Full Sun and Partial Shade Plants

garden full sun

Dig a hole in the soil, place a plant in it, add water and voila! a healthy vegetable or flower will grow.

It’s not quite that simple.

The plant has to be in a location that provides it with just the right amount of sunlight, and the required light need is different for each plant.

Some plants, like the tomato, thrive when the summer sun shines down on it for six or more hours a day.

However, if you planted a hosta or impatiens in the same sunny location, they would whither and die.

The right plant, in the right location, will do well, and understanding the differences between full sun and partial shade can mean the differences between success and failure in the garden.

Full Sun

full sun gardening

This is a location that is in direct sunlight from morning until night. The location is never in the shade and is typically the spot in your landscape where a vegetable garden will thrive.

Garden plants, like corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and melons must be planted in full sun to produce an abundant harvest.

Rose bushes will produce their biggest and most fragrant blooms when planted in full sun and any plant, bush or tree that is labeled as drought-tolerant needs to be planted in full sun.

Note that a plant that prefers full sun has roots that hate the hot soil produced by all that direct sunlight.

Sun-loving plants need a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil to keep their roots cool while their head is exposed to direct sunlight.

Partial Shade

Also referred to as partial sun, this is an area in the landscape that is in the direct sun part of the day and shaded the other part.

For example, an outdoor location on the east side of a structure will receive direct morning sun and be shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

Many plants appreciate a little shade each day, especially when it gets them out of the direct afternoon sunshine in summer.

Many vegetable plants, like squash, cucumber and flowering plants like lilies grow best when planted in a location that will give them shade in the afternoon.

Dappled Sun

dappled sunlight gardening

Another degree of sunlight which some plants thrive in is called dappled sun.

The areas under trees receives dappled sunlight throughout the day as the sun shines through the leaves of the trees and onto the ground.

Places that receive dappled sun typically have moist soil too and make perfect environments for planting understory plants such as dogwood trees and caladiums.

An understory plant or tree is one that grows best when planted under a taller plant or tree.

The taller one provides protection from the sun and wind to the shorter one.

Hydrangeas, coral bells, begonias, bleeding heart, and anemones grow best in dappled sunlight and make perfect companion plants.

Start with a tall shade tree, plant a dogwood tree under it, then a hydrangea and tuck in all the shorter flowering plants around the shaded perimeter to create a colorful and texture-filled garden.

Full Shade

This is an outdoor area that never receives sunlight, such as under a set of stairs, in densely wooded areas, or on the north side of a house.

While most plants must have a little sunlight each day to survive, there are a few that do their best in full shade.

Hellebores, also called a Christmas rose or Lenten rose is an evergreen perennial that will grow and bloom only in heavy shade.

Lady fern, astilbe and caladium grow well in heavy shade, if the soil is kept moist.

Bellflower is the opposite – it will grow and produce blue or purple bell-shaped flowers when grown in full shade if the soil is very dry.

Ginger, which is used in recipes and to make tea, is a pretty plant that grows best in full shade.


Most landscapes, and even some gardens, are combinations of full sun, partial shade and dappled sun.

Planting each plant in the spot where it will grow its best requires a little observation.

Prior to planting, observe the location at different times during the day.

This will give you an idea of how many hours a day an area receives direct sunlight and how many hours a day is an area shaded.

That information will help you select plants best suited to the growing environment your landscape offers and enable you to grow a wide variety of plants in your landscape and garden.

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