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Dense Shade In Gardens: Exactly What Is Full Shade

Dense Shade In Gardens: Exactly What Is Full Shade


By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Contrary to what many people think, there are numerous plants that thrive in full shade. These plants are typically defined as those that require only reflected, indirect light but not exposure to full sun. Full sun will often scorch these plants. But exactly what is full shade and how do you gauge full shade density? Keep reading to find out more.

What is Full Shade?

Full shade and full sun are the easiest of light categories to interpret when it comes to growing plants. Full shade basically means that the shade lasts all day long. Very little, if any, direct sunlight hits the plant at any time of the day.

Sunnier areas of the yard or light-colored walls may reflect some sunlight into the shaded area; however, none of this is direct sunlight. Dense shade in gardens is also referred to as full shade but usually under an overhang or canopy of thick trees or vegetation with dense leaf coverage. Full shade density can also be found under patios, decks, or other garden structures.

Plants for Full Shade

Plants for full shade don’t generally display the brilliant colors of those that receive full sunlight; however, there are many interesting and attractive options to choose from.

One of the biggest challenges in shade gardening is to make sure that the soil is well augmented. Shady areas may already be occupied with other vegetation, such as trees or bushes, that draw a great deal of nutrients from the soil. Roots also make it difficult to plant at times. There are many woodland species of plants that are quite happy to share the earth with other trees and shrubs; however, adding some organic compost will help make planting easier.

Variegated or lightly colored leaves such as creams, whites, yellows, and pinks add color and interest to densely shaded garden areas. If you wish to use deeper colors such as reds, blues, and purples, set them off with lighter color plants.

It is also important to remember that light patterns vary depending on the season, so keep this in mind when choosing plants for shade. Watch your garden throughout the year and make notes as to the amount of sun and shade that each part receives during each month or season.

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What does full sun or part shade mean?

A Guide to Understanding Light Levels in Your Garden

Full sun, part sun, part shade, full shade. what exactly does it all mean? And how do you know what you have in your own garden? Let's take a closer look at light levels so you can be sure to select the right plants for your containers and landscape.

Sunlight is the most essential element all plants need to live, so it’s important to understand it in detail. So, let’s talk about sunlight—what do the terms full sun, part sun, part shade and full shade really mean? And how to you know what kind of sun you have in your garden? Whether you’re shopping for annuals, perennials or shrubs, light levels are defined the same way for all kinds of plants. Start with the basic definitions.

Basic Light Level Definitions

  • Full sun - 6 or more hours of direct sun per day
  • Part sun - 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, including some afternoon sun
  • Part shade - 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, mostly before midday
  • Full shade - less than 4 hours of direct sun per day

How Do You Know How Much Sun You Have?

To figure out how much sun the spot you want to plant in receives each day, you could use a garden light meter to measure it. You could also save that money to spend on more plants by simply observing your garden for a few days in the summer. Find the spot where you’d like to plant, then keep track on a sheet of paper whether or not that spot is receiving direct sunlight each hour of the day. Do this for a few days to find an average.

What is Full Sun?

Full sun is defined as six or more hours of direct sun per day. If you live in a newly constructed development or out in the country where there are few trees, your garden may not see any shade at all during the day. Maybe your front porch faces South and has nothing obstructing the sun from midmorning until early evening. Any amount of sun greater than or equal to six hours is considered full sun.

What is Part Sun?

Part sun is defined as four to six hours of direct sun per day. Not all those hours need to be accrued consecutively—it could mean a few hours of morning sun plus a few more in the afternoon. When a plant prefers part sun, although it does not need to be in direct sun all day, it will grow and bloom best with at least some of those hours being in the afternoon. These plants need some heat and intense sun exposure in order to produce flowers and new growth.

What is Part Shade?

Part shade is also defined as four to six hours of direct sun per day, but most of that should come in the morning hours when the sun’s rays are less intense. We say that plants which prefer part shade enjoy “cool sun”, meaning direct sun in the morning or evening and protection from the hot midday sun.

What is Full Shade?

Full shade is defined as less than four hours of direct sun per day. Notice we didn’t say zero hours of direct sun—that would be dense shade which is the darkest of all light levels where few plants can survive. Full shade loving plants enjoy a few hours of sun each day, preferably in the morning.

