How Much Sun Exposure Does Your Garden Get? And How to Measure It

How Much Sun Exposure Does Your Garden Get

Last Updated on October 31, 2021 by Phil

Every gardener knows that sun exposure is essential for any plant to grow. But, the big question is, how much sun exposure does your garden really get?

One common misconception is that because your garden is in the open, all the plants, grass, trees and flowers should receive ample amount of sunlight. That sounds logical, right?

Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple.

Because the sun moves as the day passes, different areas of your garden receive varying amounts of sunlight. And, your home, trees and other structures also provide shade to different parts of your lawn of garden.

So, to help your plants get optimal sun exposure, we take a look at the different factors that affect it. And, more importantly, how you can plan your garden, so all your plants and flowers get the sunlight they need to grow.

How Much Sun Exposure Does Your Garden Get?

garden sunlightHow much sunlight your garden receives primarily depends on the location of the sun at any given point of the day. It is also affected by how much shade there is around your garden.

If you have a lot of trees or tall structures, they may cast a shadow on different areas of your garden as the sun moves.

But, before we get to how much sunlight your grass, plants and trees get during different times of the day, it’s important to consider where you live.

Where You Live Determines How Much Sun Your Garden Gets

Where your garden is located plays a very important role in how much run it will get. This not only determines the amount of sun on a daily basis, but also throughout the year.

States with warm climates like Florida, California and Arizona experience ample amounts of sunlight all year round. The same can’t be said for states in the northeast where it snows during the winter months.

So, depending on where you live, it will affect the amount of sun exposure your plants end up getting.

It’s also important to note that some areas can get extremely warm. Certain parts of Nevada and Arizona and California experience very high temperatures during the summer.

Extreme temperatures can be harmful to plants. So, it’s important to choose the right types of plants for where you live. Certain plants are more tolerant to warm weather. Meanwhile, other plants thrive even if they don’t receive a lot of light.

To help you determine how much sunlight and what kinds of temperature your location receives, here’s a very useful hardiness zone map from the USDA.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map 1

How Much Daily Sun Exposure Does Your Garden Receive?

Now that we know how much sun your locale typically receives, it’s time to figure out how much sunlight your garden actually gets.

We mentioned earlier that different sections of your garden will typically receive varying amounts of sun exposure. So, it’s important to understand which areas are the sunniest and which experience the most shade.

Different Types of Gardening Sun Exposure for Plants

Before we get into the measuring the amount of sunlight different areas of your garden receive, lets go through some terms to help you define sun exposure.

Plants need sunlight to grow. How much sun exposure it gets depends on a few factors.

  • Amount of sunlight it gets
  • How long it experiences sunlight per day
  • The intensity of the sunlight

plants sunlightTo figure out these factors, we break down sun exposure to four different categories.

  • Full Sun: This refers to the area of the garden or plants that receive complete exposure to sunlight. For this area, you want to grow full sun plants. These are plants that need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight every day.
  • Partial Sun: These sections receive sunlight on and off during the day as the sun moves. In general, they experience between 3 to 6 hours of sunlight each day. Partial sun plants are well-suited for these areas because they require between 3 to 6 hours of sun exposure daily.
  • Partial shade: These areas are similar to part sun sections. But they lean more towards less sunlight. Ideally, they don’t experience intense sunlight. Plants that are labeled part shade are sensitive to too much sun. So, getting between 3 to 6 hours of light to moderate intensity sun exposure is better for them.
  • Full shade: These areas are shaded for majority of the day. They may have trees covering them or partial shade from a roof top of something else. Plants that are labeled full shade only need less than 3 hours of sunlight daily. This makes them a good choice for indoor gardens as well as cities that don’t get a lot of sunlight.

What is Dappled Sun?

Occasionally, you’ll also hear the term dappled sun. What this means is that sunlight in this section of your garden isn’t completely direct. That is, there’s some sort of shade or shadow that limits full, direct sun exposure.

Areas that received dappled sun are those under trees, branches, fences, sheds, pergolas, where they’re partially shaded from sunlight.

How to Measure the Amount of Sun Exposure in Each Section of Your Garden

How Much Sun Exposure Does Your Garden GetSo how do you measure your garden’s sun exposure?

Because your specific location plays such a huge role in the amount of sunlight your garden receives, the best way to do this is manually. That is, to record the amount of sunlight different sections of your garden receive at different times of the day.

The reason for taking such a tedious method is that gardens in the same part of the city can experience different amounts of sunlight. Similarly, even lawns in the same street can receive varying amounts of sun exposure as well.

A lot depends on the design of your garden, what direction it faces relative to your home, how many trees or shade structures surround it and a few other factors.

Here’s how to do it.

  • Step 1: get a sheet of paper and make a sheet similar to the rows and columns of a spreadsheet.
  • Step 2. On the top row, list the hours of the day from the time you get up till dark. Ideally, it starts are early as possible since the sun comes out at dawn. Use an interval of one hour. So, your top row will look something like 4 am, 5 am, 6 am, 7 am all the way to 6pm or 8pm depending on where you live.
  • Step 3: Divide your garden into sections. The sections of your garden will make up the first column of your worksheet. This takes trial and error but an easy way to do this is to make square blocks of your garden. Depending on the size of your garden, you can use anywhere from 4 to 12 or more sections. The goal is to break up the entire garden into sections to note down how much sunlight each area receives at different times of the day.
  • Step 4: Now, it’s time to record how much sunlight each section of the garden receives at different times of the day. You can use the terms we defined above. So, at the end of the day, your chart will be filled with full sun, part sun, part shade or full shade on each of the boxes.
  • Step 5: Analyze your results. Once you’re done, you’ll know which section receives what kind of sunlight at any given time of the day. For example, at 3 pm, the bottom left corner of your garden has full shade, while the top center area received full sun. Additionally, you’ll also know how many hours of sunlight each section receives.

Depending on the sun exposure a section receives, you’ll be able to choose the ideal kinds of plants to grow there. Areas that get more than 6 hours of sunlight are ideal for full sun plants. Meanwhile, part shade plants are best grown in partially shaded areas that don’t experience intense sun.

Don’t Forget to Measure Sun Exposure For Different Times of the Year

It’s a good idea to do this exercise for different seasons of the year. The amount of sun differs during the summer, spring, winter and fall. So, making a separate chart for each helps you understand your garden better.

This allows you to map your garden for different seasons so that plants don’t experience too much or too little sun when the seasons change.


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