How to Determine the Best Sun Exposure for Your Garden

Before you start your garden, before you even break ground, or assess the quality of your soil, you will need to determine the amount of sun exposure your garden will receive. While soil quality and moisture can be more easily controlled, exposure to proper amounts of sunlight will be determined by your specific location. Trees, fences, and even which way your house faces (depending on the size of your yard) will play a factor in how much sun your garden can get, and what you will be able to grow successfully. Regardless, you will be able to grow something. But it’s important to know the different types of sun exposure for your garden, how to work with the amount of sunlight you can get, and what plants to select for your needs.

How to Determine the Best Sun Exposure for Your Garden

Types of Sun Exposure for Your Garden

Plants need sunlight to grow. There are many different terms used to classify the amount of sun your plants need to thrive. Full sun, partial sun, partial shade, full shade, and dappled shade are a few that we’ll define to make things a little bit clearer. While there are many ways to create shade, getting full sun will be a little bit more dependent on your surroundings.

basil plant getting full sun

  • Full Sun: Full sun plants require 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day.
  • Partial Sun: Partial sun and partial shade certainly sound like the same thing, and in general they are. Plants that need partial sun/shade need 3 to 6 hours of sunlight every day, with partial sun plants needing closer to 6 hours on that spectrum.
  • Partial Shade: Partial shade plants need less sunlight exposure compared to the partial sun, leaning closer to 3 hours a day. They also need protection from the intense afternoon sun. If needed, you can always create your own shade using shade cloths.
  • Full Shade: Full shade plants still need some sunlight, but they generally need less than 3 hours a day. There are a few sections in my garden that only receive early morning sunlight. These areas would be perfect for full-shade plants.
  • Dappled Sun: If you have trees or bushes, dappled sunlight is the sunlight that is filtered through those branches. Many plants that require partial-shade or full-shade grow well in areas that receive dappled sunlight.

There are signs that you can look for to determine if your plant is getting enough sunlight. Plants with pale leaves or long and thin stems are a sign of insufficient light. Slow growth can also be a sign of not enough light. A plant that receives too much sunlight can have scorched leaves.

Working With the Sunlight in Your Garden

Once you understand the different amounts of sunlight that your garden can receive, it’s time to start figuring out how much sunlight your specific garden should receive. You can do this by assessing your area for how much sunlight it receives, selecting the right seeds and plants for that area, and maintaining your garden so that everything receives the appropriate amount of sunlight over time.

Sun Map Your Garden

One way you can measure the amount of sunlight your future garden will receive is by doing a little homework. Get a notebook or a garden planner and write down the different areas of the yard that you’re considering for your garden. You can classify them however you want – corner by the oak tree, patch by the south-facing fence, etc. Create a grid, with your potential garden areas on the left-hand side, and each hour listed across the top. Then, for every hour from sunup to sundown (during a sunny day) make a note of if your garden receives sun, shade, or partial sun. This will give you the opportunity to see how much sunlight your garden location can receive.

If you’re not sure how to classify the different areas of your yard, you can also pull out a camera or cell phone, and take a few photos every hour to see what areas receive sun and for how long.

raised garden bed getting partial shade

Keep in mind that the sun changes positions in the sky throughout the year. A sunny spot during the summer may have a shadow cast over it during the winter months, as seen above. For the northern hemisphere, any large structure to the south of your garden could potentially cast a shadow during the wintertime.

Select Seeds Based on Your Garden’s Sun Exposure

Once you know where you will have your garden, the next step is to purchase seeds that fit that category of sun exposure that your garden receives. While we’ll go over typical vegetables and their requirements, later on, you can also find out how much sun a certain plant will need based on the seed packet.

seed packet explaining sun requirements

The seed packet above lists a full sun requirement on the front of the packet on the bottom left. This means as we learned earlier, that the tomatillos will require 6 or more hours of sunlight every day.

Align Your Row Orientation Properly

It’s good to be aware of any fences, trees, buildings, etc. that you may have on your property, or near your property. But it’s also a good idea to be aware of what you’re going to be planting, and whether or not it will cast a shadow on any of the neighboring plants. It’s good practice to plant smaller crops on the south side of the garden, with larger plants to the north in the northern hemisphere. For example, I would recommend planting cabbage to the south of sugar snap peas. That way the sugar snap peas don’t block the sunlight from reaching the cabbage plants.

The Best Vegetables for Your Garden

Once you understand sun exposure and the different amounts your garden can receive, you’ll be better equipped to select the right plants for your garden. Below is a list of some common vegetables and how many hours of sunlight there require on average per day.

tomatoes getting full sun

Full Sun Vegetables: These vegetables require 6 or more hours of sunlight. Cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Partial Sun/Shade Vegetables: Vegetables that only need partial sun/shade need about 3-6 hours of sun every day. Vegetables that fall into this category include beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, onions, peas, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips. In addition to these vegetables, most herbs also require the same 3-6 hours of sun to grow well.

Full Shade Vegetables: As mentioned prior, full shade vegetables still need up to 3 hours of sunlight a day. These include arugula, brussels sprouts, endive, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, and swiss chard.

What steps have you taken to ensure your garden receives the proper amount of sunlight? Comment below!

Sun Exposure For Your Garden

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