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Just Grow It

Beginning gardener series : Full Sun to Shade

Beginning gardener series : Full Sun to Shade

Full Sun to Shade


If you are new to gardening, some terms can seem confusing.  You go to the store to buy a plant, or you are researching online, and you see, “this plant needs full sun, shade, partial shade, partial sun.”  This can be intimidating.  

So let's discuss the differences and list a few vegetables that grow in each setting.  Understanding these terms can help you skip a common problem encountered by most beginning gardeners; planting a sun-loving plant in the shade or a shade-loving plant in the sun. The amount of light available to the plant directly relates to the plant's ability to produce food through photosynthesis, which in turn impacts its health and vigor.  

Full sun 

Full sun is described as 6 or more hours of direct sunshine. There is a catch, all of this sunshine does not have to be received in a continuous setting. For example, a plant could receive 2 hours of morning sunshine, from 8-10am followed by shade from 10am- 1pm and then direct sun from 1pm until sunset at 7pm. Even though the 6+ hours of sun is interrupted by a shaded period, the plant still received more than 6 hours of direct sun.  

With plants that love full sun, it is impossible for them to obtain too much sun exposure.  Honestly, the more, the better, some of these vegetables like tomatoes, want more than 8 hours of direct exposure.

Plants that thrive in full sun

  • Tomatoes 

  • Peppers

  • Eggplants 

  • Cucumbers

  • Squash 

  • Peas 

  • Beans 

  • Corn 

  • Daisies 

  • Dahlias 

  • Cosmos 

Partial Sun 

Depending on who you ask partial sun and partial shade are interchangeable.  For the sake of this post, I will differentiate between the two. 

Partial sun is described as an area that receives 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Just like with full sun, this does not have to be continuous.

Plants that thrive in partial sun

  • Carrots 

  • Beets 

  • Potatoes 

  • Radish 

  • Peas 

  • Parsnips 

  • Broccoli 

  • Asparagus 

  • Brussel Sprouts 

  • Cabbage 

  • Cauliflower 

  • Rhubarb 

  • Bok Choy

  • Garlic 

  • Celery 

  • Chinese Cabbage 

  • Kale 

  • Horseradish 

  • Kohlrabi 

Partial Shade 

Partial shade is an area that receives between 2-4 hours of direct sunlight a day.  They also receive filtered light through the day. So imagine plants growing on a forest floor underneath the canopy of the trees.  These plants receive light, yes, but it is being blocked and filtered by the leaves and branches of the trees. These shaded areas create their own microclimate.

Plants that thrive in partial shade

  • Lettuce 

  • Kale 

  • Arugula 

  • Mustards 

  • Collards 

  • Spinach 

  • Swiss Chard 

  • Mizuna 

  • Leeks 

  • Bok Choy 

Shade

The shade is an area that receives less than 2 hours of direct sunlight a day.  I do not recommend any vegetables for the completely shaded area, but there are still plants that thrive in these conditions.  Plants that prefer these conditions usually have thin, broad leaves; the broadness of the leaves a greater surface area to absorb whatever sunlight makes it through.  These plants are typically damaged by receiving too much sun exposure. Due to the characteristics, some ground covers fall into this category.  

Do not let the fact that these plants prefer shade fool you, they are still able to produce stunning colors throughout the seasons. You will notice that there are no vegetables on this list.  That is because vegetables will not thrive in these conditions 

Plants that thrive in the shade 

  • Wild Ginger 

  • Dogwood 

  • American Holly 

  • Plumbago 

  • Lenten Rose 

  • Dead Nettle 

  • Coral Bells 

  • Astilbe

  • Foxglove 

  • Hydrangea 

  • Persian Shield 

  • Hosta


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