How to Chart out the Sun Exposure in Your Garden
I get a lot of questions from friends and readers asking for advice on what types of plants they should put in their gardens. One of the first questions I always ask is “What is the sun exposure of the area?”.
Many people are unsure how to answer this question and ask me how they can figure it out. An easy way to figure it out is to chart out the area on a sunny day. This is definitely something you should do before you buy any new plants for a garden area.
If you haven’t done this before, or you haven’t done it in a while, it’s a good exercise. You might be surprised to realize that your “full sun” garden isn’t getting enough sun… or your “shade garden” gets more sun than you thought.
To chart out your garden area, start early in the morning after the sun comes up. Take note of whether your garden area is fully or partially in the sun or shade at this time. Then every hour, check the garden area again and write down the sun exposure. Keep tracking the sun exposure every hour until the sun goes down.
If it’s a large area, you might want to note the different sections of the garden as they come into the sun, or move into shade. You could even take this on a larger scale and do your entire backyard, front yard or the whole property in one chart.
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Buy Plants According to the Sun Exposure of Your Garden
Once you know how many hours of sunlight your garden gets, and at which hours during the day, you can take that information and buy plants accordingly…
- Full Sun: This is an area that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
- Partial Sun / Partial Shade: These terms are similar and generally mean an area that gets 3 to 6 hours of sun. Partial sun would be an area that gets closer to 6 hours of sun; and partial shade is an area that gets closer to 3 hours of sun that is also protected from the intense afternoon sun. Another term in this category is Dappled Sun, this means the sun is filtered through tree or bush branches, fences slats, pergolas… etc.
- Shade / Full Shade: Shade refers to an area that receives less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with the bulk of the sun exposure occurring during either early morning, late afternoon or dappled throughout the day. Full shade is an area that doesn’t get any direct sun exposure, but may receive bright, indirect light.
Read the tag on every plant before you purchase it. The tag should tell you the sun exposure requirements for the plant.
Watch the Sun Throughout the Year
Remember that the sun changes position in the sky throughout the year, so an area that is mostly shade in spring and fall may get more intense sun during the summer. This could lead to your sensitive shade plants being burned by the sun in July and August. You don’t want that so be sure to take this into consideration when planning a garden area.
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Also think about how a garden area might be affected once trees get their leaves in the spring. A full sun garden area in the spring and fall could become pretty shady during the summer once the trees are full of leaves.
Is your garden mostly sunny, or do you struggle with too much shade? Leave a comment below and tell me about your garden’s sun exposure.