Some plants thrive in full sun, while others require shade. Credit: INTVGene (Flickr)

Plants require specific lighting conditions for proper development and survival. Although all plants require sunlight to make food through photosynthesis, different plants require varying amounts of sunlight to produce enough nutrients to maintain their health. Sun exposure for garden plants is generally separated into the following categories: full sun, partial sun, dappled sun, and full shade. Learn what each of these sunlight requirements consist of and what types of plants are best suited for each category.

Full Sun

If the instructions that came with your plant require that it has full sun, it means that the plant needs direct, unfiltered sunlight for at least six full hours per day. Many sun-loving plants can thrive with more than six hours per day, but need regular watering to endure the heat. How your full-sun plant grows will also depend on its location. As the intensity of the sun varies throughout the day, a plant that gets full sun in the morning but is shaded in the afternoon will grow differently than a plant that gets full sun all day. Examples of plants that require full sun include:

  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Zinnia
  • Sun parasol mandevilla
  • Butterfly weed
  • Coneflower
  • Lantana
  • Salvia
  • Lemon slice calibrachoa

Partial Sun

Partial sun, also referred to as partial shade, means that the plant should receive three to six hours of sun each day, preferably in the morning and early afternoon. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they do carry a slight difference. A partial sun plant requires full sun during those three to six hours per day to flourish. A partial shade plant needs protection from the sun except for a few hours a day but does best when exposed to direct morning sun while sheltered during the hotter afternoon. Examples of plants that require partial sun include:

  • African violets
  • Daffodils
  • Spider plants
  • Wisteria
  • Tulips
  • Impatiens
  • Delphiniums
  • Hyacinths
  • Irises
  • Hydrangeas

Dappled Sun

Dappled sun is comparable to partial sun. The primary difference is that plants requiring dappled sun need sun that shines through the branches and leaves of deciduous trees. With dappled lighting, the sunlight is bright but not too hot as the light passes through small patches between leaves while still providing shady spots. Many woodland plants, as well as underplantings, prefer this type of sunlight instead of full sun due to the balance of both light and shade. Examples of plants that enjoy dappled sun include:

  • Beech fern
  • Alba magna szalea
  • Black magic yaro
  • English box
  • Coral pea
  • Blueberry ash
  • Hiryu camellia
  • Moth orchid
  • Peace lily
  • Tea tree orchid

Full Shade

Plants that need full shade require less than three hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight the remainder of the day. This type of dense shade is commonly found under evergreens or within closely spaced trees or shrubs that prevent direct sun from penetrating. Full shade does not mean the plant doesn’t need sun at all, as nearly all plants require at least filtered light to survive. Examples of plants that require full shade include:

  • Copper plant
  • Astilbe hybrds
  • Mirror plant
  • Japanese forest grass
  • Persian shield
  • Dead nettle
  • Amethyst
  • Coleus
  • Flowering maple
  • Meadow rue