Do Fall Gardens Need Full Sun To Thrive? (Tips for Sucess)

Most gardeners know that a little bit of sun goes a long way, but what about fall gardens? Do they need full sun to thrive, or will they do fine in a shady spot?

Summer gardens get most of the attention regarding light requirements and what can grow in partial sun or shade. For fall gardens, the question is trickier because an area that gets partial sun in summer will get even less in the fall as the days get shorter.

Fall gardens will perform best in full sun, but even in partial shade, many crops will thrive with the cooler temperatures of fall. Vegetables such as lettuce, kale, and beets will perform well, as well as flowers such as calendula and pansies with just 4-6 hours of sunlight per day.

You can do a few things to help your fall garden get the most sunlight possible and extend your harvests well past the summer season.

Do fall gardens need full sun to thrive?

Full sun will help grow the strongest and most productive garden in the fall. As the season progresses and the days get shorter, the more direct sun the garden can get, the better.

However, even if a garden only gets half a day’s worth of sunlight, it’s still worth planting fall crops to help supplement your food supply with the crops that don’t mind the darker, cooler days of fall.

Plus, with a bit of effort, you can help your fall garden get the most sunlight possible and extend your harvests well past the summer season.

Tips to optimize a fall garden that doesn’t get full sun

You can make a fall garden work that doesn’t get full sun by doing a few things.

First, access your site to see how much sun exposure you can provide for your garden. Second, use a light-colored mulch to reflect sunlight onto the plants and keep the soil warm as the season cools. Finally, choose plants that do well in full to partial sun.

If you’re gardening in an area that doesn’t get full sun, follow these tips to help your garden thrive.

Place your garden in an area that gets the most sun possible

The first step is to determine which sites get different amounts of sun. Be mindful that it is very easy to overestimate how much sun your garden gets, so observe carefully over a few days.

It is also wise to look at the shadows cast by structures and trees in your yard. As fall sets in and trees drop their leaves, the shade they cast during the summer may change, giving your garden more sun.

If you find that the areas of your yard that get the most sun aren’t suitable for in-ground gardens, try a container garden. By using pots and planters, you can move your garden to the sunniest spot in your yard as the days get shorter.

several pots of mint growing in garden
Grow herbs in pots to place them where they’ll receive an ideal 6 or more hours of sun per day.

Use a light-colored mulch to reflect sunlight onto the plants

A light-colored mulch placed over your garden beds can act as a mirror and bounce light back up at your plants. This will help keep the soil warm as fall approaches, and it will also help your plants get the most light possible.

There are biodegradable mulches made of corn that are black on one side and gray on the other. If you apply the mulch with the gray side facing up, you’ll be able to capture that extra bit of sunlight.

The biodegradable film can be finicky to lay down, I’ll admit. It’s thinner than plastic, so it’s best to apply it to an empty bed, making it a good choice for new gardens that don’t have established plants in them.

Choose plants that do well in partial sun

Not all plants need full sun to grow and produce vegetables or fruit. Many plants will do well in a garden with only a few hours of sunlight each day, particularly leafy plants such as greens and herbs. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes and zucchinis are heat and sun-loving plants that aren’t well-suited to a fall garden, whether it gets full fun or not.

An important thing with fall gardens, no matter the amount of sunlight they receive, is to plant the crops early enough that they can complete most of their growth before the truly short days set in.

If you’re not sure when the best time is, check out this article, New To Fall Gardens? Learn When To Plant One In Your Zone.

If planted at the end of summer, fall crops will grow enough that even the low fall light won’t harm them. Instead, the plants will more or less go dormant, settling in for the winter and resuming growth in the spring once the days begin to lengthen once again.

That being said, there are certain vegetables, herbs, and flowers that will perform better than others in a fall garden that gets partial sun.

What plants do well in fall gardens with partial sun?

Don’t let limitations on sunlight stop you from growing a fall garden this year. As long as your garden gets 4-6 hours per day of sun exposure, you can grow any crops on this list.

Here are some prime candidates for your garden, many of which can easily be started from seed.

vegetable garden with beets, lettuce, and choy
This garden is well prepared to head into fall and shorter days.

Green vegetables

  • Kale: This hardy green can withstand light frosts and is a good choice for fall gardens.
  • Collard greens: Another cold-tolerant green, collards are excellent for late-season harvests.
  • Swiss chard: A slightly bitter green high in nutrients, Swiss chard is a good choice for a fall garden.
  • Lettuce: A wide variety of lettuces can be grown in the fall, from head lettuce to leaf lettuce.
  • Spinach: For darker greens, spinach is an excellent choice.
  • Peas: Fall sown peas will mature more slowly, but they don’t mind partial shade.
  • Broccoli: Plant this one early enough to mature, or plant later and harvest as broccolini with small stems instead of a regular head.

Root vegetables

Root vegetables will need to be started early enough to begin developing their roots before they too much shade regularly. Plant them out at least six weeks before the first fall frost for best results.

  • Carrots: Choose a cultivar bred for fall planting, such as ‘Autumn King.’
  • Beets: Beets do well in a fall garden with full or partial sun and can be harvested for greens or roots.
  • Parsnips: A slow-growing root vegetable, parsnips can be planted in the summer and harvested through the winter.
  • Radishes: A wide variety of radishes can be planted in the fall, from the small and spicy daikon to the large and mild French breakfast radish.
  • Onions: Fall-planted onions will overwinter and produce a crop the following spring, even in partial sun.

Herbs

Many herbs can transition from summer through the first frost, even as the days shorten and light exposure decreases.

  • Chives: A hardy perennial that will come back year after year. Chives are adaptable to full or partial sun, summer heat, or winter cold.
  • Thyme: A low-growing herb that can be easily grown in a container and brought indoors.
  • Rosemary: An evergreen herb that can be moved indoors in a sunny window during the winter.
  • Sage: This evergreen herb can survive outdoors through fall and winter and will reinvigorate in the spring.
  • Cilantro: This herb can be grown as a cool-season annual.
  • Chamomile: A hardy, drought-tolerant herb that thrives in full sun or partial sun.
  • Mint: Mint is a vigorous grower that can take either full sun or partial sun.
  • Oregano: This perennial herb can overwinter in mild climates and come back strong in the spring. You should still be able to harvest leaves throughout the winter.

Note that mint is an aggressive spreader and should be in its own pot. Speaking of which, keeping your herbs in pots makes it simple to rotate their location as the season changes so you can continue to maximize their sun exposure.

Flowers

Many flowers will continue to bloom in the fall garden, even if they don’t get as much sun as they do in the summer. Expect fewer blooms and savor the ones you do get!

  • Calendula: This bright and cheerful flower will bloom all fall, right through light frosts.
  • Asters: Asters come in a wide range of colors and bloom from late summer through early fall. Start them in an area that gets summer sun, and they’ll continue to produce even as their location gets more shade on the shorter days.
  • Pansies: These little flowers come in various colors and can handle light frosts.
  • Mums: Garden mums are a staple in any fall garden. They come in a wide range of colors and shapes, and they perform well in pots, making them an excellent choice for container gardens.

Ready for more? Get the full guide for fall gardens to start off with a bang in this article, Extend The Harvest: How To Start A Fall Garden

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