Ideas & Inspiration

How to Make the Most of Your Yard's Site and Light

A Full Sun Site
A sunny border with ornamental grass and perennials.

A gardener blessed with a sunny site will find many options to fill it: colorful annuals, durable perennials and sturdy shrubs. Ornamental grasses soak up the sun and anchor flower beds alongside shrubs. Many provide three-season interest, like Muhly grass with blooms in late summer. Fill in with easy-care Knockout roses or Oso Easy roses from Proven Winners. They're drought-tolerant and do not require deadheading.

Full Sun Annuals:

African daisy (osteospermum), begonia, calibrachoa, geranium, marigold, petunia, pansy, poppy, sweet pea, stock and sunflower.

Sunny Site for Perennials
Yellow lilies and blue hydrangeas in a sunny border in front of a white house in early summer.

Many plants thrive in sun, but tempered with a late afternoon break from a structure or tree. This is the part sun garden, with four to six hours of sunlight each day. French hydrangeas, camellias, azaleas and gardenias (and more) appreciate the respite from afternoon heat, especially in the hottest days of summer. 

Sun-loving Perennials (for most garden zones):

Asiatic lily, bee balm (monarda), Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia), blanket flower (gaillardia), coreopsis, coneflower (echinacea), daylily (Hemerocallis), delphinium, pinks (dianthus) and sedum (like Autumn Fire or Autumn Joy). 

And remember the bulbs, rhizomes and tubers category with alliums, dahlia, daffodil, gladiolus, iris and tulip for your sunny garden.

Sunny and Dry Garden
A garden bed filled with evergreens like juniper.

Embrace a sunny, dry site with a collection of evergreens like arborvitae, cryptomeria and juniper. The colors and textures are consistently interesting through the year, and once established, are low maintenance. 

Grasses like pennisetum and carex, and herbs like rosemary and lavender, work well in sunny and dry locations, too.

Part Shade Garden
Hosta and coleus plants in a shady garden bed.

Part shade is a site with two to four hours of sunlight. This is ideal for shade-loving plants like hosta and coleus.

Perennial hosta are all about foliage, with leaves ranging in colors from chartreuse to green and deep teal. There are stripes and textures, some even with a puckered seersucker effect. All this, and a bonus of blooms in late summer. The flower stalks are not the star of the show, but they will add architectural height and in some cases, fragrance.

Coleus is another easy annual favorite for the shade garden. Brightly colored foliage in shades of lime and burgundy and peach are the reason to plant coleus. That, and the flower stalks that emerge in late summer bring in pollinators. Coleus pairs well with shade-loving flowers like impatiens. 

Shady and Dry Garden
Heuchera and hosta plants on the edge of a shady flower bed.

Heuchera, commonly called coral bells, is a frequent friend of hosta. The newer coral bells are showstoppers, with colorful, textured foliage. In my zone 7b gardening experience, heuchera doesn’t always thrive in the same conditions as hosta. It tends to dry up when the temps soar into the high 90s (degrees Fahrenheit). Coral bells like shady and dry, similar to the conditions with the perennial ferns in my shade garden. Put them on the edge of your shady area for more flowers. The lesson: pay attention to the microclimate in your yard and be prepared to move plants around to get the right place.

Plants for your shady garden: astilbe, bleeding hearts, caladiums, cyclamen, ferns, hosta, flowering tobacco (nicotiana), hellebores and tiarella (foamflower). Shrubs like azalea, camellia and rhododendron.

Full Shade Garden
Hostas and fern in a shade garden.

A deep shade garden gets no more than two hours of sunlight a day. This is where foliage will light up your garden. Try hosta and ferns for color, texture and dimension in a shade garden. 

Tip: Too much shade? If the site is under a tree canopy, it may be time to limb up or prune your trees. Look for areas where sunlight could help your plants thrive. Pruning large trees and removing trees can be dangerous and should be done only by individuals who are trained to work safely in trees.

Certified arborists, the professionals known as tree doctors, are trained in tree care and must pass examinations and continue their education to maintain certification.

Gardening for Small Spaces
Containers planted with colorful annuals on a patio.

The sunny and shade story is relevant even for container gardens. The advantage with planters is that you can usually move the containers around to get the best light. Remember in containers to combine plants that have the same light requirements in the same container. For example, shade loving hostas and sun-loving marigolds are probably not the best container-mates. 

Whether you need the right planters, plants or garden soil, The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.