We will soon turn the corner! As of the Solstice, the Sun will be on its return trip, and the days will be, however imperceptibly, getting longer. Winter has just begun, according to the calendar, but the return of the Sun means spring is soon on the way!
In addition to water, sunlight is probably the most important and least flexible consideration in putting in a garden. If a plant doesn’t get enough sun, it simply will not perform. Refusal to produce any flowers is a good indicator that a plant may not be getting quite what it needs to thrive, and the most common culprit is a lack of sunshine. More sunshine is fairly easy to come by; selective pruning or cutting a few trees down to provide more sun to a shady area is an easy fix, but the ability to grow shade plants in a bright, sunny area will take several years of patience while a shade tree matures or the forest canopy fills in.
“Full Sun” plants do best when they receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct, intense sun every day. Some spaces can afford to provide the entire day of 10 to 12 hours in full, glorious sunshine, but as long as plants requiring full sun get the full benefit of the hours between 10 AM and 2 PM, along with a few hours on either side, they will bloom wonderfully. Roses, most evergreen trees and shrubs, and perennials such as Hibiscus and Peony fall into the “full sun” category of plants. The showiest blooms and foliage is generally found on full sun plants, since it requires a lot of energy to produce bigger flowers, and any non-green foliage masks the food production capability of said plant, so more light is generally required to keep the desired vigor.
“Part Sun” plants generally require around 6 hours of good sun every day. Some of those hours can be dappled sunlight, but it is beneficial for them to get at least 3 to 4 hours of bright, direct sunlight. Astilbe and Ligularia will do best if given shade, especially during the hottest part of the day, but do need some direct sun to flower. “Part Shade” is a finer distinction; there are some plants that grow best in less than 6 but more than 4 hours of sunlight, such as Hellebore and Bunchberry. Hosta is a species that spans the range of part sun to part shade. Soil and water conditions also play a big part in how much sun these median plants will want. If a plant is not receiving enough sun, you may notice it stretching or leaning to where the sun is brighter.
“Shade” plants are perfectly happy with as little as 4 hours or less of sunlight, most of which can be dappled or indirect. These are perfect for planting underneath trees, or on the North side of the house, which receives very little direct sunlight save for very early in the morning. Many varieties of ferns are well suited for this, as well as both European and Canadian Gingers, which are delightful little groundcover plants.
There is some leeway when planting shade plants in a sunnier location than they might typically prefer; if the area is moist, the additional hydration will help keep them alive and thriving. Some browning or yellowing of foliage may still occur, in which case, the plant really should be moved to a more suitable location, or some sort of shade should be provided. Summersweet, azalea, and ligularia are some plants that will tolerate more sun and thrive if they are given a nice, moist environment to grow in. Knowing what plants will grow where is the first step to having a beautiful, thriving garden.