Understanding Light Levels on Plant Labels

When you are shopping for or researching plants, pay close attention to how much sun they need. This information is always included on plant labels because it’s so essential to get right. Here are a few examples of what you will find and how to interpret that information.

When the Label Says Full Sun

When full sun is the only light level listed for a plant, that means it is going to need at least six hours of direct sunlight to grow and bloom. If you plant it in a lesser amount of light, it likely will not bloom and in some cases the plant may not survive. Oftentimes, full sun loving plants also are heat tolerant and some can handle drier soils. Choose full sun plants for your sunniest garden spaces.

When the Label Says Part Sun to Sun

When part sun to sun is listed for a plant, that means it will grow and bloom in both part sun and full sun conditions, meaning a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight. Since part sun means the plant needs some heat and intense sun to produce flowers, you would choose a spot where at least a few of those hours were in intense midday sun. Expect most part sun to sun plants to bloom most prolifically in full sun and produce fewer flowers in part sun.

When the Label Says Part Shade to Shade

When part shade to shade is listed for a plant, that means it prefers to grow in less than six hours of direct sunlight per day with most of that being the less intense morning sun. These plants often thrive in cooler climates where moisture is plentiful, and they can easily scorch in the hot afternoon sun. Some part shade to shade plants produce flowers, but many are grown more for their decorative foliage.

When the Label Says Sun or Shade

When sun or shade is listed for a plant, that means it will grow in any amount of sunlight in most parts of the country. Some plants are very flexible about how much sun they need to grow and can handle both intense sun and shade. ColorBlaze ® coleus, for example, was bred to handle the hot Florida sun but also grows beautifully in Michigan shade. The color of the foliage or the amount of flowers may vary a bit between light levels, but these plants are beautiful everywhere they are grown.

Regional Variations on Sun and Shade Requirements

The definitions of sun and shade seem pretty straightforward when you consider only the number of hours of direct sun plants are receiving. If you live in the Midwest, Upper Midwest, Northwest or on the East Coast, the number of hours of sunlight a plant receives is a good general guideline to follow since those climates are fairly temperate.

However, if you live in a warmer climate like the West, Southwest or Southeast, you’ll need to factor in the sun’s intensity, too. Since those areas are closer to the equator, the sun’s rays are more intense and hotter than in northern climates. As a result, some sun loving plants will need protection from the midday sun to prevent scorching and may need to be watered more often, too.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are a great example. In the North, bigleaf hydrangeas grow well in full sun and average to moist soil. But when the same plants are grown in the South, they require protection from the hot afternoon sun and need to be watered more frequently to prevent wilting and leaf scorch. If you garden in the South and a plant label indicates part sun to sun, it’s a good bet that it will grow better for you with some afternoon shade.

Ready to find plants that fit the light levels in your garden? Check out these resources:

  • Tap the Light Level button under the big search box on our home page and select the one you’d like to explore.
  • Save pins from our Plants for Sun or Shade Pinterest board.
  • Explore annuals, perennials and shrubs for shady landscapes.
  • See pictures of container recipes for sun and shade.
  • Learn more about shade gardening with these articles.


Study Your Yard's Sunlight

Get started by recording how much sunlight your yard receives over time. Assess light patterns every hour or two throughout the course of a day, noting where shadows fall and for how long. Keep in mind that in spring, bare-branched trees may give the illusion of sunny spots beneath, but once they leaf out, they often create heavy shade during summer and into fall. Buildings and walls also cast shadows consider those structures as you plot the sun's path over your patch of earth.

Use marking flags or stakes to indicate light and shadow in your yard. Or you can create a light map on paper. Start with a few sheets of tracing paper, sketching a copy of your yard's outline on each page. About two hours after sunrise, observe where light and shade fall and mark them on the tracing paper, noting the time. Repeat the process through the day, each time using a different sheet of paper. Stop recording about an hour before dusk. Use a pencil to mark shady sections of the yard on each page. Label sun and shade pockets to indicate whether they reflect morning or afternoon conditions. Layer the pages together, and you'll get an accurate picture of how much light your yard receives. Create a composite drawing to use as a one-page light map.


