What you need to know about light and shade in the garden

Getting acquainted with the way sun and shade affect various parts of your yard is fundamental to developing a sound landscape plan. Here are the main patterns to track in your yard's unique location, along with tips for using the sun's path to give plants exactly what they need.

What you need to know about light and shade in the garden

Where's the sun?

In summer, the sun rises and sets slightly north of an east-west line.

  • The north side of a structure that lies east to west will be in shade at midday and receive weak light in the early morning and late afternoon.
  • East-facing locations will get bright morning sun followed by afternoon shade, while those facing south and west will get enough sun to please full-sun plants.

The sun in winter

  • In winter, the sun rises and sets well to the south of the east-west line, casting long shadows on the north side of the house.

This limits the kinds of plants and trees that will do well in that part of your yard. Winter light is more subdued to eastern exposures than to areas that face south or west.

  • Grow plants that are vulnerable to sun damage on the eastern side of your house or other structure, since morning light is gentler than that of midday or afternoon.

Push winter hardiness

If a plant is only marginally hardy in your area, it has a better chance of survival if placed by a wall facing south or southeast.

  • It will be sheltered from cold winds, yet benefit from morning sun.

Planting fruit trees

  • Protect fruit trees that flower early, such as peaches and cherries, from late-spring frosts by planting them on the north side of the house or on a north-facing slope.

This will help delay the trees' blossoming until the danger of frost has passed.

Applying spring delay tactics

Site plants that blossom in winter or early spring, such as witch hazel, camellia and hellebore, where they will receive no direct morning sun.

  • Delayed exposure to light will allow the buds to thaw out gradually and risk less damage if they're nipped by frost overnight.

Gardening in the shade

Most yards are subject to some shade, which is both a blessing and a curse.

  • Instead of trying to eliminate or modify it or trying to grow sun-loving plants, raise an attractive, diverse garden of shade lovers.
  • They often have bolder and more colourful foliage than sun plants.

Soil in shaded areas

Shaded areas stay damp longer than sunny ones and can become breeding grounds for diseases.

  • Amend the soil so that it's very well drained and let it dry between waterings.
  • Promote air circulation by giving plants plenty of elbow room.
  • Clean up diseased foliage and autumn debris promptly.
  • Furnish your shade garden's floor with a shade-tolerant ground cover, groups of ferns, moss or attractive year-round mulch instead of grass.
  • Prune low branches from trees to make your shade garden feel a little lighter and brighter — or remove selected higher branches to thin the canopy.

Plants with variegated leaves or light-coloured blooms, like variegated hostas, white caladiums and impatiens, will help infuse your shady nook with contrast and light.

How to bring light to shady areas

  • Add light-coloured stepping stones to make a sun-bereft area more appealing. Or pave pathways with light-coloured mulch, such as beige pea gravel.
  • Brighten up walls and fences by painting them white or light grey so they reflect more light into those sun-deprived areas.
  • The reflected light from a mirror hung on a wall or fence will dance amidst the light and shadows of a shady garden, adding interest as well as light.
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