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Here comes the sun, but how much is there?


I’ve learned a lot about gardening through the years. Looking back at some of the things I did when I started gardening at this house I see where I might do things differently now. (I don’t like to think of too many things I did back then as mistakes because I just didn’t know better and many weren’t wrong, they just weren’t all that right.) 

But there is one part of gardening that I have a terrible time wrapping my head around. I have a very hard time judging how sunny a spot really is. Part of the problem, certainly, is that the weekend warrior nature of my gardening availability means that I’m rarely in my garden all day long. It also doesn’t help that I’m often planning gardens at this time year, when the sun is low in the sky and there are no leaves on the trees. And maybe I’m an optimist, because I always think there is more sun than there is. Except when I plant a shade garden, in which case I seem to think there’s more shade than there is.

It’s actually a rather challenging problem. A couple weeks ago we had three large spruces removed. All three of them were rather ugly, the victims of typical power company tree pruning. Of course whoever planted them under the power lines originally didn’t do them any favors, but over the years, they had to be scalped along one side to accommodate the wires.

Before tree removal


AFTER: It looks positively horrible in this area right now, but I’ve got some plans for a big of low screening from the road that will still allow sun on the patio.

We’ve lived with them misshapen for years but what finally got us to remove them now was the promise of more sun. The one on the south side of the driveway was a prime blocker of evening sun on our patio. I know this because we spend a lot of time sitting there, cocktails in hand, studying how to get more sun there, and certainly no bad decisions have ever been made during cocktail hour. 

The other two were blocking sun to the area where an expanded vegetable garden is going to be created this spring. I had no idea just how big those trees were until they were gone. In fact they’ve cleared enough area that I’m rethinking the placement and size of the vegetable garden.

The dark area is where the trees (and their stumps) have been removed. Suddenly there is a lot more room for a larger vegetable garden. But just how much sun is really there?

And that’s where my problem judging sunlight comes in. Because right now I feel like there is a lot of room to work with, but things will change when the trees leaf out. I’m inclined to play it safe, because a shady vegetable garden will do me no good. Still, I get frustrated with my lack of confidence in my ability to judge what the sun there will be like come June. After living here for more than 15 years you’d think I’d have this down by now.

I have had some success with a few sun-measuring methods. I have a sun gauge (here’s an affiliate link for the one I have) that I’ve used on occasion. I feel like it always tells me an area is “part sun” which is a pretty broad description when specifics are called for. I’d much rather know how many hours of sunlight an area gets.

A simpler method can work, although it requires constant monitoring and a very sunny day. All you do is take a piece of white paper and pin it down in a spot all day. Check it once an hour and take note of how much sun is on it, then add up the sunny hours at the end of the day. For some reason the white paper makes it easier to judge how much sun is shining on it. It’s definitely not a high tech solution.

Of course that doesn’t help me now. Perhaps I better take a chair and a cocktail over to the future vegetable garden and see what inspiration strikes.


Care to see one of the trees coming down? Here’s the big spruce by the driveway being dropped right down the middle after most of the branches have been removed.

6 Responses

  1. Wow, that was one tall tree. I certainly am no help on how to figure out how much sun one has in the garden. I can’t figure out what my own garden is, half or full sun. When I do get an area figured out the trees grow a bit taller and reach out a bit further and I lose that bit of sun I count on. I am not too scientific when gardening. Trial and error leads the way.

  2. You could try using You would need to know the height and position of the trees though.

  3. Since we lost some trees in the back a few years ago, I thought it would be too sunny and added a couple of trees right away. Now my sunniest area is starting to be quite shady and half the plants are unhappy one way or another. I find it really a hard thing to judge and I have never tried to do what your commuters have suggested. I have friends who carefully plotted the path of the sun in the entire garden. A smart idea but not one I am probably ever going to do. But you could probably just take one spot like the veggie garden and concentrate on that on the next sunny day when you are home.

  4. One way I’ve monitored this is to take pictures of our yard throughout the day in the spring, summer and fall. The date and time stamps really help to keep track the following year when you’re planning to plant, and you can really get a feel for where the shadows are. Taking shots of the entire yard helps cover you when you decide to put in a new bed in an area you haven’t really considered before. I keep telling myself I’m going to set up the time lapse on my camera or phone, or better yet put up a trail camera to take photos all day, but haven’t done it yet. Just remember to take new photos if an area changes significantly. This won’t necessarily help you right now, when you’ve just taken the trees down, but will help in the future.

  5. I have been known to take a sunny day (which are obviously few and far between this time of year) and set a timer on my phone every hour so that I (or my husband) remember to go look at that space and make note of the sun situation. I fear there aren’t many good ways to do it that don’t involve being around to observe. But I think it would be quite hard to know what removing those large trees would do to your sun situation- I’m hoping its sunnier there than you thought it might be!

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