Are you craving the fresh, sweet taste of strawberries or anxiously awaiting the season’s first BLT? There’s nothing like harvesting fresh veggies straight from your backyard or balcony and creating a delicious dinner from ingredients you grew yourself. But many veggies need what the experts call “full sun” to grow their best. Do you know which of your favorites need it? And how do you actually figure out how much sunlight your garden gets? No worries—we’ve got you covered. Get ready to slather on the sunscreen, because it’s time to grow sun-loving veggies!
What Does “Full Sun” Mean?
“Full sun” translates to at least 6 hours of sunlight that isn’t filtered through the trees. Plants that fruit heavily, like peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, melons, and squash, all need full sun—though in hot Southern gardens, these plants may appreciate a little afternoon shade, too.
Does My Garden Get Full Sun?
You might think your garden glows with sunlight all day long, but when was the last time you really looked at the amount of light in your yard? Before you plant anything, spend a day charting the amount of sunlight on your property. Draw a rough sketch of your yard. Starting at 7 a.m., look outside every hour, marking the areas on your sketch that are completely in sunlight and making note of the time. Continue checking all the way through until early evening to determine how much—and where—light fills your garden. Keep an eye out for shadows thrown by garages, fences, and tall hedges. Remember, too, that if it’s still early spring, trees will create additional shade once they leaf out.
You may also want to look at areas like porches, patios, and balconies. If you find that your backyard garden is a little too shady, there are plenty of full-sun-loving crops that will grow beautifully in containers in smaller, sunnier spaces.
Why Do Some Plants Need More Sun than Others?
All plants need some amount of sunlight to grow. Remember science class and the lessons about photosynthesis? Sun gives a plant the light energy it needs to convert chlorophyll, carbon dioxide, and water into starch and sugar within the plant, creating food to nourish the plant’s cells and help it grow. Plants that produce fruit and large harvests need a continuous supply of food and nutrients to grow well, and sunlight helps provide much of that. (Nutrient-rich soil and fertilizer provide the rest.)
Growing Full-Sun Vegetables in Your Garden
When planning your garden, consider the arrangement of your plants. Taller plants, like corn or tomatoes, may shade shorter plants, like bush beans or squash. In some cases, a little shade thrown by those sun-lovers can work to your benefit: Lettuce, for example, can thrive when planted in the shadow of tomato plants because it likes a bit of shade. Just make sure that no sun-loving plants are blocked by taller plants. Plant taller crops toward the back of a bed in a South-facing garden.
In-ground gardens often fight sub-par soil. It might be nutrient-depleted from overplanting, sandy, or filled with heavy clay. Add aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All-Purpose In-Ground Soil to your existing soil, mixing it in well to improve texture and add nutrients your plants need. If you’re growing in raised beds, Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Raised Bed Mix provides the perfect soil formula. And if your only sunny spot for growing veggies is a patio or balcony, use Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix for your pot plantings.
Also, place your garden near a water source, or consider adding drip irrigation to your beds or in-ground garden. While veggies may thrive in full sun, the soil tends to dry out more quickly than in shady gardens. This is true for container gardens, too.
Once you’ve found your sunny space and prepared your beds or containers, it’s time to plant your garden. If you want a great harvest this summer, start with Bonnie Plants®. For more than 100 years, we’ve grown plants specifically for home gardeners, focusing on varieties that set you up for success. With over 70 greenhouses nationwide, our plants don’t have to travel far to get to you, either!
Popular Full-Sun Veggies
Consider adding these sun-lovers to your garden.
The quintessential summer favorite! Tomatoes taste amazing just-picked from the garden, whether you’re slicing an heirloom for caprese salad or popping adorable cherries right off the vine and into your mouth. Tomatoes love loads of sun but they also appreciate a little afternoon shade in the South. If you love heirlooms but want higher productivity, try our new heirloom marriage, Genuwine Beefsteak, part of our Harvest Select* line. It’s a cross between the fabulous flavor of Brandywine and the pretty productivity of Costoluto Genovese. For a super-sweet garden treat, try tiny Candyland Cherry, a Foodie Fresh** variety. And, if your sunniest space means you need to grow on a patio or balcony, no fear—Little Bing Compact Cherry, part of the Harvest Select* collection, is ideal for container growing.
