The Complete Guide to Sunlight & Gardening

In this Complete Guide to Sunlight & Gardening you will have all the information you need to know about the sun when you’re gardening, including why plants need sun, how much sunlight your plant needs, what the sunlight terms mean, and how to ensure your plant is getting everything it needs.

sunlight on plants

In this guide to sunlight & gardening, we’ve told you we’d provide everything you need to grow successfully. And that’s true. We’ve set you up with your perfect plant-match, and you have the best ingredients, custom picked for your plant. Not to mention the constant support from Concierge helping you along the way. We fully expect you to have a wonderful harvest with delicious food.

Alas, there are things we can’t totally ensure are done right.

One of them is how your plant is watered. We’ll do our best to tell you exactly when and how much to water your plant. However, you might have to play the watering game. Obviously, keep your watering choices within the realm of our instructions, but feel free to try and budge the amount and time of watering by a little bit.

You’ll be able to see which watering way is the perfect way by observing your plant’s reaction. If it’s green, perky, and healthy, you’re watering it right. If it’s droopy, brown, or wilted, you’re either giving it too much or too little. We are fully confident you’ll be fine when it comes to this.

But here’s the kicker: SUNLIGHT.

Believe it or not, improper amounts of sunlight is actually the biggest reason for growing failure. It’s the aspect of growing we have the least control over.

In fact, no one can really control it. Of course, our Match feature sets you up with a plant that is likely to grow in your climate, and Concierge will let you know when it’s unusually hot. But for the most part, sunlight is sort of up to the sun.

Not getting enough of the sun, or getting too much of it is the most common reason plants die. For some reason, people tend to forget about it when it comes to gardening.

In reality, sunlight is hands-down the most important thing a veggie needs to have a happy life.

Why do plants need sunlight?

No matter what kind of plant it is—tree, herb, veggie, flower, or moss—it relies on the sunlight for fuel.

Plants require energy from the sun so it can grow, develop happily, and produce a beautiful harvest. Essentially, sunlight (in combination with water and air) becomes food for the plant.

What do plants do with sunlight?

You probably know this from seventh-grade biology, but if you’re like us, you could use a refresher.

Plants convert sunlight to food through a process called photosynthesis. Ring any bells? In this process, plants take in Carbon Dioxide from the air—it enters the plant through holes in its leaves called stomata. The leaves are also where the plant takes in the majority of the sunlight. They’re like mini solar panels.

sunlight & gardening

Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives plants their green color. When light hits chlorophyll, it excites the electrons, and they jump to a higher energy state.

This is why leaves are green on most plants (the tops of root veggies included)—it’s where the highest concentration of chlorophyll resides on a plant.

Because leaves are the entry point for sunlight, an increased amount of chlorophyll increases the number of photosynthetic processes that can occur.

Remember the electron jump we talked about earlier? That jump produces energy, which is then converted into ATP and NADPH.

These two compounds are used in conjunction with carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce oxygen and glucose. The oxygen is released through the leaves; hence, why people need plants to live (we breathe their excess in). And glucose is basically sugar. I.e. the plant’s food.

How do I know how much sun my plant needs?

When you buy a plant with us, we tell you whether your veggie needs Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade, or Full Shade. If you buy it from someone else, you can usually find the information you need online.

If you’re familiar with gardening at all or have bought even one of our products, then you’ve seen the terms “Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade, or Full Shade” at least once. These terms have actually been standardized by gardeners, so there’s one consistent understanding of what each term means. Although admittedly, there is some fluctuation depending on your growing zone.

In the middle growing zones, Full Sun is eight or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Partial Sun is six hours. Partial Shade is about four hours, and Full Shade is less than two hours of direct sunlight every day or no direct sunlight at all. (There aren’t very many full shade plants.) Be careful—sometimes exposing even Partial Sun plants to direct sunlight in the hot afternoons might scorch them.

There are some cases where a term changes based on where you are. If you go to the northern part of the country, Full Sun is closer to 8-10 hours of the day, while if you go to the desert Southwest, Full Sun is only 6 hours of sun in the morning with almost full shade in the afternoon. So be sure to check your growing zone for specifics!

How do I make sure my plant is getting the right amount of sunlight?

First and foremost, know what a sunlight deficient plant looks like. Plant stems that are stretched out or spindly are one tattle of sun deficiencies. The leaves are the real tells though—if they turn yellow, if they seem unusually small, if there are brown edges on the tips, or if the lower leaves dry up, your plant isn’t getting enough sun.

As a rule of thumb, “fruit” plants need Full Sun. This includes veggies like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash. Leaf and root veggies will usually tolerate some shade however, roots needing around 6 hours of sun while leaf veggies can live with only four hours of direct sunlight.

On the other hand, herbs are the shaded superheroes. They’ll tolerate the least amount of light—especially if they’re of the mint family. Hence, our indoor herb garden! They’re a perfect and fashionable solution to a lack of direct sunlight in and around your home, especially for the urban chef.

sunlight and gardening

If you’re growing in a situation with limited sunlight, there are ways to ensure your plant is getting the light it needs. The easiest way to achieve this? Follow the sun. The good news is that the sun’s path is really consistent, even if its visibility isn’t. It rises in the east and sets in the west. Every single day.

If you’re playing with the timing of when your veggie gets its sun, know that morning sun is generally mild while afternoon sun is harsh, and that the most intense sun occurs between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.

Also, remember that less direct sunlight means less evaporation and vice versa. So, if you’re trying to grow in a more shaded environment, keep an eye on your plant’s moisture levels. You will probably find that you need to water your plant less than you would under many hours of direct sunlight.

Additionally, the maturation time differs depending on the amount of sunlight a veggie plant gets. As a rule, shaded veggies will take longer to mature and fruit than ones that receive more direct sunlight.

Lastly, it’s important that you use good soil with plenty of high-quality compost when attempting to grow in shadier areas. Although this won’t be an issue with Gardenuity—your compost will suit your plant’s specific needs.

soil and sunlight

P.S. If you’re traveling, be sure to get a friend to help you! Ask them to watch for sunlight alongside watering needs.

So what are the specific needs of specific plants?

We’ve attached a general list of veggie’s needs. Some, but not everything on this list, can be grown with us, and it is in no way comprehensive. But it will give you an idea of what to grow if you have a tricky sun situation.

Note: There are almost no veggies that will grow in Full Shade—it’s just not enough sunlight.

Veggies that are Partial Shade/Partial Sun (3-6 hours):

  • Arugula
  • Endive
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Parsnips
  • Rutabaga
  • Horseradish
  • Leeks
  • Bok Choi
  • Herbs
  • Rhubarb

Veggies that require Full Sun (8 hours):

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Pepper
  • Okra
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers


We know it’s tricky, but making sure your veggie is getting enough sunlight is part of giving your plant the love it needs. If you’re aware of the above, you’re bound for a fun and easy growing experience.

Then, when it’s time, pick your delightful eats. As you socialize with family and friends, your freshly grown herbs and veggies will taste better than you could ever imagine—and you’ll be thanking the sun!

whole food from gardening

Thanks for reading our guide to sunlight & gardening, if you thought this was useful let us know & check out our other guide growing tomatoes.