How Do You Shade Plants From The Sun?

As we all know, shade varies in terms of size and strength. Sounds weird but if you think about it, it’s true. But most importantly, anything that blocks the sun’s rays will act as sunscreen for your plants, regardless of the degree it provides.

But you must be wondering how to help your plants thrive under the hottest sun temperatures of the day?

So, let’s read on and learn how to add shade cloth for plants in your garden and protect them from solar radiation, particularly on hot summer days.

Besides, sunburn, wilting, and dehydration are considered fatal factors to your plants caused by the intense heat of the sun.

Afternoon Shade Ideas to Keep Your Plant Cool

Some garden designs such as shade cloth covers for plants, sunflowers, umbrellas, and vining plants in arbors or pergolas will not only add curb to your garden landscape but protection too.

They are excellent in providing shade, not only for your vegetables in the garden but to all that need some relief from the heatwave of the scorching sun.

Create Shade With A Garden Cloth

Image by: sophiespatch.com.au

Providing a cooling relief by adding a shade cloth cover when the sun’s intensity is at its highest can make a big difference to your plants.

It is an inexpensive way to provide relief to your plants. Besides, shade cloth covers are useful in many applications aside from your garden.

You can add shade cloth to cover the shade house skeleton or greenhouse glazing in the summer. It will help reduce the amount of solar heat that reaches your plants.

Yes, adding a shade cover in some garden structure is helpful to your plants. It is especially beneficial when young seedlings establish and harden off.

A sunshade for plants made of loosely woven fabric comes in varying shade densities, approximately 5% to 95%. And it is permeable. It allows rainwater, sprinklers, and irrigation systems to help keep your plants hydrated.

Yet, when considering a garden shade fabric to cover your garden, hold them several inches above the plants. Doing so will not trap the heat that may likely add stress to the growing plants.

And when installed correctly, the garden shade netting allows you to adjust the amount of light penetration your plants will be receiving.

Two Types of Shade Cloth Material

Combining the benefits of both the greenhouse shade cloth cover with the fair amount of ventilation will create a perfect temperature for your plants to thrive.

However, the amount of shade and ventilation necessary depends on what types of plants you are growing.

The woven (polypropylene) and knitted (polyethylene) are the two types of sunshade cloth you will find in most garden landscapes . And both are available in various sizes.

In addition to the material, both have density percentages ranging between 5% to 95%.

Both woven and knitted shade cloths come with advantages and disadvantages. And to help you determine which one fits your plant’s needs, let me give you a clear overview of both materials.

Knitted Shade Cloth (Made of lightweight polyethylene)

  • UV Resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install
  • 8-10 year lifespan
  • Allow for 2-3% stretch or shrinkage
  • Resists tears and unraveling
  • Resists wind damage with open lockstitch design
  • Reduces heat build-up inside structures
  • Resists most horticultural chemicals and detergents
  • Comes in various colors
  • Less expensive
  • Suitable for shade houses, greenhouses, and hothouses.

Woven Shade Cloth ( Made of 100% polypropylene )

  • UV resistant sunscreen
  • Sturdy and durable
  • 12 year life span
  • Lightweight
  • Easy installation
  • Strong stretching resistant
  • Windproof
  • Taped edges to resist fraying
  • In various colors
  • More expensive than knitted shade cloth
  • Suitable for pet kennels, shading for patios, windscreens, privacy screens, and solar protection for plants.

Percentages (Everything You Need To Know)

But what density percentage of shade cloth must you use to protect the plants in your garden?

Sunlight is crucial to the plants’ growth. And choosing the right density to help your plants thrive is essential.

Garden shade covers have different density percentages ranging from 5% to 95%. And depending on the amount of sunlight your plants require will determine the denseness of shade cloth you need.

A shade cover with 30% shade cloth density also means that 30% of the light is blocked, and the remaining 70% can pass through and reach the plants.

With that being said, providing the right amount of light that your plants need is essential.

And to help you determine the density percentages appropriate for your plants, check out the following examples below.

