How Much Light Do You Actually Get?

I know…you are thinking “here goes Doug again getting on his soapbox talking about choosing the right plant for the right location”.  But, in my defense, with working at a retail garden center and working with customers for so many years, this question about light and proper choosing of plants is more of a challenge than you may realize.  Proper sun exposure is integral to the survival of plants.  Too little, and your plants become weak, thin, and generally sad looking.  Too much and they spend most of the day drooping or being fried.

Spring is finally here and many of you are ready to do some planting.  In retail, you want to be helpful in making the right plant recommendations for customers.  One of the first questions that I ask back to the customer is “what is the sun exposure?”

Another part of the difficulty in picking plants suitable to your yard is that the light conditions change from season to season, and even from month to month.  You could look out your window in March and assume that the corner of your house only gets a few hours of sun a day.  Come summer, however, that spot will probably be subject to eight hours of blistering hot afternoon sun.  Our latitude means that in winter, the sun hangs in the southern sky, while in the summer it tracks much further north.

It isn’t just the sun that changes, either.  Nearby trees that are dormant early in the spring will create additional shade once they leaf out.  It’s important to try and picture what your yard will look like during all three growing seasons (spring, summer & fall) when deciding how much light your gardens actually receives.

If you look at the information tag on plants it suggests sunlight requirement.  So, how do you determine sun exposure for your garden?  Terms used on these information tags make reference to full sun, sun to part shade, part shade, part to full shade, and full shade.  Here are the general descriptions of these light requirement terms:

  • Full Sun:  an area that gets at least 6 hours and more of direct sun each day.
  • Sun to Part Shade:  refers to an area that gets 4 hours of sunlight each day.
  • Part Shade:  an area that gets 4 hours of direct sun each day and dappled light the remainder of the day.
  • Full Shade:  this area gets a maximum of 3 hours and less of direct sun each day.  Keep in mind that low-light plants are not no-light plants.  Plants will need some amount of light to survive.

My final bit of advice is to take these lighting terms seriously when choosing plants.  Don’t mistakenly assume that plants will adapt to any location.


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