Sun or Shade? (Or Something in Between?)

By Paul James

When shopping for plants, one of the first and most important questions you’ll likely be asked is, "Will they be growing in sun or shade?" And most often, it’s one or the other. But that’s not always the case. And the whole sun and shade discussion can sometimes get rather confusing.

After all, there’s morning sun followed by afternoon shade (my favorite) and there’s the exact opposite. There’s the dappled light found beneath large trees, which might also be referred to as part or partial shade, and that may exist even on homes that face west or south, where you would ordinarily expect full blazing sun. Those that face north may actually get a lot of sun depending on the pitch of the roof. And of course there are situations in which the sun (or shade) is in and out throughout the day.

So let’s get one thing clear from the outset: Plants that require full sun won’t grow well in the shade. They may survive, but they won’t thrive, and they’ll forever lack the vigor that they would otherwise have. However, they may do just fine in dappled light, or a spot that gets some sun throughout the day. Plants that require full shade will croak in the sun. Period.

Thankfully, there are plants that will adapt to all situations. The palette of possibilities might be limited, and you may not be able to plant what you want, but a solution exists. What you need to do is actually observe how much light an area is getting throughout the day. Then and only then will you be able to figure out what plants you can and can’t have in your situation.

Finally, I should explain why I’m so fond of morning sun followed by afternoon shade. You see those are the conditions that allow me to grow my favorite plants, including Japanese maples and Japanese forest grass, Hydrangeas, Viburnums, Yews, ferns of all kinds, Hosta, Heuchera, and so many more shady characters.