When Full Sun Gardening Goes Wrong

By Bonnie Grant | June 2, 2021
by Bonnie Grant
June 2, 2021

I’ve always been leery of purchasing property with big old trees. So when I saw our new place, it made me happy that there were none of these statuesque plantings that might need an arborist or other attention. However, as time went on, the lack of shade became taxing on me and my plants. This is a hot place in summer, and my plants are often not happy with the searing heat and light they are forced to experience. 

Farms have big trees around them out in the fields. It should have been a clue that there were some fierce winds and extreme heat. I now get it. Without any trees to provide some shade and a windbreak, we are exposed to some intense sunlight. It’s great for my veggie garden, but not so great for many of my foundation and ornamental plantings. In fact, I have lost quite a few specimens that said they liked full sun, but were not prepared for the amount of sun they would receive. It is relentless. 

Relentless Sunshine

Everywhere you look we have sun. The most gentle rays are on the east side, where plants get a respite by noon. Any other side of the property is subject to unyielding sunlight. We are safe from vampires during the day, but our plants can get droopy, crinkled, burnt, and sometimes finally give up. Choosing plants must be done with caution, unless I want to lose money.

Some successes do occur. I purchased a lungwort that said it could do with partial shade. So I planted it under a big old apple tree that would get shade in the afternoon. The poor thing struggled all last summer. If I watered it in the morning, it was already drooping by noon. So I watered it twice per day. This spring saw me moving around a bunch of plants, trying to find them a bit less light. The blueberries got moved east of the home. The little lungwort got moved behind a set of garden screens. These diminish the amount of light after noon and give us some cover on our patio. I am being rewarded with purplish-blue flowers. The foliage is perky and spreading. The leaves are happy, as is the plant. Obviously, it is not a sun plant at all. 

An early housewarming gift was shade sails. These have gone unused. I would love to use them and they would help produce some shade. However, our winds would see them literally sailing away. I can’t figure out how to stabilize them, so they will not get ripped to shreds. It was a nice thought and would have helped my full sun plants. 

Dealing With a Shade Deficit

In short, we ain’t got no shade. If I have any doubt about a plant, I simply don’t acquire it. My favorite thing these days is free plants. If I see a neighbor’s plant I want, I ask if I can take a division, stem cutting, or whatever needs to be taken to propagate. Then, once I get the new plant going, if it fails in the summer, I don’t feel too badly. Choosing plants is a 50-50 prognosis. Even a sun plant may still fail here. Full sun plants just don’t know what they are signing up for in this arid, blistering landscape. 

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  • Bonnie
    Comment added June 17, 2021Reply

    Great advice!

  • Barbara J. Brown
    Comment added June 12, 2021Reply

    Yes, your location would have been helpful, plus your gardening zone. Northern California also gets extremely hot, sometimes over 110 degrees for days on end during the summer, then down into the teens during the winter. We planted a "full sun" Bountiful Blueberry bush this spring and put it in a large pot so we can move it if "full sun" proves to be way to hot for it.

  • Ilona Dorfling
    Comment added June 12, 2021Reply

    I'm curious....where are you?
    I'm South African but living at present in Qatar in the Middle East. Here we experience 50°C+ at this time of year (I think that's around 120°F), so is really blistering hot, which is why I'm wondering where you are and what your temperatures are. I thought gardening would be easy here, but it's not easy at all, our main planting season is Oct to Dec. That's when all the seedlings appear - over winter, which is a very pleasant time, but oh, so short...by end Feb the temp is ramping up again.

  • Lynn Roberts
    Comment added June 10, 2021Reply

    Your location would be useful. Did I miss it? I learned years ago that "full sun" doesn't mean in Texas.

  • Anita Machlin
    Comment added June 5, 2021Reply

    I live in Sarasota Florida. My opinion is the summer afternoon sun is death to plants. No matter how much you water most of them are goners. Even the native plants get stressed. We say goodbye to the herbs for sure. The aloes need shade. The crotons get stressed. Things simply get baked and if they are over watered they rot. I move my pots into the shady areas or tent over them.
    But when the plants are happy they grow rapidly. We just learn to deal with it.

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