Sun, partial sun/partial shade, shade, dappled sun, full shade

Posted by on April 25, 2013

Sun Gardening with Confidence loving

Sun Gardening with Confidence lovingYou’re looking at your plant tag to see if it’s a plant you can grow. It tells you your plant wants partial sun. Do you know what means? Do you have the right sun requirements to grow this plant?

There are a lot of different definitions of sun levels, and they can be just as confusing to beginning gardeners as they are to seasoned ones.

I put the sun into the following categories: Full Sun, Partial Sun / Partial Shade, Dappled Sun, Full Shade.

It’s a good idea to know your sun. I 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. Daffodils, for example, grow and flower best in full sun, yet they do well under the canopy of a deciduous tree. If you base the amount of sun in that bed during the summer, you would fail to recognize that the area under the canopy will be sunny in spring when the bulbs are blooming, and before the tree leaves out.


Although determining if a location will meet your plant’s sun requirements is not an exact science, it will give you a good idea of each garden area’s situation. When you go plant shopping, know what plants grow where, making better purchasing choices.

Below are some common standards for sun exposure.

  • Full Sun: Fun sun means 6 full hours of direct sunlight. Those six hours could be from 8 – 3 or 12 – 6; anytime during the day. These hours can also be three morning hours, plus three afternoon hours.
  • Partial Sun / Partial Shade: These two terms are often interchangeable to mean 3-6 hours of sunlight each day. While the terms are interchangeable, there is a default understanding.  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. This shade could be from a structure or the shade from an old oak tree.
  • Dappled Sun: Dappled sunlight is my favorite kind of sun, if I had to choose. Dapple sun is similar to partial shade. The plants are getting partial sun as it makes it’s way through the branches of a deciduous tree. Woodland plants and under plantings, even for many mosses, prefer dappled sunlight more so than partial shade.
  • Full Shade:  Full shade means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, best if it’s morning light. But even in the absence of  direct sunlight, full shade can be a bright light. Plus, full shade likes a filtered  sunlight the remainder of the day. Every plant needs some sun; even those that thrive in full shade.

Know your sun!

5 responses to “Sun, partial sun/partial shade, shade, dappled sun, full shade”

  1. Laurie says:

    Thank you, Helen! I have been gardening for umpteen million years, yet never looked for these definitions, specifically, and just used trial and error, with mostly success… odd that these names are so commonly used without a definition attached to the tag! I live in No. CA, where summer heat runs from 95′-115′, so even full-sun means part-shade for many plants! Your explanation gives me a ‘visual,’ and is very helpful. 🙂

  2. Nalda Flores says:

    Hello, is bright light the same as full sun?

  3. HelenYoest says:

    No, unless the light is direct, it would be considered shade, but it can still be bright light. This is a term typically used for house plants indoors.

  4. Kendra says:

    Thank you, Helen! I am a definite BEGINNER to gardening and I’m very intimidated about the whole process. My husband and I moved into a new construction home almost two years ago, and we’re just now about to do away with the crappy plants the builder installed. The last few weeks have been spent in Home Depot, Lowes, and Pike trying to decide which plants to put where according to the tags….confusing because it seems that plant tags and garden center staff aren’t even on the same page when it comes to the meaning of sun/shade requirements!

  5. HelenYoest says:

    Good luck building you new garden!

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