A Guide to Sun Exposure for Gardeners

Planning a garden, no matter if it's as small as a flower pot or as large as multiple acres, requires taking a lot of factors into consideration. One key factor is knowing how much sun the garden will get on a daily basis. Different plants require different amounts of solar energy to flourish. It seems like this should be an easy thing to figure out, but it actually can be quite complicated. However, the gardening industry has implemented guidelines to make it clearer how much light any flower a consumer considers purchasing actually requires. Plants may be labeled as full sun, part sun, part shade, or full shade. Full sun describes plants that require six hours of direct sunlight each day. Flowers labeled part sun need somewhere between three and six hours of direct sunlight. Part-shade flowers also need between three and six hours of direct sunlight, but they also require protection from harsh mid-day rays. Full-shade plants need less than three hours of direct sunlight each day.

Full Sun

Full sun describes the light found in bright, open areas that aren't shaded by buildings, trees, shrubs, or other plants. Lots of plants labeled "full sun" do well with bright, direct sunlight from sunup to sundown. These plants are typically labeled as drought- or heat-tolerant as well. Plants with gray or silver foliage also typically do well in very hot, sunny conditions. However, other full-sun plants need a little more protection from direct rays. Gardening requires understanding local weather conditions and the makeup of the soil as well: Full-sun plants that thrive in the Nevada desert aren't necessarily going to do well in full-sun conditions in Maine. It's important to keep locality in mind when purchasing plants.

Part Sun and Part Shade

"Part sun" and "part shade" would seem like very similar terms, but there are important differences between the two. Plants with either label need direct sun for part of the day, but they differ in how much direct sunlight they can withstand. Part-sun plants and flowers need three hours of direct sun and can generally tolerate more light. Flowers labeled as "part shade" are very sensitive to receiving too much sun, and they typically need to be protected from direct afternoon sunlight.

Full Shade

Full-shade plants can withstand some amount of direct sunlight, but only during the morning or evening hours. Midday or afternoon sunlight is much too strong for them. Different plants require different amounts of light. Ferns, for example, can die from too much direct light. Shade plants typically do best planted on the north side of a house or building or under a tree canopy. The light that filters through a tree canopy is known as dappled shade, and full-shade plants thrive in it. Before planting full-shade plants, keep careful watch on the area throughout the day to make sure that it doesn't receive too much direct sunlight.