  • 30% – Shade cloth with density ranging from 30% is ideal for heat-tolerant plants. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries, and peppers.
  • 40% to 50% – This range is ideal for flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables.
  • 60% – Best for plants and herbs that prefer partial shade such as lettuce, greens, spinach, dill, parsley, and cilantro.
  • 75% – Often used to provide shade for animals and plants like ferns & orchids.
  • 90% – Commonly used as a ground cover to prevent weed growth, or as a privacy screening to maximize shade protection.

Note: Hanging covers high enough above the plants is the key to maximizing the optimal potential of shade cloth.

Allow a sufficient amount of ventilation to prevent the build-up of heat underneath the greenhouse or other enclosed shade structures.

Create Shade with Sunflowers

Some tall plants in your garden can help protect plants that prefer partial sunlight.

And planting a row of tall plants like corn or sunflowers facing the south or west side of your vegetable garden can make a difference in the amount of sunlight the shorter plants will receive.

Sunflowers are one of those plants that grow easily. It can shoot up quickly in a short period of time to attain a full-height of about 1.5 to 4 meters.

This height is helpful to various plants that prefer dappled shade. And depending on the variety of plants you are growing, sunflowers can cast shadows where they grow.

Create Shade With An Outdoor Umbrella

Image by: poggesiusa.com

Without a doubt adding an outdoor umbrella will not only add curb to your landscape but will also provide shade and protect your plants from the scorching afternoon sun.

Using an outdoor umbrella can both protect you and your plants from the sun. It will help block excessive afternoon heat that may likely cause permanent damage to your plants.

Also, you can move and angle the umbrella to provide shade to the plants that need it the most. But don’t forget to take it down when you expect strong winds. You can also tilt the umbrella in the morning so plants can receive moderate sunlight.

Vining Plants As Shade Cover

Aside from adding texture and color to your garden, pergolas and arbors are structures used for centuries to enhance the beauty of garden landscapes.

These elegant garden structures can hold up vines to create shade and provide a diffused light gentle enough to help plants grow healthy.

Annual and perennial climbing vines can quickly cover the garden structure. And these plants produce lush foliage and beautiful blooms. As a result, they provide sun screening and shade beneficial to you and your plants in the garden.

Vining plants such as honeysuckle, trumpet vine, sweet autumn clematis, Virginia creeper, Chinese wisteria, English ivy, Vinca minor, and Emerald gaiety euonymus are the best perennial vining plants you can use to create shade.

However, keep in mind that not all climbing vines are suitable as shading plants. There are many species considered to be invasive and may likely overwhelm your garden structure.

Create Instant Shade With A Shade Dot

Image by: shadeforplants.com- Pinterest

A shade dot next to your plants is another way to protect them from the scorching sun. It acts as a mini-greenhouse, whether you’re growing plants in potted containers in a terrace garden, in-ground, or in raised beds.

It requires no rigging, and also you should bathe your plants with soft diffused light at the hottest hours of the day.

And using a shade dot to provide shade to your plants is easy. Adjust the angle and height to block the intense rays. Moreover, it’s structural design will add style to your gorgeous garden landscape.

This innovative sunshade cover made of semi-transparent UV-coated, corrugated polypropylene is lightweight and sturdy. It is ideal both for rain or shine use.

And the disk-like instant shade provider is weather-resistant. It can insulate and keep a cooling breeze your plants need.

Reasons to Provide Afternoon Shade To Your Plants

A collection of dark or bleached spots on the leaves or hardening of the soil beneath the plant is the most obvious sign you will find if your plant is suffering from the sun.

And leaves wilting, turning pale or yellowish-green, are also signs of too much sunlight exposure.

Building a shade cover for plants often seems overwhelming, but it is inexpensive and so much easier than you might think.

However, knowing where and when you need one can make a big difference in providing relief to your plants.

1) Get full morning sun and diffused light on the hottest part of the day.

Getting a full morning sun allows the plants to grow to their full potential. Also, it gives the plant plenty of energy through photosynthesis. And providing an afternoon shelter will relieve a lot of the heat buildup inside the garden shade structure.

One of the essential aspects of having an efficient shade garden is knowing when your plants need some shelter.

2) Help reduce the amount of moisture loss through transpiration.

