One of the most important things to work out when it comes to your garden is how the sun moves across the space through each day and throughout the year. Determining the patterns of sunlight and shade in your garden can involve making a Sun Map. A Sun Map will make it much easier for you to visualise and understand sunlight and shade in your garden.
Creating a wonderful garden always begins with observation, and an understanding of your site. One of the best ways to ensure that your plants grow well is to make sure that you always choose the right plants for the right places. And that means understanding the environmental factors, the the climate and microclimate, and the effect that these things have on the plants you want to grow. Making a sun map can be one part of the puzzle.
What is a Sun Map?
A Sun Map is basically a pictorial representation of the movement of the sun, and the shade cast in your garden. A sun map might be a simple rough sketch, or a far more complex and detailed document. It might depict the movement of the sun in your garden over the course of a day at a certain time of year. And may also include more information about how this changes as the sun moves across the sky throughout the course of the year.
Why Create a Sun Map?
A sun map essentially gives you some crucial information you need to
Decide where to position new garden beds or growing areas.
Determine which plants will be best for you to grow.
And determine the best layout/ planting schemes for beds and borders.
You could simply observe you garden carefully in order to obtain the information you need. But it can be very useful to have the information in a form that you can check back on.
At its simplest, a sun map might just be a simple sketch of your garden with the information added with different coloured pencils. In more elaborate designs, it might be a multi-layered digital document with far more detailed information. The key thing is simply to understand the site better, and to record information that will be helpful to you in creating your garden design and establishing a successful garden.
If you are creating a simple sun map to help you plan a new kitchen garden, then a simple sun map is really all you need. Your key goal will be to record areas of full sun, partial or dappled shade, and deep shade throughout the course of a day. Taking measurements on several days – in spring, summer and autumn, will help you understand which areas of the garden get the most light, and when, throughout the year.
Plants which need full sun require 6 hours or more of sunlight per day.
Those that do best in part shade require 3-6 hours of sun per day.
And plants for shade can cope with or prefer 3 hours or fewer of sunlight each day.
Most gardens will have a combination of all these conditions, as the sun moves east to west over the Earth, and shade is cast by buildings, trees or other structures.
Sectors Information Tools
In order to understand the apparent movement of the sun relative to us, and how that changes throughout the year, it can be helpful to do some sectors mapping. A tool like SunCalc can show the path of the sun on a given day of the year. It can help you to understand where the sun rises and where it sets.
Combining that information with a sun map that shows shade cast by local buildings and vegetation can give us a much stronger and better understanding of how sunny (or shady) a garden really is.
How To Record Sun and Shade
There are several different ways that you can map sunlight and shade in your garden.
The first idea is to draw a sketch of your garden, with trees, buildings, fences etc. marked on. You do not need to be a great artist but try to be as accurate as possible. Now, set aside a day when you will be at home to make observations from sunrise through to sunset. Your goal is to note sunlight and shade every hour, or at least every couple of hours.
Using different coloured pencils, mark areas which are in full sun, and which are in shade each hour or couple of hours. You should begin to see a pattern emerge.
Remember, to get a full picture, you will need to create a series of sun maps that show light and shade in your garden in the different seasons. At very least, it is a good idea to create a map for spring, when you are planting out many crops, and another for mid-summer.
Photography & Digital Work
If you are short of time, and more technologically minded, you could also consider setting up a camera to take snapshots of your garden every hour throughout the course of the day. By layering those images together, you will be able to build up a picture of light and shade.
If you so wished, you could trace over those images and use those markings to create a more detailed sun map for your garden.
Once you have created your sun map, you should find that you can easily see whether a particular part of your garden has full sun, partial shade, or deep shade. You will easily be able to see which parts of the garden have the most hours of sunlight per day, and which areas have the least. And you will know when the sunlight is received in each part of your garden.
Using a Sun Map for Garden Design and Planning
Remember, different plants will have different requirements when it comes to how much sun they need. A sun map can help you see more easily how well certain plants will do in certain parts of your garden. Just remember, while light and shade are important, you also need to take into account other details, such as the soil type and conditions where you live, when choosing plants.
It is also worthwhile thinking about the pros and cons of different conditions. A full sun site may be beneficial in shoulder seasons or winter, but could be more of a challenge in hot summer weather. More shaded areas will provide protection from the hot summer sun – but look out for frost pockets and chilly areas that could shorten your growing season. Remember, levels of light and shade will have an impact on other parts of gardening – how much water plants require, for one thing.
It does take a little time and effort to make a sun map. But the effort is worth it. It can make your garden far more successful, and save you time and effort down the line. Understanding the patterns that shape your garden is crucial when growing your own and obtaining the best possible yields, however and wherever you garden.
Have you created a sun map for your garden? Let us know what you have found and how it has helped you in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.