How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden – Get Busy Gardening

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One of the challenges new gardeners face is how to determine how much sunlight an area gets. The best way to figure it out is to measure hours of sunlight in your garden, and create a garden sun chart. Don’t worry, it’s easy. In this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to determine the sun exposure in your garden.


How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden - Get Busy Gardening

People ask me for plant recommendations all the time, it’s probably the most common questions I get from gardeners.

It seems like an easy question to answer, right? But there are tons of factors involved, and garden sun exposure is an important one.

So, my answer always starts with “that depends”, which is shortly followed by “how much sun does your garden get?”.

That question is usually followed by lots of other questions… How is the amount of sunlight measured? How many hours of sunlight is considered full sun? What does partial shade mean?

I know it can be frustrating, but I have great news for you! It’s super easy to measure sunlight exposure in your garden, and create you very own, custom garden sun chart, so let’s start with that first.

How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden

If you haven’t figured out how many hours of sunlight your garden gets yet, or you haven’t done it in a while, it’s a good exercise.

You might be surprised to realize that your “full sun garden” is really a partial shade garden… or that your “shade garden” gets more sun than you thought (aha! no wonder those shade plants are burning!).

To measure hours of sunlight in your garden, start early in the morning right after the sun rises. Take note of the garden sunlight exposure at that time. Then make a note of whether it’s in full sun, partial shade, filtered/dappled sun, or full shade.

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Then every hour, check the garden area again and write down the garden sun exposure. Keep measuring garden sunlight in each area every hour until sunset.

How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden - Get Busy Gardening

DIY chart to measure sunlight in your garden

If it’s a large garden area, you might want to map sunlight exposure in the different sections of the garden as they come into the sun, or move into shade.

You could even take this onto a larger scale to determine the sun exposure of your entire backyard, front yard or the whole property, and track everything in one chart.

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If you don’t want to take the time to map the sunlight in your garden, then there are a few tools you could try instead. An inexpensive garden light meter is a nice little tool to have (also measures soil moisture and ph levels tool!).

Otherwise, you could use a time lapse camera as a sunlight meter and set it to take a photo of your garden every hour to make it super easy for you!

Buy Plants According To Your Garden Sun Exposure

Once you know how much sunlight an area gets, and at which hours during the day, it makes it super easy to buy plants for your garden!

All you have to do is read the plant tag on every plant before you buy it. The tag should tell you the plant sun exposure requirements, for example shade, partial shade, full sun, partial sun…

How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden - Get Busy Gardening

Plant labels show plant sun exposure requirements

Sounds easy but… what does full sun mean? What is partial shade -vs- full shade? How many hours a day is full sun? Don’t panic, I’ve got you covered! Here’s a breakdown of plant sun exposure requirements to make it super simple for you…

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Plant Sun Exposure Requirements Defined

How many hours a day is full sun? A full sun garden is an area that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. Full sun plants are easy to shop for, so lucky you!

How many hours of sun for partial sun? Partial sun and partial shade are similar, and generally mean a garden that gets 3 to 6 hours of sunlight. A partial sun garden means the area gets closer to 6 hours of sunlight.

Many full sun plants, and even some partial shade plants can also grow just fine in a partial sun garden.

How many hours of sunlight is partial shade? In contrast to partial sun, a partial shade garden is an area that gets closer to 3 hours of sun, and is also protected from the intense afternoon sun.

Some part sun perennials grow fine in a partial shade garden, and some shade plants grow well in partial shade too.

However, if you notice your shade plants burning in the summer, then that means they’re getting too much sun and should be moved to your shade garden.

How many hours of sun is shade/ full shade? A shade garden is an area that receives less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with the bulk of the sun exposure occurring during either early morning, late afternoon, or dappled sunlight (filtered) throughout the day.

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Full shade is an area that doesn’t get any direct sun exposure, but may receive bright, indirect light. Full shade plants are very picky, and will burn in the sun.

What is dappled sun? Another plant sun exposure term you may see is “Dappled Sun”, this means the garden sunlight is filtered through trees or bush branches, fences slats, pergolas… etc.

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So a dappled sun garden isn’t totally shaded, but gets filtered sunlight. Many partial shade and shade plants grow very well in a garden that gets dappled sunlight.

Measure Garden Sun Exposure Throughout The Year

Remember that the sun changes position in the sky throughout the year, so an area that is mostly shade in spring and fall may get more intense sunlight in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky (and hotter).

This means your sensitive shade plants could start burning in the sun in July and August. You don’t want that, so it’s super important to map the sun in your garden a few times throughout the year.

How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden - Get Busy Gardening

Partial sun garden area

Also think about how a garden area might be affected once trees get their leaves in the spring. A full sun garden in the spring and fall could become pretty shady during the summer once the trees are full of leaves.

So it’s a good idea to measure garden sunlight during the peak summer months, as well is in the spring and the fall. That way you can see how the sun changes in your garden throughout the growing season.

How To Determine Sun Exposure In Your Garden - Get Busy Gardening

Full sun garden areas

Once you know how to measure hours of sunlight in your garden, it’s easy to choose the right plants! Just be sure to map your garden sun exposure a few times throughout the year, and then again every few years as the landscape changes.

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Share your tips for how to measure sun exposure in your garden in the comments section below.