Sun is one of the most important factors in whether the plants around your home flourish or just wither. Simply put, the available sun is the amount of sunlight that areas of your landscape will get. The available sun should be the first consideration when working on the design of your garden. Well placed plants will reward your hard work and planning with beautiful blooms and foliage throughout the year.

Making a Sun Map of Your Landscape

One great way to get familiar with the amount of sun that’s available in your landscape is to make a map. Grab a sheet of graph paper and draw your property. First, make a note of any features. Block out the driveway, draw the house, the garage, and any outbuildings such as sheds.

Once that’s out of the way, take a step outside. Do you have any large trees making shade? Does your house cast a shadow that lasts all day? Anything that creates permanent shadow should be noted. These areas should be labeled, “full shade.” Then you can start paying attention to smaller shadows that only last through the morning and evening. Those areas are known as “partial shade.” Areas that receive sunlight all day should also be added to the map, particularly in areas you plan to plant in. Label these “full sun.”

Sun maps are an excellent starting point when you’re working on garden design. These handy guides give you an idea of what to plant and where. It’s also important to understand what each of the three light levels means, and what should be planted there.

Full Sun

According to Better Homes and Gardens, full sun is considered to be an area that receives 6 or more hours of sunlight per day. In our climate, which is on the drier side, it’s great to choose plants that can handle the California heat and a little less water than usual.

A general rule to keep in mind is that plants adapted to grow out in open fields already like the sun. Grasses, trees, and tall flowers are great candidates. Avoid planting woodland plants in direct sun.

A few good examples of flowers that will thrive in full sun are cosmos, coneflowers, and verbena. Each of these flowering plants love to get plenty of sunshine and are rockstars even when they’re largely ignored. Flowering verbena is also a great choice if you need ground cover to fill up open spaces.

If you’re looking for something less flowery and greener, you can also find quite a few plants that give great foliage in full sun. Drought-tolerant grasses like fescue and wheatgrass are great options, and you can be sure they’ll handle just about any conditions the season might bring. Succulents are also great and low-maintenance options. These include much more than cacti and snake plants. Try mixing things up with an evergreen desert spoon, jade plants, monk’s hood, and bottle trees.

Partial Shade

If you guessed that partial shade indicates direct sunlight during part of the day, you guessed correct! According to The Spruce, partial shade is a measurement that refers to areas that get between 3 and 6 hours of light. These light hours usually fall in the cooler hours of the day, in the morning or in the evening.

Partial shade is like the Goldilocks zone of your landscape design. Many plants need a good balance of light and shade. Placing finnickier plants in partial shade is a good happy medium. It prevents scorching without denying plants light.

These areas are usually shadowed by trees, smaller structures, or are on the East/West sides of buildings where shadows move the most. Some plants, like hydrangeas, love the dappled sun underneath trees. Partial shade plants do well getting just a few hours of direct light.

Hostas and ajuga are both great for green foliage and ground cover. You may notice these plants close to buildings, and that’s because they love a bit of morning shade. Bushes and climbing vines are also ideal for partially shady areas. Look for hardy roses and clematis to best suit the local climate.

Full Shade

Shade is considered a part of the landscape that gets 3 hours or less of direct sun. Parts of your landscape that sit under any type of canopy, whether manmade or the natural canopy of trees, is shady. In these areas, it is important to avoid planting anything that needs lots of sunlight. If you place a sun-loving plant in the shade, the results will disappoint you.

Luckily, there are plenty of plants that love to hide away in the shade. As a good rule of thumb, you can look for plants that tend to grow in forests. Because they’re adapted to grow under the tree canopy, they’re used to softer light. Lungwort, bleeding hearts, and some lilies pack a punch of color.

Ground cover for shaded areas is also available, even in our hot temperatures. Varieties like St. Andrew’s Cross, brass buttons, and Golden Creeper will thrive, particularly in well-drained soil. Try options like dianthus and Asian jasmine for pretty blossoms.

Getting to Know Your Space

Once you have a good idea of how much sun each area gets per day, you can really start cracking on your own landscape design. It’s a great idea to make new sun maps of your property in the later months when the sunlight and shadows are different. Making new maps once every few years is also important. Over time, your property or light may change due to new buildings or trees nearby. Updating maps helps you keep the right plants in your gardens. It’s also an awesome way to come up with new landscape design ideas and stay excited about the beauty of your property.