Gardening Tips and Highlights

Coping with changing light in the garden

by Christine Yesko


A key mantra of garden design is “right plant, right place.” This holds true to a point. How many of us begin gardening in full sun only to several years later find ourselves enjoying a shady afternoon while our sun-loving plants are straining for light? Sunlight shifts throughout the year, as well as over longer periods of time.

A spring garden reveling in full sun tells an entirely different story when trees leaf out. If you look closely you’ll notice zones of part shade and areas of partial sun. Studying the degrees of sunlight reaching different areas of the garden at different times of day and year is a start.

On a clear spring day, beginning early in the morning, step outside and jot down the time and the amount of sun reaching the planting areas. Maybe even make a chart with the time in one column and the amount of sunlight in another. If there are trees or other structures casting shade, indicate partial sun. If the area is completely shady, indicate full shade. If the area is entirely lit, it is in full sun.

Repeat this process every hour until sunset. Doing this, you’ll get a sense of transitional zones. Knowing what plants grow best in these zones will help you achieve a garden with year-round interest. Succession planting in areas that change from winter sun to summer shade ties the seasons together.

Evergreens fill in gaps in the dead of winter, but by late February to early March, ample sun and modest warmth invite tender greenery to emerge. This is where spring bulbs shine. They peek out before shrubs and trees leaf out and don’t require much in order to bloom. Finding plants that grow in dry shade beneath trees is a challenge. Wood Asters, Christmas Fern, and Hostas are great to plant in these part-shade areas.

Repetition is key in tying garden zones together to create a cohesive palate. Tie it all together with a stone path or a strategically placed bench or a trellis. Garden structures help create natural transitions between shade and sun. Taking note of the shifting light, throughout the seasons and over time, can open our eyes to a host of gardening possibilities.

This topic was obtained from Horticulture.