How to Determine the Amount of Sunlight Your Garden Gets

Posted on Jan 25 2012 - 1:02am by Mike Lieberman

What can I grow?

That’s the most common question that I get asked.

First, you’ll have to decide on the location of your urban garden.

Then you’ll have to determine how much sunlight your garden space gets.

There are four main categories of sunlight:

  • Full sun. 6+ hours of direct sunlight.
  • Partial sun. 4-5 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Partial shade. 2-4 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Shade Less than 1 hour of direct sunlight.

Since we are living in urban environments, we have other structures that we are dealing with as well. Those can be adjacent buildings, over hangs and walls.

I would assume that most of us fall into the partial sun category and below.

Easily figure out how much sunlight you get

A simple way to figure out how much sunlight your space gets is to monitor it throughout the day.

All you have to do is pop outside for less than a minute every few hours and take some quick notes.

Start off with a quick sketch of your garden space. Section it off as the day progresses because the surrounding structures will cast shade in certain areas.

Here is a video of what the process looks like from my balcony garden:

Once you know how much sunlight your garden gets, the list of what you can grow has been narrowed down for you.

My balcony gets only three hours of direct sunlight. Based on that my selection is limited down to certain herbs and vegetables. This is why I’m growing a lot of greens.

Now you can repeat the same process and leave a comment below to let me know how much sunlight your urban garden gets.

  • http://renegadehomestead.blogspot.com/ Karen

    Good idea!  I’ve paid attention to the sun before but never kept track on a piece of paper so I always forget what I’ve seen.  I’ll definitely give that a go.  

  • Sandy Barton

    Just remember that this changes through the year. Our plot is sunnier earlier in the season than it is later. The path of the sun as the summer progresses makes the house cast a shadow that isn’t there when we plant. Also, trees fill out and cause  shade. it may take more than a year to get a good idea of how much sun your spot gets.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I need to do this for my new space.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Yes it does change. If you wanna get started, you need to know what it is now. 

  • kat

    Can you direct me to a list of what grows best in …
    type of sunlight
    time of year
    ?
    thanks!
    just found your site… so glad to have this resource and realize that I can start growing my own food even in my teeny tiny apartment!
    kat

  • Angela

    I “Pinned” this on Pinterest so other people can learn from you! :)

  • Bret

    I get just around 4 hours on direct sunlight. The system I use is unique, it is called the garden master’s bucket garden. You can google it to see pics.  Happy Gardening!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I don’t have that readily available and am actually working on compiling it. Especially for containers.

    Great that you are getting started. Gonna be doing some indoor growing myself.

  • Susan Mulledy-DeFrank

    I am helping out with a little Children’s garden at my Church.   Last Spring there was success with Tomatoes in one of the square foot style boxes and in the other box they grew some herbs, onions and some carrots.    In November I planted many different types of leaf lettuce where the herbs, carrots and onions were and have left the tomato box fallow .   I am now cleaning it out and was thinking of planting some snow peas and beets.    Neither of these boxes gets more than four hours of sun at this  time of year.   Do you think these two vegi’s would do well in the limited amount of sun available?

    Thanks Susan.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t done any of the survey work yet on my balcony, but want to say how much appreciate your mentoring process!  Thank you for putting this site together!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    My pleasure. Now get to surveying that balcony ;-)

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Great stuff Susan. Thanks for introducing this to the kids. 4-5 hours of sun should be good for peas and beets. Keep me updated!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Thanks Angela!

  • Kelly

    I have a back porch in an apartment complex that’s pretty shady! We get morning sun for about an hour and half, and even that is filtered a bit through the forest behind the house. It’s a very lush view from the porch once the bushes and leaves grow back in the spring, but I’m worried about starting my own patio-garden for fear that it doesn’t get enough sun… I would love to hear your thoughts! 

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    My thoughts are push the fear aside and start growing some greens!

  • http://profiles.google.com/marcus.riedner Marcus Riedner

     Spinach, Chard, Lettuces, Beets, Radish, Green Onion, most brassicas ( Cabbage, Broccoli, Mini-Broccoli ) do all right in shade, you have to extend the growing time appropriately.

