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Finding the Sun & Shade in Your Yard

Posted on July 31, 2018 in Garden, Garden Tips, Spring Gardening

Written by West Coast Gardens

Deciphering Your Sunlight

Your yard can seem like a mystery, with you as the detective, when you’re figuring out what plant should go where. Especially when you’re at the nursery checking all the plant info picks, trying to match up sun and shade symbols to spots in your garden where they might thrive. Does my backyard garden really sit in shade all day? There must be some sunlight reaching the plants under my tree, right? Have no fear, fellow gardeners! No secret decoder ring is needed, what you  need is a simple sun map for your yard that you can rely on when choosing plants. We’re here to show you how it’s done!

You can see on our simple sun map below we used four colours to tell us each area’s sun and shade qualities. This makes it easy to reference at a glance. You can be as detailed, or as simple as you need to be! 

Most plants need either full sun, full shade, or a mix of sun/shade during the day. However, you might also want to mark dappled shade areas, such as under trees with light branches, as there are plants that enjoy this type of light versus the darker, heavier shade.

You’ll also notice that we added in a key, on the left side. This marks each colour and what it stands for. Don’t assume you’ll remember which colour is for sun and which is for shade when next year rolls around!

A simple compass at the top helps us determine where the sun is going to be during the day.

Breaking It Down

Step 1: Sketch

Sketch out a simple top view of your yard with basic shapes. Don’t worry about it being perfect or even the right scale. This is just to give you reference point, not for finding buried treasure! Include any garden areas, as well as permanent pots, such as along the side of the house or on the patio. Then label each item on your map.

Step 2: Pick Your Colours

Decide which colours you are going to use and create a quick key on the side of your drawing. You can colour your map with felt markers, pencil crayons, highlighters…whatever works for you!

Step 3: Observe & Record

You’ll need to observe your yard during different times of the day in order to find out where the sunlight is in the morning, afternoon and evening. Jot down some quick notes throughout the day, then compile them into your sun map once you’ve observed everything. Shade usually moves with the sun, so shade underneath a tree will move around in a circle during the day. If you want to get very detailed on your map you can create dotted outlines marking where the shade is in the morning, afternoon and evening. 

A Picture Is Worth Thousand Words

If a sun map isn’t enough for you, then consider taking snapshots of your garden throughout the day. You could print them off and label them with the time of day, keeping a visual record of what is going on in your garden. 

Don’t forget to bring your map into the nursery when you go shopping, so you can quickly reference which plants will work in the right garden! You can always take a snapshot of it and carry it around on your phone, just in case you end up at the garden centre unexpectedly.

Tips: Choose a day that is sunny to make your map, not an overcast day. Otherwise it may be hard to tell where the shade is! Another idea is to set an alarm for different times of the day in order to remind you to observe what is going on in your yard. 

So Many Options

Need some ideas for a shady patio? We’ve got lots of ideas, like this colourful shade planter that Jason whips up in our DIY video. Watch him work, then make your own!

If you’re stuck on which plants to use in your full sun or full shade areas, look no further! We’ve got you covered with our two helpful blog posts. Extreme Sun Loving Perennials gives you a huge variety of hardy plants that will enjoy a full day’s sun. Then we discuss all the beautiful options for shade including blooms, berries and foliage in Perennials for Shady Spots in Your Garden

Keep updating it whenever you add a structure, tree or permanent plant that is big enough to cast shade. Remember to keep your map in a safe space for next year’s spring planting!