Should Vegetable Gardens Be In Full Sun? (Yes, For Best Results)

garden with lettuce and leeks

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your vegetable garden is where to put it. Like most home gardeners, you’re looking to produce a significant yield from your vegetable garden. To do that, though, you’ll need to plant in a spot that gets plenty of full sun.

Vegetable gardens should generally be located in full sun for at least six hours per day, especially if they grow heat-loving plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant. The exception is in very hot climates where some afternoon shade can protect the garden from getting too hot.

From crop selection to a few tips to maximize garden performance, you’ll soon be ready to plant your full sun garden.

Full sun is optimal for a productive vegetable garden

For most vegetables, full sun is best. A full sun garden means that the plants get at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, though some vegetables like tomatoes and peppers will perform even better with eight or more hours of direct sunlight every day.

Many vegetables need this many hours of sun to grow well, so site your garden in the sunniest area if you’re hoping to produce a good harvest. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind before establishing the location of your garden.

First, it’s important to know that six hours of sunlight is the minimum – more is often better. If you’re trying to maximize your harvest (who isn’t?), then eight hours or more can mean the difference between a mediocre harvest and a bumper crop.

On the flip side, if you live in an area with scorching summers, you might want to garden in partial shade to protect your vegetables from the intense afternoon sun.

Second, remember that the sun moves throughout the day, so your garden will get different amounts of sunlight at different times of the day.

Morning sun is weaker than afternoon sun, so if you live in a cooler climate or your days are often overcast in the spring, then afternoon sun will be more advantageous to your garden.

If possible, choose a spot where the sun hits for most of the day – this will give your sun-loving vegetables the best chance to thrive.

Finally, keep in mind that even if your garden only gets 5-6 hours of sunlight per day, you’ll still be able to grow a huge variety of plants. You’ll even still be able to harvest those summer staple crops like tomatoes and zucchini.

Don’t let a lack of sunlight stop you from planting a garden!

What plants do well in full sun gardens?

Almost all types of vegetable crops will perform well in full sun. The plants will be robust and productive and will possibly have fewer problems with pests and diseases because they aren’t under stress.

Some of the best vegetables to grow in full sun include:

Tomatoes

This iconic summer crop earns a sunny spot in any summer garden. Make sure to choose a variety of tomato plant that is well-suited to your climate – there are tons of different options out there! My favorite cherry tomato for any climate is Sungold. They’re like little pieces of candy from the garden.

Peppers

Like tomatoes, pepper plants will also perform best in full sun. Again, make sure to select varieties that are appropriate for your climate. Bell peppers take longer to grow and ripen past their green stage than smaller peppers, so let that guide your variety choice.

Eggplant

Eggplant can take all the sun you can provide, even the hot afternoon sun. If you have the space, try growing a couple of different varieties. Japanese and Thai varieties will mature faster than the larger egg-shaped Black Beauty, which is easier to find at garden centers. 

Cucumbers

Cucumbers love full sun, but they are one crop that appreciates some shade in the afternoon. If you see the leaves wilt in the summer sun, don’t worry. The plant will perk back up as the temperatures cool overnight.

Zucchini

Zucchini is another vegetable that’s known for its fast growth. It’s a summer staple in many gardens, and it will also do best in full sun. Unless you plant a compact bush type, the plant will travel, sending out new stalks every time you harvest the fruit. So make sure to give the plant plenty of room.

Other summer squashes fall into the same category, such as yellow squash or pattypans. 

Beans

Beans are a great crop to grow in full sun. It will encourage vigorous growth, especially for pole beans. The plants will need some support, so make sure to place your beans near a fence or trellis.

Corn

Corn is another crop that loves full sun, but it also needs plenty of space. Corn is an exceptional crop in that you can’t grow just one or two plants. You have to grow at least 16 or so plants, if not more. This is because corn plants pollinate each other via the wind, so there needs to be a certain amount of plants to facilitate the process.

Leafy greens and root crops

Leaf and root vegetables such as lettuce and beets can also perform well in full-sun gardens, but they’re less particular, so they can also grow well in partial sun if you have limited full-sun space.

These crops are also the ones that will need some protection from the intense late afternoon sun in hot climates because too much heat and light can burn the leaves. Additionally, beets, radishes, and carrots will get tough and slow down their growth when the soil temperature gets too high so that protection does double duty.

You can hang a shade cloth or even an old bedsheet to provide a little shade to your garden beds and customize the amounts of sun it gets throughout the day. 

Tips for keeping your garden thriving in full sun

Once you’ve decided which vegetables you want to grow in your full sun garden, you can do a few things to make sure they thrive.

First, make sure the soil is healthy and will hold enough moisture. If you have sandy soil, it can struggle to hold enough moisture to maintain a successful vegetable garden. Adding organic materials to the soil will help. This can be in compost, manure, or even just some chopped-up leaves.

Second, don’t forget to water regularly. Your plants will need plenty of water in full sun, so make sure to water deeply and regularly. That doesn’t have to be every day, but a weekly or twice a week watering schedule will help your plants take full advantage of the season with solid growth.

Finally, don’t forget to mulch! Mulching will help keep the soil moist and cool – two things your plants will appreciate in the hot sun. Grass clippings are easily accessible, especially in the summertime. Wood chips are my preferred method, which you can usually get free from local arborists.

With a bit of care, your full-sun garden will be thriving in no time. Just remember to choose the right vegetables for your climate and give them the attention they need. For even more details about a fall garden, this article has it all: Extend The Harvest: How To Start A Fall Garden.

Keep Reading

Here are a few more resources to help you start or maintain a robust food garden:

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