Are you spicy or sweet—in your pepper preference, that is? Whether you like living on the edge with the fiery heat of Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper, or prefer the sweet, crunchy goodness of Blonde Belle (part of the Foodie Fresh** line), you’ll find dozens of peppers to add to your sunny garden. If you need a perfect pepper for container growing, try Fresh Bites Orange, a sweet, pretty compact pepper, part of the Harvest Select* collection.
Great for grilling, breaded for parmigiana, or as an ingredient in ratatouille, eggplant is a natural complement to grow with tomatoes and zucchini in your sunny garden. Try Ichiban Type Japanese in your beds or plant Patio Baby Mini Eggplant in your container garden.
Crisp, sweet cucumbers make the perfect refreshing treat in the heat of summer. Whether you enjoy them in a cucumber salad, added to tzatziki, or preserved as pickles, cucumbers taste great. Along with the more traditional green varieties, like Cucumber Cooler (part of the Foodie Fresh** line), look for Lemon Cucumber and Cucamelons, petite cuties that look like tiny, sized-for-a-fairy watermelons but boast the flavor of cucumbers. (Let these vining sun-lovers grow up a trellis or fence for support.) Both are part of the Harvest Select* collection.
Whether you love zucchini, pattypan, or crookneck, you’ll find a huge variety of squash to grow in your sunny space. Think of all meals you can create with squash, like zoodles, casseroles, and squash boats. For a great grill option, try Green Griller Zucchini, part of the Harvest Select* line, or Golden Griller Squash, part of the Foodie Fresh** collection. Both varieties offer good disease resistance, too.
Is there anything sweeter a ripe melon in the summertime? Whether you prefer watermelon for your picnics or chilled cantaloupe to cool you by the pool, melons add a delicious taste to summer. Both types grow beautifully in full sun, given plenty of room to roam and ample water. Try scrumptious Black Diamond Watermelon for a sweet, seed-spitting contest and Super 45 Cantaloupe, part of the Harvest Select line*, for its extra sweet, salmon-colored flesh.
For an early burst of sweetness in the garden, add strawberries to your planting plan. While they grow beautifully in-ground or in raised beds, strawberries also adapt well to containers—and even grow well in window boxes and hanging baskets. Pretty blooms followed by sweet berries makes strawberries a gorgeous edible to include in your sunny garden.
Sweet, crisp peas may be one of your first spring harvests. Not only do they taste terrific, but their blooms look lovely, too. Trellis pea vines along a fence or support to save space in the garden. Plant them early, though, because peas don’t enjoy summer’s heat.
As pea-season wraps up, it’s time to add beans to your sunny garden. Pole bean vines need a support to climb—a trellis or fence is ideal—but highly productive bush beans can stand alone in your garden. Try Blue Lake Bush Beans for a high yield that’s great for preserving.
Fresh corn harvested only minutes before eating is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. You’ll need plenty of space in your garden to produce a decent harvest, but forgo the traditional rows and instead plant corn in close squares of four to save space and increase chances of pollination.
If there’s a prize for one of the prettiest sun-loving veggies, okra should win the blue ribbon. A relative to hibiscus, okra’s blooms look as pretty as the veggie is tasty. It’s a fabulous edible and ornamental plant for foodscaping.
Do you love DIY Halloween projects? Well, imagine the fun you’ll have growing your own Jack- O-Lanterns. True, pumpkins need room to sprawl along with full sun and adequate water, but the joy of harvesting your own pumpkins for pies or decorating your porch with homegrown Jack-o-lanterns is worth the space.
With the sun shining on your garden, you’ll enjoy boundless harvests of food all summer long. Remember—your plants will be thirsty in full sun, so water them regularly. They’ll get hungry, too, so feed them with plant food designed specifically for edibles, like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organic® Edible Plant Nutrition Granules. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for pests—and, of course, harvest veggies and fruit when ripe. But most of all, have fun planning delicious garden-to-table meals to share with your family and friends!
*The Harvest Select line is available exclusively at The Home Depot
**The Foodie Fresh line is available exclusively at Lowe’s