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The best way to measure average sunlight exposure is to simply observe your planting area every 30 minutes or so throughout the daylight hours over a week or two. Use those observations to determine the average amount of time the area spends bathed in sunlight, dappled sunlight, or shade. When you have determined the average amount of sunlight an area receives, it is easy enough to choose plants that match the conditions of the site, as noted on the plant labels. If a plant is listed as partial shade, the plant will need some relief from the intense heat of late afternoon sun. You can easily accomplish this either by planting where a nearby tree will cast afternoon shade or by planting on the east side of a structure where the area is blocked from the direct afternoon sun. Plants for partial shade include impatiens, crossandra, the yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant, and most begonias.
Dappled sunlight is similar to partial shade where the sunlight filters through the branches and foliage of deciduous trees. Woodland plants, like trillium and solomon's seal as well as understory trees and shrubs, prefer dappled sunlight. Remember that in early spring, the areas under a tree receive much more sunlight than they do in late spring and early summer after the tree canopies have leafed out. This is one reason why spring sun-loving bulbs can be successfully planted beneath trees.When part shade to shade is listed for a plant, that means it prefers to grow in less than six hours of direct sunlight per day with most of that being the less intense morning sun. These plants often thrive in cooler climates where moisture is plentiful, and they can easily scorch in the hot afternoon sun. Some part shade to shade plants produce flowers, but many are grown more for their decorative foliage.
Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are a great example. In the North, bigleaf hydrangeas grow well in full sun and average to moist soil. But when the same plants are grown in the South, they require protection from the hot afternoon sun and need to be watered more frequently to prevent wilting and leaf scorch. If you garden in the South and a plant label indicates part sun to sun, it’s a good bet that it will grow better for you with some afternoon shade.Light patterns is really about understanding microclimates in our garden and then finding the right plant that will thrive in the right spot. Increasing hours of sunlight in the Kansas City area means heat, while shade conditions may be 10 to 15 degrees cooler and more humid. Plants have adapted over time to favor a particular condition for best growth. It is our challenge to mimic these conditions if we want the most from our investment. (Source: www.johnson.k-state.edu)