day so you can see how the light changes. This way you can watch the shade lighten. You can also keep an eye on the shadows, which will dance from one side of the tree to the other, changing with the time of day and position of the sun. Their silhouettes can be a beautiful part of the garden, especially in winter when the dark shadows stand out on the white snow.

Light Shade

Even in places where plants are in direct sun for a portion of the day, you also have light shade. This can be found in a garden under mature trees with long barren trunks. The sun shines in under the high leaf canopy. 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.

In partial shade, such as under a lightly branched tree, you can grow a variety of plants.

Partial Shade

Filtered light, or 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 beneath a lightly branched honey locust tree would fall into this category. More kinds of plants are capable of growing under these conditions than in deep shade.

In deep shade, few plants will grow well.

Deep Shade

Full or deep 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, so choose carefully (flowers and ferns with evergreen leaves).

The length of the day changes depending on where you live, and long or short day lengths can have a big impact on your plants. Keep reading to learn about assessing day lenghts for your garden.

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.