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Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade and Full Shade Defined for the Container Gardener

Plants need sun.  Even plants that are said to be “shade loving” usually will not survive without sun.   That is why you must know the lighting conditions in your container garden before you choose where to permanently  place your containers and consequently the type of plants that you will grow in these containers. Determining lighting conditions is integral to your container garden’s success.

Let’s define these terms first since so that we are all on the same page.  This will prove invaluable when choosing plants and seeds at nurseries and garden centers.

Full Sun – Plants in this category require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.  These plants must be placed in an unobstructed place in order to get the minimum required sun for them to thrive.  If you have a bright and sunny balcony, typically south, west or east facing, you may be able to enjoy a wide range of full sun plants in your container garden.

Partial Sun – Plants in this category require at least 3 – 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.  Partial Shade is another way to describe some of these plants but if you see Partial Sun rather than Partial Shade the emphasis is on sun part.  This means that meeting the minimum sun requirements will be extremely important for these particular plants.   Balconies facing east, west and bright north facing balconies may be able to accommodate plants in this category.

Partial Shade – Plants in this category require at least 3 – 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.  Partial Sun is another way to describe some of these plants, but if you see Partial Shade rather than Partial Sun the emphasis is on the shade part.  Some protection from the overbearing midday sun may be necessary.  Balconies facing east, west and bright north facing balconies may be able to accommodate plants in this category.

Deep Shade – Plants in this category require less than 3 hours of direct sunlight every day.  This does not mean that these plants require no sun, but will be okay with filtered sun over the course of the day.  North and dark east facing balconies are were these plants will usually do well.

To make things more complicated several plants will actually thrive in more than one type of lighting condition.  I often see “Full sun – Part Shade,” indicated the plant will thrive in either of these conditions.

So how do we determine the lighting conditions for our container gardens?  Even taking into consideration the geographical orientation of your balcony is not a sure fire way to determine the lighting conditions of your container garden. A nearby building, tree, or your very own privacy screen may alter these conditions in your container garden.  I have found three options to help get this crucial step right.

1) Monitor your balcony when you will be home for the duration of the day.  Start early in the morning and jot down every hour whether your balcony is sunny or shady.  At the end of the day add up the amount of hours that your balcony was sunny.  This will help you determining which plants may be suitable for your container garden.  The only thing is that different parts of your balcony may have different lighting conditions.  You may need to observe very particular places on your balcony in order to get this exactly right.


2) Sun Calc sunlight measuring device for gardens.  This is a great little tool.  You place this directly in your container filled with soil in the exact place that you want to position it.  After 24 hours it will indicate whether the container is in Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade or Full Shade conditions.  You can not use this before your last frost.  It may take some time to get full readings of you garden but this product has enjoyed positive reviews from other gardeners. Visit the following link for more infomation about the  Suncalc Sunlight Calculator

3) Easy Bloom Plant Sensor helps you determine your lighting conditions the same way as the Sun Calc but after it collects the 24 hours of data you plug it into you PC via USB adapter and it not only indicate whether the area is Full Sun, Partial Shade or Full Shade but will suggest plants that will thrive in that container.  No restrictions in using in colder weather. Visit the following link for more information on the  EasyBloom Plant Sensor.

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7 comments to Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade and Full Shade Defined for the Container Gardener

  • [...] in Small Spaces talks about the importance of understanding full-sun, part-shade, and full-shade for container gardeners. March 22, 2009 | Filed Under [...]

  • [...] in Small Spaces talks about the importance of understanding full-sun, part-shade, and full-shade for container gardeners. [...]

  • I am glad you found the information useful and thanks for sharing it. Happy Container Gardening!

  • I am happy that you liked the information in this post. Happy Container Gardening!

  • Dustie Urquhart

    Thank you! I have already existing containers, and I am really excited about trying to do something in them this year. This was so helpful. I will use your suggestion of monitoring the containers hourly. I am very new at gardening, but would love to learn. My mother never had plants around the house before they died a few weeks later. So, I have no experience or knowledge. I appreciate these forums and articles. They are very helpful to me. Please keep it up! They are essential for people like me!

  • You are very welcome Dustie. Gardening can be overwhelming for the beginner. It is still overwhelming for me at times after several years of doing this. I like your mother have killed many plants in the past. I sought out many forums, articles and books to help me too. I am so happy to be able to share the things I have learned along the way. Good luck with getting your containers started. I hope that my posts continuer to help you. Happy Container Gardening!

  • lynda

    hi live in melbourne,victoria australia. am looking for a small tree.i have a north facing backyard and is in full sun from september to march and march to sept full shade due to a 3 metre brick garage at the end of the garden.i have gazed at this brick garage for ten years decorated by a hills hoist clothes line .i opted to pull the clothe s line out and installed a water feature which sits ametre in front of brick wall which painted a grapish purple.my quandry is picking a suitable tree preferably deciduous which wiil shade the water feature and the hot backyard in the hot months and will also tolerate shade in cooler months.my garden is cottge like camellias ,roses and welcome your advice in picking a suitable tree.
    eagerly await your reply.lynda

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