McKay Nursery Company

Energize your Garden with our Fundamentals on Sunlight

3/10/2017 12:47 PM

Written by

McKay Staff

in Gardening 101


I'm sure you've been in this situation before... You found a plant that you love, brought it home and planted it but it doesn't survive. What happened? Where did you go wrong? More than likely it's because you planted in the wrong spot without the proper sunlight. This easy guide will give you more confidence on understanding sunlight and its requirements. 


We place the sun in these different categories:  

  • Full Sun
  • Partial Sun/Shade
  • Dappled Sun
  • Full Shade


Full Sun (about 6 hours of direct sunlight) 


Open to the sun for the greater part of the day totalling around 6 full hours of direct sunlight.

  • Those six hours could be from 8am–3pm or 12am–6pm; anytime during the day. These hours can also be three morning hours, plus three afternoon hours).
  • Fully sunny sites are not subject to shade cast by trees or buildings.
  • Sun warmth ripen woody growth, encouraging flowering and fruiting. Many plants that do well in full sun will also tolerate a degree of shade, such as that found near buildings and on the edge of a woodland. 



Partial Sun/Shade (3-6 hours of sunlight each day)


These two terms are often interchangeable to mean 3-6 hours of sunlight each day.

  • Partial shade typically refers to morning and early afternoon sun, while a plant listed as partial sun, relief from the intense late afternoon sun is needed.
  • Sites in partial shade are subject to reduce light. They are found near buildings that block direct sunlight, but do not hide the sky above.
  • Numerous foliage perennials, and those found naturally in woodland sites thrive best here. 



Dappled Sun


Dappled sunlight is by far our favorite kind of sun, if we HAD to choose. Dapple sun is similar to partial shade. Dappled light is produced when sunlight is flitered through the leaves of trees. Woodland plants and under plantings, even for many mosses, prefer dappled sunlight more so than partial shade. 



Full Shade (less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day)


This category defines sites subject to permanent shade or shade during the main growing season (summer).

  • Such sites may be closely surrounded by tall buildings or, more usually, beneath or around dense canopied trees. 
  • Full shade means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, best if it’s morning light. 
  • Full shade likes a filtered sunlight the remainder of the day.
  • Every plant needs some sun; even those that thrive in full shade.




**We recommend monitoring your garden beds every hour, from 9-5 to keep from guessing how much sun or shade your garden receives. It’s also best to do this during times specific plants are growing.


What kind of mistakes have you made regarding sunlight? What's been your biggest lesson when it comes to understanding sunlight requirements? 



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