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

Posted by on April 25, 2013

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!

21 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!

  6. Mathi says:

    Hi Helen, My patio gets lot of light from sun. Nice and bright not hidden by any trees. But the sun rays never fall in my patio. Is my patio considered shady or sunny?

  7. HelenYoest says:

    I would call it part-sun.

  8. […] part sun, part shade, dappled shade, full shade, afternoon sun, morning sun, winter sun, more sun. Know your sun. If the plant tag says full sun (6 hours or more a day), then that means it needs full sun. […]

  9. Cathy says:

    I’m struggling to find the best spots for my hydrangeas. I’m on the west coast (Vancouver Bc). I have a light O’ day that for the first time has blooms but the leaves are fairly sparse this year. It now gets early morning sun. I’ve read somewhere that it needs full sun but I would only have afternoon full sun. Is that too much? And then I have a limelight, a little lime and an Annabel. What do they need?

  10. HelenYoest says:

    Hi Cathy! The first part of the questions about locating your hydrangeas, what kind are that, Mopheads. In the south where I am, they benefit from moist morning to afternoon sun. Our hot afternoon sun seems to be painful to them. They weep until the morning. I’m assuming where you are, afternoon sun wouldn’t be some much of a problem. I’d put the mopheads in your afternoon sun, as well as the Limelight and Annabel. These types of hydrangeas perform best in full sun.

  11. Swati says:

    Thank you so much Helen. It solved most of my issues. I am looking for a spiral trees that can grow in my north facing entrance. So full shade. Can you make any recommendations? I was looking for boxwood or emerald green Arbor vitae.

  12. HelenYoest says:

    You best bet will be the boxwood.

  13. Sara Nixon says:

    Thank you so much for the definition of sun/ partial sun etc. I’m a Brit living in Staffordshire between Manchester and Birmingham. So our weather is really mixed and confusing. Thank you again.

  14. Mavis says:

    I get full sun behind my conservatory from about 2.30 pm midsummer but not winter. Do I count this as full sun when planting?

  15. HelenYoest says:

    It depends on what you are planting. If planting plants that are dormant in the winter, it doesn’t matter. Sun-loving bulbs will be out of the question. If planting late spring, summer, and early fall plants, by all means YOU can count it as full sun. Why YOU? because your mid-summer is much longer than mine in NC. Although, I would call this full sun too. Full suns just means six or more hours of sun a day.

  16. […] and light are different things,” explains Johnson. Some plants need direct sun (that is sitting in an east, west or south facing window so they can be exposed to the sun), […]

  17. Jim says:

    I live in northwest,Fl. Do the vegetable plants get the same effect from 10 hr partial sun with 80 degree temperatures as it would from direct sun light?

  18. HelenYoest says:

    That should be enough. 10 hours is a good amount, so probably yes.

  19. m. zimmermann says:

    So glad I have a copy of Gardening With Confidence. Wanted to get it for young friends who ask questions as they start exploring, but I see it is sold out. Well done!
    You were a grand addition to the DHS this year. Keep digging!

  20. HelenYoest says:

    Thank you!!!

  21. HelenYoest says:

    I love caladiums too! I order from They are great t work with. What are you soaking your caladiums in?

    I guest that would make me the Polish sirens haha

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