Determining Your Yard’s Sun Exposure


Q: “How do I tell whether my yard is full sun, part shade, or “adaptable” sun exposure? It’s tough to tell what it’ll be this summer right now.”

A: Determining the sun exposure of your yard is an important first step in choosing your Garden In A Box. Ensuring your plants receive the right amount of light will set them up for success. When troubleshooting plants that aren’t growing as expected, determining how much light they’re receiving is the first question we’ll ask! Continue reading for our tips on figuring out your yard’s sun exposure.


Site Selection:

First up, where do you want your new garden to be? You may have an empty garden plot without any grass or other plants that’s ready to be planted, which is great! But, more likely than not, some site preparation is needed before planting this spring. When choosing a spot, don’t limit yourself to only existing garden beds. In fact, we recommend choosing a spot that currently has water-thirsty grass growing, removing the grass and opening the area up for a new low-water Garden In A Box! A few pros of this are:

  • This will result in the most gallons of water saved AND the most money saved on your water bill
  • If an area had healthy grass growing last summer, there’s a good chance it receives around 6 or more hours of sun each day. Making this spot a great candidate for one of our full sun gardens!

If you need help with removing your existing grass this spring, check out Resource Central’s Lawn Replacement Program to see if you qualify for discounts on our Lawn Removal Service. Removing healthy grass can be hard work, so let us do the heavy lifting!


Sun Exposure Definitions:

Once you’ve selected where you want to plant, it’s time to determine the sun exposure. Here’s a breakdown of what each sun exposure category of our gardens means:

  • Full sun: requires a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day
  • Adaptable: requires a minimum of 4 hours of direct or indirect sun per day
  • Part shade: requires no more than 4 hours of direct or indirect sun per day

Steps to Determine Sun Exposure:

So, if you’re unsure about your sun exposure, on a day when you’ll be home during most of it, try to go out to the spot you want to plant in every few hours or so to see whether the area is being hit by the sun. If you do this now (early spring), be sure to note if there are any trees in the area that will leaf out in the summer. If so, think about whether or not that will shade this area more. Additionally, between now and the summer, the amount of sunlight in one day will increase, so whatever number of hours you determine the area receives now, that number will likely be higher.

In addition to the number of hours of sunlight an area receives, it’s also important to consider when this sunlight is hitting the area. In Colorado, our afternoon sun can be super super hot during the summer months. As we all know, the afternoon sun feels hotter and stronger than the morning sun. This is the same experience for your plants! In order to truly be a full sun spot, the area must receive some of this strong afternoon sun. Only receiving a few hours of morning sun will not give truly full sun, heat-loving plants the sunlight they need to grow to their full potential.

Conversely, if an area receives 4-5 hours of sun during the hottest part of the day in the afternoon, part-shade plants may be too hot there. These part shade plants really would instead appreciate some morning sun and to be shaded in the later afternoon heat.

Planning Next Steps:

We hope this helps get you started on choosing the Garden In A Box that will work best for your space! If you have further questions, consider checking out our Waterwise Yard Webinars this upcoming March and April to learn from experts on all things waterwise landscaping.

Looking for more information now? Browse our Garden Resources page for more tips and tricks related to low-water landscaping.

Still unsure how to plan for a new Garden In A Box? Visit to browse completed water-saving projects and stories uploaded by neighbors across the Front Range so see how others incorporated these gardens into their own landscapes.