The Path of the Sun

When selecting the site for your garden, it is essential to choose a space that receives at least eight hours or more of direct sunlight every day.  However, finding enough sun is not always so easy.

Trees, the house, garage, and other structures can shade out a vegetable garden and cause it to become weak, or possibly to fail.

It is best to be flexible when choosing a sunny location for the garden, and it helps to know the path of the sun.

The Changing Lanes of the Sun

The path of the sun changes throughout the year.  At any given point in the northern hemisphere, at the spring equinox, the sun rises exactly in the east, and sets exactly in the west.  Then, through the summer, the path of the sun moves a full 23.5 degrees north of its position at equinox.  There are more hours of sunlight in the summer, and the sun is also in a different place in the sky, relative to the garden.

From the peak of summer through the fall, the path of the sun moves back to the line of the fall equinox.  Then, the sun moves south for another 23.5 degrees for winter.  Finally, the sun returns to its line at the spring equinox.

The Path of the Sun, Photo Courtesy Cornell University

The Path of the Sun, Photo Courtesy Cornell University

There is a full 47 degrees of change in the path of the sun each year.  This change in the sun’s path can create shade at certain times of the year, where at other times the area is in full sun.

Insufficient Sunlight Makes Weak Gardens

A common problem among struggling backyard gardens is availability of sunlight.  Five hours of direct sun in the middle of the day, and dappled shade for rest of the day, is probably not enough for a really good vegetable garden.  Sufficient direct sunlight is especially important in a hot-weather climate.  Heat is not the same as light.  The intensifying heat of summer can badly stress a garden that does not receive enough direct sunlight.

If a garden does not get enough direct sunlight:  1) the plants tend to be weak, slow to mature, and prone to disease and insect damage; and 2) the plants may grow to full size, but produce very little fruit.  The gardener in this situation may treat the pest problem and add fertilizer to the weak plants, without realizing these are only symptoms of a sunlight problem.  A sunny space in one season may be shaded in another.

Get the Full Eight Hours

Make sure your garden stays in the path of the sun for at least eight hours per day.

If your only choice is to garden in shade, use shade tolerant plants; many herbs grow well in shade.  If your garden enjoys full sun during the summer, but is shaded during the cooler months,  try planting a cover crop at the end of your summer harvest and let the garden regenerate itself during its off-season.

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