Home & Garden

The secret to growing your best garden

Gardeners should pay attention to the summer solstice.

Lush garden in the sun Credit: Getty Images / SVproduction

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Want a better garden this summer? The summer solstice on June 21 is the perfect day to determine the absolute best place for full sun-loving vegetables and flowers to thrive.

Know your sun! After you determine your water supply source, the second most important factor for success in your garden is to know how much, and for how long, the sun will shine in all areas of your yard.

The solstice occurs on the first day of summer, Friday, June 21. As the longest day of the year, when the sun is the furthest north, it is the only day when the most direct sun will shine on your property, patio, or window box. If you can, be in your garden at 11:54 am Eastern Standard Time (the solstice occurs at the same time for all Northern Hemisphere gardeners) to take photographs or make a sketch of the areas you garden. Use a pencil to mark where it is shady.

Shady garden with hammock
Credit: Getty Images / caughtinthe

Use the summer solstice as a way to identify the true shady spots in your yard.

Keep watch on your yard throughout the day as well. You may think that one spot is in shade most of the time, but then you see that around 3 pm that direct sun enters as it passes behind a building next to you. Does any light bounce off a neighboring building’s window? That may be the perfect opportunity to grow a sun-loving plant in a mostly shady garden.

Not around to observe? No worries.

If you know you’re going to miss this year’s solstice because of work or vacation, don’t fret. Instead, make notes over the next couple of weeks as to where the sun shines at different times of the day.

The secret to having a great garden

Untold unnecessary angst, money, and frustration can be erased by “charting the sun” across wherever you want to see a tree, shrub, or sunflower grow. Don’t hide behind the “black thumb” myth; know that it’s easy—it really is—to turn your thumb green. It comes down to learning some basics. Taking time to observe where you have gardening opportunities is key.

Shade plants thrive when planted under sun-loving plants.
Credit: Getty Image /Kerrick

Tuck shade-loving plants underneath full sun annuals and perennials for a full layered look.

Observation is the true tool for success for every gardener. Once you start paying close attention, you’ll get over any “I kill everything I touch” phobia. Most plants come with labels that state the needed sun and shade requirements. If they don’t, ask the nursery staff before you take any plant home. You may not have the right spot for that rose (six to eight hours of sun) or a fuchsia in a hanging basket (one to three hours of morning light).

Now that you know where your garden sun shines, you can plant snowdrops and crocus that will bloom earlier than usual since the sun will heat up the soil sooner. If that blue-hued hosta was not getting the shade it needed, simply transplant it.

Shady garden ideas

There are partial sun, partial shade, dappled sun perennials, and even rose varieties that stretch into partial shade conditions. And remember, you are the gardener, so you can “create” shade by planting a tree or shrub for your favorite shade-lovers like Lily-of-the-Valley or Sweet Woodruff to spread underneath.

Astilbe
Credit: Getty Images / Elin11

Astilbes produce bright plumes of color when planted in afternoon sun.

Late-afternoon sun-lovers include astilbes, which send up plumes of red, white, coral, and pink to light up the shady spots. And a tall pink garden phlox creates enough shade for an astilbe to its north.

White and silver plants like moonflower vines, dusty miller, begonia, impatiens, white-tipped hosta, and variegated varieties of many plants like Arrow- and Elephant-ear caladiums make dramatic additions.

Just remember that none of your plants are cemented into the soil—if they do not look happy, simply transplant them to another spot—a task made easy now that you know your garden’s sun!

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