Full Sun, Partial Sun, Does it Really Matter?

Tree Care

Full Sun, Partial Sun, Does it Really Matter?

By Sheereen Othman | October 8, 2018

There has been a recent craze in the plant scene. Suddenly everyone wants house plants, desk plants and mini succulents that they can scatter throughout. And why shouldn’t they want plants, there are so many benefits to them environmentally and aesthetically.

Naturally, I jumped on the fad and bought my first succulent, a leatherpetal. I put it on my nightstand under my window and figured my work was done. But then a couple weeks later the leaves started to droop. What was happening to my succulent?

I (embarrassingly) overlooked one of the most basic rules of plant care: sun exposure. My succulent was under my window, so it wasn’t getting enough sun. In fact, it wasn’t getting any sun.

That same care my succulent needed transitions to outdoor plants as well, like trees. Of all the things we tout when it comes to tree planting and care, the right tree in the right place is at the top of the list. And it’s because there is SO much that can impact the health of a young tree. Things like planting a sun-loving species in a shaded area or a shade-loving tree in a sunny spot.

Sun exposure is no joke — I learned this firsthand. When you’re in the selection phase of tree buying and looking for the right tree for the right place, keep in mind the amount of sun your designated planting spot will get. Trees depend on the sun to photosynthesize and having too much sun or too little sun can weaken—and even kill—young trees.

Watch: Ask an Arborist: How do I Choose a Nursery Tree?

So, what is the difference between full sun and partial sun/partial shade and does it really matter?

Full Sun: at least six hours of direct sunlight every day.

Partial Sun/Partial Shade: four to six hours of sunlight every day.

Full Shade: two hours or less of sunlight every day.

The shade tolerance of a tree isn’t how much shade a tree requires, it’s how well a tree can thrive with limited sun exposure. Often, the deeper the shade is, the more challenging it can be for a tree to develop properly because it can’t photosynthesize.

Sun exposure also affects a tree’s foliage density and flowering and fruiting characteristics. If you’re creating a layered landscape with trees, make sure the canopy of large trees won’t block the sun from small trees, unless they are shade tolerant species. Some species of trees are hardy enough to flourish with dappled sunlight.

Some young trees are so hardy that it’s easy to forget they require care and strategic planning. So, does sun exposure really matter when it comes to tree care? Yes, yes it does. Sun exposure is just one factor that can impact a tree’s health. Before choosing the right tree for your desired planting spot, make sure the planting location meets all the conditions the tree needs to thrive including sun, soil type, and the space it needs to grow. And if you’re growing an indoor plant that requires sun, make sure it’s in front of a window and not under.

Check out the Tree Planting & Care section for more tree care tips.

sun exposuresunlightTree Care



Sheereen Othman

Sheereen Othman

Communications Associate

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