How Do You Define Full Sun vs. Part Sun? And Where Does Morning Sun Fit In?

We’ve pointed out the benefits of reading the tags on the plants and shrubs you’re considering. All of that verbiage contains a multitude of information that is key to getting that plant off to a healthy start. But what if you struggle with some of the terms the tags contain? How do you correctly interpret an image of the sun shaded out on one side? How do clouds factor in on an otherwise sunny day? And just how many hours of sunlight are required for a Morning Sun-loving plant? Let’s discuss sun requirements and define some of these terms.

Very rarely does a garden host just one type of sunlight consistently. The movement of the sun throughout the day, tall trees or buildings that cast shadows, the position of your home in relationship to the rising and setting of the sun…you get the picture. And because of that, you probably already know that you are faced with different conditions and considerate choices when it comes to positioning plants and shrubs throughout the landscape of your home.

Full Sun = At Least 6 Hours

If a portion of your yard receives sunlight all day long, sunrise to sunset, you are lucky! The designation of “Full Sun” on plant tags – and there are a lot of them – is for you. But even if you are not so lucky, as long as a portion of your landscape receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day, you are able to shop for plants and shrubs with the Full Sun insignia. The sunlight should be direct, no shade, and keep in mind that afternoon sun is stronger than morning sun. Examples of sun lovers are salvia, lavender, butterfly bush, daisy and coneflower.

Part Sun/Part Shade = 3-6 Hours of Sun

Plants with the instruction of Part Sun or Part Shade require less direct sunlight, and should thrive in less, down to 3 hours of sunlight per day. Either at the end of the day, or in the morning, these plants need direct sunlight, but are fine when the sun shifts and they receive filtered sun through the shade of a leafy tree, or if they are on the side of a fence that blocks the sun. Figure on a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight. Examples are columbine, hosta, hydrangea, catmint, azalea and lady’s mantle.

Full Shade = Less Than 3 Hours of Sun

Shade plants are often considered problem solvers. They will grow and thrive in areas of your landscape that receive less than 3 hours of direct sunshine. Such areas might be on the north side of your home or fence, or beneath a heavily leafed shade tree. Examples are deadnettle, hellebore, astilbe, lungwort and bleeding heart. Plants and shrubs are not shy; they will let you know if you’ve chosen the wrong spot to plant! Once established, if plants appear “leggy” rather than thick and lush; if flowers do not appear full and colorful; if the plant does not grow year to year, it is telling you it needs a new home. Don’t be afraid to dig it up and choose a location more in keeping with the needs of sunlight specified for that plant.