We know the afternoon is the hottest part of the day, and in May, June through August or September are the hottest months of the year.

And providing shade covers for your plants will help reduce the possibility of moisture loss through transpiration.

What this means is that a permanent overhead shade structure isn’t necessary as long as you can provide shading relief to your plants at this period.

However, a permanent shade structure can be an excellent addition if it is over a BBQ area next to your garden.

Aside from that, a temporary shading structure is sufficient as plants don’t need shade covering them all year long.

3) Help plants cope with heat stress because of fluctuating temperatures.

The fluctuating temperature is quite a challenging period gardeners have to deal with.

Moreover, the rise in temperatures can cause lasting damage to plant growth. And it is a fatal threat to your plants when neglected.

The plant’s ability to manage heat stress varies within developmental stages. And in response to heat stress, plants show versatility upon changes.

However, to enhance a plant’s ability to survive high temperatures, taking action to relieve stress will probably save them from the unfavorable conditions of extreme temperatures.


Shading is a way of keeping the greenhouse cool during the hotter months. It reduces the temperature inside by minimizing the amount of light passing to the greenhouse.

You might think that good ventilation is enough to keep the temperature to the optimal value, but you are forgetting about the radiant energy from the sun.

It easily builds up inside the greenhouse and increases the temperature which is dangerous for many plants. Of course, the growth of plants directly depends on the amount of sunlight, so keep shading to the minimum.

How the shade cloth cools the greenhouse?

As I have already mentioned the radiant energy from the sun heats the greenhouse. Particularly the infrared radiation. It is not visible to the human eye as it has longer wavelengths as those of the visible light.

For the active photosynthesis plants need blue to red range lights of the total light spectrum which are within 400-700 nm range. Anything higher than this range is damaging for the plants.

Exposure to the excessive amounts of the infrared light, particularly in the far end of the spectrum can damage the plants. It can be anything from discoloration to the to early growth spurts which impact on health, or can even lead to the death of plants.

Greenhouse shade cloth reflects the sun rays back or partially blocks them. Plants only need 1.5-2% of the transmitted sunlight for the photosynthesis.

Does shade cloth reduce heat?

Shade clothes typically reduce the light level by 75% and turn it into the heat. The temperature of the cloth raises as it acts as a solar collector.

The temp of the cloth is higher than temp of the air, so the heat energy goes up. As it goes up, the cool air draws from below in the process known as evaporative cooling.

What is a Greenhouse Shade Cloth made of?

The most common materials for the cloth are polyethylene and polypropylene. You can find a variety of shade cloths of different densities and degrees of shade ranging from 5 to 95 per cent.

Is shade cloth waterproof?

A good shade cloth should be water resistant to work well when it is raining or you are using an irrigation system to water your plants.

A waterproof shade cloth is made of the 90 per cent shade fabric treated with UV stabilized resin to make it water resistant.

Types of Shade Clothe For Greenhouse

Today, you are most likely to find two types of shade clothes on the market: knitted and woven.

Knitted is constructed from the polyethylene and it looks like one continuous yarn is looped to form something similar to the tiny rows of braids.

Woven is made from woven polypropylene and represents multiple yarns crossing each other at right angles to create the grain, like a basket. The lifespan of the woven shade cloth is from 10 to 12 years while the knitted one lasts 7-10 years.

Knitted vs woven shade cloth

The woven shade cloth is typically 30% heavier than knitted one, hence tends to be more expensive. Also, the lightweight knitted option is easier to install. Both types are UV resistant and can withstand the extreme sun exposures.

The woven shade cloth is only available in black color. Knitted ones come in the variety of colors. The main difference between the both options is that woven will unravel if cut.

This is due to the structure of the cloth. If a hole forms in the knitted shade cloth the threads running in different directions will not unravel.

Moreover, knitted option is resistant to the most of the horticultural chemicals and detergents. The knitted fabric can be stretched up to 3 per cent whilst woven can’t.

Overall, woven shade cloth has multiple applications in wind screens, pet kennels and patio shading whilst knitted shade cloth is widely used for a greenhouse shading.

You can purchase the knitted shade cloth and woven shade cloth used in this picture from the ShadeClothStore.

