Well, it's that time of year again! Despite the solid week of cold, rain, and lack of sunshine, it's still garden season and time to plan. Last year was my first season with my garden here in Massachusetts, and I barely got by with the skin of my teeth. Because I moved up here in the winter, to a house where a garden hadn't existed before, I had no idea what kind of soil I was dealing with.
With no time to take a sample I had to plant my seeds and seedlings with some general 10-10-10 fertilizer and hope for the best. Well, it turns out that my soil was extremely calcium deficient among some other things. Word to the wise: if this is your first time putting a garden in a particular spot, do yourself a favor and get a soil sample! I had mine tested this past winter with some soil I collected in the fall. I recommend doing so as it will save you a lot of headaches and frustration!
With my soil issue being corrected this year, and a better handle on the sunniness or shadiness of parts of the garden (because I don't have the luxury of it being smack dab in the middle of an old cow pasture anymore!) I decided I was going to rearrange some plants to maximize space as well. To make the most out of your garden and utilize space, knowing what vegetables need full sun, part sun, or part shade in order to thrive is essential.
Different Sun Requirements
Just like any other plant, different types of vegetables have different requirements when it comes to the amount of direct sun they need in order to grow and produce a good yield. There is a good general rule of thumb that you can follow: if the vegetable flowers to bear fruit it requires full sun, if the vegetable produces a head, leafy greens, or a root, then it requires part sun or part shade. Just like any rule, there are exceptions and gray areas. For instance corn does not produce a flower but requires full sun, whereas winter squash does produce a flower, but you can get away with planting it in part sun.
Full Sun Vegetables
Full sun is a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, but sun loving vegetables will thrive on 8+. Plant these vegetables in the areas of your garden where you do not have any shade or very little.
Part Sun Vegetables
Part sun is a minimum of 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. They will thrive on more, but it is not required. If you have areas of your garden that are shady in the morning or evening, but meet the minimum requirements, this would be the ideal location to plant these types of vegetables.
Part Shade Vegetables
Part shade or light shade is a minimum of 2-4 hours of direct sunlight per day. Some part sun vegetables are also part shade such as cauliflower and broccoli. Plant these vegetables on the shadiest part of your garden.
Planning Your Garden Layout
Planning the layout of your garden is a strategy. You have to consider several factors such as the orientation of your garden in relation to north and west, anything surrounding your garden such as buildings/trees that would cast shade on your garden and when, and the height of the vegetables that you're growing.
How Garden Orientation Affects Planting
The first thing that you need to take into consideration before planning or planting anything, is what direction your garden is oriented. Using my garden as an example in the picture above, my garden is rectangular in length and runs from north to south. Because the sun rises in the east and moves south before setting in the west, I plant my tallest crop (corn) in the northern portion of my garden, and as you move towards the south portion, the plants are shorter and shorter. With this layout, it prevents the taller vegetables from casting any shadows on shorter ones.
If your garden runs from west to east (flip mine 90°) the same principal applies, only you want to plant your vegetables tallest to shortest from west to east. Although you will get some shadows cast in the evening hours on your shorter vegetables in the eastern portion, they still will have direct sun the rest of the day which will be sufficient.
Utilizing Vegetable Height /Surroundings for Shade
As the leaves start coming in on the trees, you will want to start keeping an eye on the area where you'll put your garden. If your garden has any surrounding trees or buildings, pay attention to where they're casting shade, and what time of day/how long. You want to get an idea of which areas of your garden (if any) will get shade and how much direct sunlight those areas receive. That way you can still utilize the space for part sun or part shade vegetables.
If your garden does not get any shade, then you can utilize the height of your crops to purposely create it if you want. Depending on if your garden has a north to south or east to west orientation (detailed above), you can create shade for part shade vegetables by planting them to the west or north of taller growing crops.
For example if I switched where I plant my corn and tomatoes, once the corn is taller than the tomatoes, it would cast a significant amount of shade on the tomatoes which isn't good considering they want as much sun as they can possibly get. By going from tallest to shortest from north to south, it prevents any shadows created by the vegetables themselves. You can utilize the height though by planting part shade or part sun vegetables in the areas that your larger crops will cast shade.
Clearly planning a new garden is a lot more involved than just sticking some plants in the ground. You just need to be a little observant of the amount of direct sunlight and plan accordingly. You may tweak some things based on your first year, but once you have a solid plan down of where to plant your veggies that works, then there isn't any planning involved in the following years unless you move your garden! It's all part of the fun of gardening and figuring out what works best for you and your location.
Happy planting and I hope you have a great 2016 garden season!
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