Sun Vs. Shade Gardens: How to Plan a Successful Garden In Any Lighting

Light requirements are one of the top priorities when considering what plants to grow.

variety of flowers growing outside

After you’ve consulted your hardiness zone, you’ll need to think about how much light your plants will get throughout the day. You might have a mix of full sun and partial shade in your garden.

 
Let’s take a look at different setups and things to consider to get the most out of your garden space.

Sun & Shade Growing Conditions

To start with, knowing exactly what the terms mean is very helpful. Generally speaking, most gardening sources will use the following definitions:  

  • Full Sun - 6+ hours of direct unfiltered sunlight daily 
  • Partial Sun - 4-6 hours of sunlight daily
  • Partial Shade - 2-4 hours of sunlight daily
  • Shade - less than 2 hours of sunlight a day

With a little planning, you can make the most of your garden space, even if it's shady.

Shade Gardens Vs. Sun Gardens

If you don’t have a sunny spot to grow in, you can garden. Shade and partial shade gardens are often peaceful, quiet places that are a nice refuge, especially during summer’s heat. 


We’ve got a great guide to help you choose plants for growing in the shade. These picks are well-suited to life under the canopy of nearby trees or the shade of buildings, fences, or other objects that cast long shadows. 


On the other hand, a sunny spot provides a more typical garden scenario and a wider selection of plants to grow. Most fruits, vegetables, and many flowers need at least six hours of sun every day. Succulents and other heat drought-tolerant plants also need full sun to thrive. Full sun in your area may mean something very different than full sun elsewhere, so consider your local weather when choosing plants for your sun garden.

shaded leaf

Morning Sun Vs. Afternoon Sun

Pay attention to when a spot gets sunlight, too. Many plants prefer the gentle rays of the morning sun to the harsher heat of the afternoon. The afternoon sunlight is more intense and can burn or wilt more sensitive plants. 


Plants that generally do better in the morning sun include green leafy vegetables and herbs. Some plants that do well with afternoon sun and morning shade include sage, coneflowers, carrots, cucumbers, and bush beans.


Always get started by looking at the detail on your seed packets. Don’t forget to think ahead and plan for seasonal changes in lighting. A sunny spot in winter might become shady during summer if it’s under a large oak tree.


It may take some trial and error to find the plan that works with your sunlight situation, but you can do this! You will soon learn what works and what doesn’t. 


Your plants will always teach you what you need to know if you pay attention.


Written by Teresa Chandler