Sunlight is an important part of every vegetable garden. Understanding why you should be planting in full sun is an important part of gardening. Let’s talk about why sunlight is so important for growing a backyard garden.
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Should I plant my garden in full sun?
The short answer to this question is yes! Planting in full sun will make your garden more productive. The more sun your garden has the happier it will be. Most vegetable plants love sunlight so you should be planting in full sun. There are a few vegetables that will tolerate some shade, but most really need full sun to reach their full growth and production potential.
Full sun is considered 6 hours or more of sunlight per day. For a vegetable garden I consider this the bare minimum. If you can find a location in your yard that gets 8 to 10 hours of sunlight (or even more) that would be ideal.
Plant sunlight requirements
Let’s start out by talking a little about the different sunlight measurements and how to figure out how much sun your garden gets.
Most plants will come with a tag or description on the seed package telling you what type of sun they need. You will usually see plant sunlight requirements listed using one of 4 different descriptions.
- Full Sun – This means 6 or more (and preferably more) hours of sunlight a day.
- Part Sun – This means 4 to 6 hours per day including some afternoon sunshine
- Part Shade – This is very similar to part sun with 4 to 6 hours per day, the difference with part shade is that most of the sunlight should be received during the morning when the sun is less intense.
- Full Shade – This means less than 4 hours of sun per day, but it doesn’t mean dark! These areas will still receive some dappled sunshine every day.
So how do we apply these sunlight descriptions to vegetable gardening? It’s simple, most vegetable plants prefer full sun. As a rule, vegetable and fruit plants need 6 hours of sunlight a day to really do well. Later in the article, we’ll talk about a few plants that will do okay with less than 6, but if you really want a productive garden you should get at least 6 hours of sunlight.
How to measure full sun
There are a few fancy devices out there that will measure the amount of sun your garden gets, but most are expensive and not really all that reliable.
The easiest way to measure the amount of sun your garden gets is to do it yourself by simply watching during the day.
Check your garden area (or the one you are planning) every 30 minutes on a normal sunny day and keep a record of what the sun is like. This will quickly give you a pretty good idea of how much sun that spot is receiving.
It is best to measure the full sun during the months of May to July. By then all the deciduous trees are leafed out and the sun is at its highest angle. This is also the time most people in the northern hemisphere are growing gardens. If you live in the southern hemisphere you should measure full sun from November to January. Knowing how long your days are during the year can also help. This site has a great daylength calculator.
What plants grow best in full sun?
Many of the traditional vegetables that we grow in a backyard garden prefer to grow in full sun.
A good rule of thumb is if it is grown for a root or a fruit, then it needs full sun. This is especially true of fruit-bearing plants, they need lots of sunshine. Root crops can produce at the lower end of the “full sun” spectrum, but fruit-bearing plants need as much as possible.
Most of the traditional summer vegetables and fruits require full sun to grow their best, this list includes:
Full sun vegetables and fruits
- Egg Plant
- Squash (winter and summer)
- Brussels Sprouts
- All Fruit Trees
Vegetables that can grow with less than full sun
Every vegetable would prefer full sun, but there are some vegetables that can grow in part sun or part shade. All of these would be considered leafy greens and they include:
- Bok Choy
- New Zealand Spinach
- Malabar Spinach
Vegetables that can handle a little less “full sun”
There are also some of the full sun-loving vegetables that can handle less sun than others. So although they still prefer full sun they can be planted in areas on the lower end of the spectrum (closer to 6 hours).
- Brussels Sprouts
Can full sun plants get too much sun?
For most gardens the answer to this question is no. If you live in the middle or northern latitudes you really should be okay with any amount of full sun. In fact I feel like the more sun the better.
But there are some areas where you can feel like your garden is getting too much sun. However, it really isn’t that you are getting too much sun, it is just the heat and intensity of the sun that causes issues. In many parts of the world, those LONG summer days also come with extremely high temperatures. And afternoon sun along with lots of heat can wreak havoc on your plants.
At those hot times of the year I would recommend extra water from a drip system, and using mulches will also help your plants survive. Using shade cloth can also be an effective strategy for dealing with this intense heat.
Plants that like morning sun and afternoon shade
If you live somewhere that has long, hot, and intense afternoon sun there are some plants that will do better if they receive afternoon shade. You will want to be sure they receive plenty of sun (at least 6 hours) earlier in the day, but avoid that intense afternoon sun. These plants include:
In fact, when choosing a spot for a vegetable garden I feel like a little afternoon shade is fine and maybe even beneficial to many plants. That late afternoon sun can get hot! So If you have a little shade as the day ends (Starting around 4 to 6 pm in the summer) you will be great. Just be sure your garden spot receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sun earlier in the day.
Southern exposure is best
If you live in the northern hemisphere then a southern exposure is always the best. Planting a garden in an area with sun-blocking obstacles to the south of the garden will cause you problems. Try to avoid areas that have trees, houses, and sheds to the south.
Gardens with southern obstacles may have enough sun in the 6 weeks before and after the summer soulstice, when the sun is high in the sky and shadows are short. But outside of that time frame those southern obstacles will cast long shadows that will limit the sun your garden receives at the prime time of the day.
Planting in Full Sun
Choosing a spot for your vegetable garden takes some thought and planning. I recommend that you use the information you learned in this guide to choose a spot for your garden that allows you to plant in full sun. Planting in full sun will benefit all the plants in your garden and will help you grow stronger, more productive plants all year long.