How Much Sunlight is Best for Raised Bed Gardens?

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Even though this answer is not as straightforward as you would imagine, I can give the standard answer and then explain things a little further. 

If you plan on building a raised bed garden, you should find out what sunlight levels your yard has and place most of your beds where they will receive at least 3 hours of sunlight per day and optimally would receive 6 – 8 hours of sunlight per day. This guarantees that most crops will thrive. 

How much sunlight you need for your raised bed garden ultimately depends on what you plan to grow in it. But there are so many more categories that you run across when you’re trying to figure out how much sun your plants want! This can all be very, very complicated for even experienced hobby gardeners. So let me break it down for you!  

How much sunlight for raised bed gardens
Having the right amount of sunlight can ensure healthy plants

Find Your Sun, Then Plan Your Plants

Remember that the light levels of any one area of your yard will change season-to-season. But, if you pay attention to how much shade or sun an area gets daily, you’ll be able to choose the correct plants for the area. 

For instance, fruiting vegetables love intense peaks of sunlight for good blooming. Most other vegetables do well with morning sunlight with afternoon shade. Leafy vegetables are going to do well in more shade. So you want to know where these kinds of sunlight levels in your yard occur.   

If you have moveable beds or haven’t set your beds yet, making a study of the sunlight in each area of the yard is all the more important. You can actually plan the placement of your raised beds according to the sunlight in each area. 

This may take a couple of days to handle, but it’s worth the time and effort. I have a good portion of our yard in shade by mid-afternoon, so I wouldn’t want to plant fruiting crops there. As a matter of fact, I moved the barrel beds to a space that gets a full 8 hours of sun daily. And my tomatoes are happy! 

Sunlight Levels Explained

Sunlight LevelHours of SunlightExplanation
FULL SUN6-8 (or more)Direct sunlight with peak intensity 10 am – 2 pm
PARTIAL SUN3-6Peak intensity 11 am – 1 pm
PARTIAL SHADE3Very brief direct sunlight
LIGHT SHADEVARIABLEUsually dappled or filtered sunlight through the day
FULL SHADELess than  3It may still have some dappled or filtered light 
DEEP SHADE0No direct sunlight 

Shade Vs Sun Exposure Requirements – How Do You Know How Much Sun You Need? 

What makes this all very simple are the ways that a lot of greenhouses have begun using the system above to designate which plants do well in each different kind of sunlight. 

But if you don’t know and you buy your plants from say, a farmer’s market or a local vendor that doesn’t have these things designated in the packaging, just ask. If there is no one around to give you details, there are websites available for that! My favorite is always going to be the Old Farmer’s Almanac. But there are also your local extension services. 

What I will caution you about is that sometimes you’ll think a plant is fins in FULL SUN because you looked it up online and that’s what it said dad-gum-it! However, if the grower has been growing those plants under a sunshade or filter or just originally had them in the partial shade all this time, that’s what they are used to. I’ve learned some very expensive lessons regarding this.

I’ve lost both plants and trees or had to really make amends to them and baby them for a while after placing them in full sun areas after they had been raised in partial sun or partial shade areas. Transplanting is already a shocking process for most plants, but add to it intense sunlight when they were never in it before?  There’s nothing sadder than seeing a beautiful green plant get burned.  

I thought I’d share with you the normal sun levels and the plants that I know of that do well in each. Again, these “traditionally” do well in the categories I’m listing, but always take note of where the vendor is keeping them (in a shaded area or in direct sunlight) or ask if they filtered the light where they were grown.  You may need to transition them to more sunlight or find an area that mimics what they are accustomed to. 

Which Types of Herbs and Vegetables Do Well in Full Shade?

Remember that full shade isn’t really ALL shade. It means that the area sees less than 3 hours of sunlight per day. You’d be surprised by what you can get away with here. Rhubarb, currants, and gooseberries will grow in shaded areas. They need very little sunlight to make it. Sour cherries, pears, and plums will also fruit well even with a limited amount of sunlight. 

My suggestions for shaded areas that I have always found work for me? Plant them with flowering or green plants. I will generally not bother with planting crop plants in areas with dappled sunlight or less (light shade or deep shade). Instead, I will find plants that are good ground cover and plan out a lovely flowerbed and perhaps a bird gathering point. It can still be lovely and enjoyable. 

Just keep in mind that any plants that you put into a shaded area will not need as much watering as the other plants in the yard and they generally will grow slower. So be patient. 

If you don’t think your yard space that has deep shade will be productive with plants, why not try other things? How about that shady corner of the yard that no one uses? Maybe that’s where you should plan to place your composting? Maybe that’s the best spot for a storage shed? Or if you’re lucky and you have the support – how about a nice hammock? No need to let the space go to waste. 

Which Types of Herbs and Vegetables Do Well in Light or Partial Shade?

I will say that herbs and spices can often grow in either light shade or partial to even full sun. I’ve always kept my thyme, basil, sage, chives, and lemon balm in bright sunlight. Especially thyme – as it grows in beautiful mounds that make your yard look good. Same with rosemary, which becomes a shrub. 

Parsley, dill, cilantro, and some mints do better in partial shade, but I’ve grown cilantro, parsley, and mint in higher levels of sunlight as well. Same with oregano. And they’ve all adapted well. I will agree that dill is just not a plant that seems to like a lot of sunlight. Or at least, not in my experience. I believe I’ve wasted at least $10 on those mishaps. 

Root crops can usually handle both lots of sunlight or all the way to dappled sunlight. Those include anything like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, and beets. If it’s a cool-season crop, it will usually do well with less sun and therefore can be grown in shaded areas. Actually, some of my fennel and onions did better in partial shade than in a lot of sunlight. 

You can also grow things in the broccoli and cabbage family in partial shade. They still need at least 3 hours of good sunlight if you want them to grow quickly and have full growth, but you can get away with this sunlight level. These are crops like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, turnip greens/turnips, kale, and cabbage. 

Leafy greens are best when planted in partial to full shade. That’s because intense sunlight can burn or wilt their leaves. And the leaves are the part you want! That means lettuce, arugula, chard, and spinach. 

Which Crops Won’t Produce in Shade?

Any fruiting vegetable that needs to flower in order to produce your crop needs a lot of sunlight. So keep that in mind when you plan your gardening. These are fruits, not just vegetables. I live in muscadine and strawberry country, and those two crops absolutely drink up full sunshine. 

Corn, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peas, and beans all need a lot of sunlight. They do best if they have milder mornings and sunnier afternoons. Especially the beans – those vines love to climb toward the sunlight. Oh, and did I mention eggplants, melons, and peppers? They love sunshine, too! 

The opposite can be said of celery, carrots, bush beans, fruit trees, and herb trees (bay, figs, citrus, berries, etc…). These plants seem to thrive when they have morning sun and afternoon shade. But they all definitely need a lot of sunshine and shouldn’t be planted in shaded areas. 

In Closing

If you read enough of my gardening advice and articles, you’ll realize that I always refer to the Old Farmer’s Almanac for my information. My grandmother used it. My mother used it. My aunts used it. And back then it was an annual or quarterly small paperback magazine that people used to know when to plant things and how to grow them. 

That hasn’t changed, but now, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a website. They still provide sound advice that I use. If you have any questions about the type of food you’d like to grow in a shaded area, look them up as another resource. I’ve even linked it for you! 

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"Growing up a country-girl means you enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, and no matter where you go in life, the outdoors is always part of you. I began doing research on things I wanted to do to make my outdoor space my own, no matter where we moved. And that research led me to write this blog to share with you!"