What percentage shade cloth to use?

Both knitted and woven shade clothes come in different densities. The density of the shade cloth is referred to as percentage.

The percentage of the shade cloth corresponds to the amount of light which is blocked by this cloth. The shade clothes typically come in 30%, 55%, 63%, 75%, 80% and 90% options.

You need to choose a shade cloth according to the plants you are growing in your greenhouse. It is crucial to choose a cloth of the right density to allow a sufficient amount of sunlight for a healthy growth.

The reference range for most vegetables is 30-50% shade cloth. Also, for the most plants shade cloth within 30-60% is ideal.

However, there are some plants which require specific shading conditions. For example, orchids and ferns which are shade loving plants require 75% shade cloth to receive the appropriate levels of sunlight.

What is the best shade cloth for greenhouse?

The best shade cloth for greenhouse is a water resistant knitted. It will not unravel if cut ans is available in a variety of colors and percentages.

A shade cloth of 30-50% is ideal for most vegetables, however, some plants require a shade cloth of 30-60%.

How to put shade cloth on greenhouse?

Before buying a greenhouse shade cloth go ahead and measure the width and lengths of the roof using a tape measure. Ideally, the shade cloth should drape down the sides of the greenhouse from the roof.

To make sure these will be equal measure the distance from the top of the roof to up to two thirds down of the both sides.

Take into account that cloth connects to the frame of the greenhouse and is not overhanging on the sides.

Remember, you don’t need to cover the sides of the greenhouse completely (that is why you are measuring two thirds on the sides). Sunlight should still enter the greenhouse.

There is a chance that you might need to cut the cloth after you bought it during the installation. To avoid that I found an option where you can get a shade cloth customized to your desired size!

However, bear in mind that you will need to order it in advance as it takes up to one month to make and deliver the cloth.

So, if you are after an easy installation I am going to share the easiest way with you!

Step-by-step shade cloth installation guide

After you took the measurements and ordered your cloth it’s time to get ready for the installation.

Some accessories might come together with the cloth, some tools you should have at home and maybe you will need to get a couple of things.

  1. Attach S-hooks to the base of the greenhouse.
  2. Place the hooks 2 feet apart to match the shade cloth grommets.
  3. Place the shade cloth over the roof of the greenhouse.
  4. Use bungee cords to attach the grommets to the hooks in the base.
  5. To secure the cloth on the frame you can use snap on claps for the PVC pipe greenhouse. If your greenhouse is made of wood or aluminum I would recommend using lock channels.

How to clean my greenhouse shade cloth?

To understand what is the best cleaning method for a shade cloth we need to learn a little bit about its composition.

As I have already mentioned the shade cloths are made of the high density polyethylene. Therefore, it is resistant to dirt, moisture and some chemicals.

This means that dirt doesn’t adhere to the single yarns of the cloth. Also, the material is durable because it doesn’t rot.

However, when exposed to the excessive amounts of dust and moisture the fabric can look grey.

That is why people think that it is molded which is not true. Actually, dirt and moisture get stuck in the knit pattern and give the fabric grey appearance.

So, the easiest way to avoid it is to clean your shade cloth regularly to prevent the build-up of moisture and dirt.

How do you wash a shade cloth?

DO NOT wash the shade in the washing machine, clothes drier or use a stiff brush, scouring pad or an abrasive cleaner!

To wash the cloth use a weak concentration of non-abrasive pH neutral detergent with warm water.

Make sure that the detergent you use doesn’t have any acidic chemicals or solvents which weaken the cloth’s resistance to UV radiation.

It is very important to let the fabric dry thoroughly after the clean, so do the cleaning on a sunny day.

Greenhouse shade cloth cleaning steps:

  • Remove the shade cloth from the greenhouse and lay it flat on a smooth, clean surface
  • Apply cleaning solution described above to the fabric with a long soft bristled mop or brush
  • Work along the fabric in sections to cover the shade cloth fully
  • Rinse it well with a strong flow of fresh water from your backyard hose
  • Let your cloth to dry
  • Re-install your shade cloth on the greenhouse.

There are more shading options which you can use for your greenhouse. Please let me know if you want to know more about them. I hoped you found this information useful.


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