    I’ve only found spinach, beets, and chard a bit tricky – the tend to bolt in my shady areas. The radish do all right, you just have to pick them a bit smaller in a shady area, otherwise they tend to get very woody. Up side is the smaller ones tend to be more peppery. ( The radish greens are delicious as well ).

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for the info.

  • Paige

    My patio gets full sun in most areas… and I’ve noticed that my plants (green beans, tomato, hibiscus) are burning even though I water once a day. What should I do?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Move or shade them?!?

  • anna

    I have a northeast facing balcony and during Spring it gets only part sun (around 5 hours) and then from late spring to late summer it gets about 6-7 hours.  So I get a slow start in vegetable production.  Most of my plants are just sort of hanging out during the spring and come early June they start producing.

    This year I want to grow beans and peas, although I have no idea how to go about trailing the vines on a teensy balcony.  Any good ideas?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Those are both great ideas.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E25JCGKR5I42NPEQEVVX2YYGUY jason

    Any info on how to take in account into the seasons and how the sun shifts up or down? Never really could grasp that.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Just check at the beginning of each season. I forget too.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for the hookup.

  • Ashlyw89

    you can just use twine to trail the vines sense they are so little. At the bottom tie the twine to a board at the roots and trail them up. at the top tie the twine to the ceiling with some nails or hooks.

  • Megan A Smith

    I am lucky and live in a house with a wide open backyard so am growing tomatoes, peppers, herbs and trying my hand at carrots (my local seeds are 4x more successful than the packaged ones!). Moving soon to a place with an entirely shaded property and will have to change it up there but am hoping to grow spinach, kale, lettuces, broccoli and other shade-loving plants… which I know about thanks to you! As always, loving the site. I’ll share pics when I get my first tomato! :-)

  • Meg

     Anna, there are a lot of wild bamboo stands around my area. My friend stakes small bamboo she cut and strings construction tape between them. If you want something that stands out less, I’m sure regular string or rope would work as well. This way you can structure your vines to go wherever you want them to/have space for them. You can look on CraigsList to see if anyone in your area is trying to get rid of bamboo. If you’re not in that type of area, you could use small dowels from Lowes/HD.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Lookin forward to it.

  • Littlemissmutch

    Thanks for the instructions. Your balcony is so big. Mine also has solid metal walls so that shades 80% on its own :( oh well! Something will grow!!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Exactly. Something will.

  • Ldalemar2

    Curious as to what other vegetables/herbs you are growing other than the mentioned ‘greens’. :)

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I grow mostly greens because I eat a lot of them and that’s what does best in my location.

  • Georgina R.

    Just found this site and i’ve already learned some great tips. I just moved from a house with a huge yard and a garden where I got my first tomato. Now I’m in an apartment with a balcony that has the sun passing almost directly overhead with about a foot of the balcony getting direct sun for 5 hrs. I know I can get some select plants doing pretty well in this area however, just to clarify I have a question.
    The only thing I can grow outside of the foot that gets the direct sunlight are shade plants right? It seems like an obvious question but there is no direct sun in this area.
    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  • http://twitter.com/cameralady Henrietta Jones

    Fortunately my terrace faces south, and it is on the penultimate floor of the building (a high-rise). None of the other buildings are as  tall as this one, so it’s safe to say we get full sun. I get to grow tomatoes; yay! :) I can’t imagine having to deal with spot that received partial shade or all shade as that limits your growing options.

  • jc

    hanging baskets! :)

  • David

    I am not sure what i get to be honest i have 4 huge trees in the backyard and it is now winter so i will have to wait and see

  • Jacqueline

    I have a porch which is shady except for one area where I get less than 2 hours of sun – I have a window box there but have trouble choosing plants for it – I would like some color. What would you recommend? We live in charleston, sc.

  • Amy Beaird

    I am renting a duplex. I can use planting boxes, but i can’t dig up the ground. I want fruits and vegetables, and my back patio gets full sun, my front gets almost no sun. I’d like to grow green beans, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, blueberries, strawberries, and any other fruit that doesn’t grow on trees. I have no clue how to do this, I’m really glad i found your website.