By Matt Gibson
Got a spot to grow vegetables that gets a lot of direct sun? That’s actually very good news, because many vegetables prefer full sun. When you are drawing out a map of how you plan to lay out your garden, it’s important to be familiar with several things. You need to know what areas in your garden get full sunlight, partial shade and full shade. You need to know what plants you are going to grow in the upcoming season, and which of these plants grow well with each other and which plants can affect certain other plants when they are planted nearby. Another important thing to be familiar with, is the sun needs that each of the plants you want to grow.
Many vegetables prefer a location that gets full sun exposure. Full sun locations are places that receive a solid six to eight hours of sunlight every day. However, there are a similar amount of vegetables that prefer partial sun locations and a smaller group of veggies that prefer full shade. Partial sun locations are places that receive four to six hours of sunlight, and full shade areas should receive no more than two to four hours of sunlight each day. If you are interested in starting a vegetable garden and you have sections in your garden that get full sun, partial shade, and full shade, you are in luck. You can grow any vegetable you like.
Full shade vegetables include lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard. Veggies that prefer partial sun locations include arugula, cress, kale, endive, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage, onions, leeks, rutabaga, and turnips. Most vegetables however, not to mention fruits and herbs, prefer lots of sunlight and need at least six to eight hours of sun every day. If you thought that you had to have a shady area in your garden in order to successfully cultivate food crops, you were incorrect. The majority of vegetables enjoy sunbathing all day, even during the warmest months of the year. Full sun vegetables include:
Beans are bountiful producers that really flourish in the sunshine, and there are so many varieties to choose from you’re bound to find a few that please your family’s palates. Gardeners who live in especially hot regions, especially where the weather is hot and dry or during times of drought, should go for varieties that are proven to perform well in the heat. These include lima beans, winged beans, southern peas (black-eyed peas or field peas), asparagus beans (also called bodi, bora, Chinese long bean, long-podded cowpea, pea bean, snake bean, and yard-long beans). With so many different varieties of beans out there to choose from, it’s a good idea to plant several. That way your family won’t get tired of eating the harvest you’ll enjoy. For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Bush Beans and Climbing Beans.
Nothing says summer like a cob of grilled corn slathered in fresh herb butter. Maybe part of what makes corn so sweet is the sunshine it soaks up as it grows tall in the garden during the summer months. While it’s true that corn is crazy cheap in the produce section, there’s no comparing store bought corn that’s been shipped and stored to the fresh, flavorful taste of homegrown corn that you’ve picked just a few minutes before biting into it. In addition to sunshine, you will need a lot of space and a consistent water supply for your corn plants, but the delicious results are so worth the effort. You can read more in our article Growing Sweet Corn in the Home Garden.
Cucumbers enjoy full sunlight but they need plenty of water to stay full and crisp through the warm weather seasons. Check the soil around your cucumber plants often and make sure that it remains moist at all times. Cucumber plants that don’t receive full sunlight exposure will produce lackluster fruit sets, and lower yields. You can find out more in our article How to Grow Cucumbers, or learn about other ways to grow these veggies in the articles Growing Cucumbers in Pots with These Easy Tips and How to Grow Cucumbers Vertically.
Eggplants tend to struggle in cool weather climates, and really enjoy the warmth. If you live in a location that has long summers, you can get a whole lot of production out of your eggplant vines. Eggplants grow equally well in containers as they do in the soil. When cooking with eggplants, be aware that they will take on the flavors of whatever they are cooked with. Learn more about Eggplants from our article Growing Eggplants from Seedlings To Harvest.
Okra loves the sun—as a plant that is native to Ethiopia, it’s most comfortable when the temperature in the soil stays in the 80-degree range. Okra isn’t even affected like some veggies are when the summer is so sweltering that bees can’t be bothered to pollinate, since okra’s blossoms pollinate themselves. For the most heat-resistant okra, choose heirloom types that have been around for generations, and go for ones that originated in your region when possible. The heirloom varieties of okra tend to have deeper root systems than other types, which helps them stay hydrated in the sunshine.
Some people dislike okra because they’ve only had it prepared so it turns out squishy, slimy, or stringy. However, there are plenty of other options for preparing this tasty and versatile vegetable. Of course, okra’s delicious fried. (But what isn’t?) You can also transform okra into zippy pickles with a vinegar brine—making the pickled okra spicy is both traditional for the dish and extra delicious. Leaving the okra whole and roasting them in the oven is another out-of-the-box method for serving okra that opens tons of possibilities. Roasted okra can stand alone as a side dish, and you can slice it into stews or curries or even cut it lengthwise and add the long strips to stir-fries.
Set yourself up for success by harvesting your okra on the early side, while it’s still young and tender. Then you won’t have to cook it into slimy, mushy oblivion to prevent toughness. You can also choose to plant spineless varieties of okra, which stay tender longer than other varieties and allow you to sidestep those fibrous strings you sometimes find inside the cooked pods, which can make them difficult to eat or bother diners who are sensitive to texture.
For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Okra ( Abelmoschus esculentus). There’s also lots to learn in our Q&A articles Can Okra Be Grown in Pots?, Should You Top Okra Plants?, and Can We Grow Okra from Fresh Seeds?.
Peppers (Sweet and Hot)
Both sweet and hot peppers enjoy full sunlight exposure and long hot summers. If the sun is shining, pepper plants are extra happy. Whether you love extra spicy peppers or sweet crispy peppers, if you live in a warm climate region, there is a pepper plant that is perfect for you. Most peppers are green at first. Though you can pick them when they are green, as they mature, they turn shades of red, yellow, orange, and even brown or white. As they mature and change colors, their flavor improves as well. Hot peppers often grow hotter and more flavorful, and sweet peppers become sweeter, and more robust. Learn more about the health benefits of hot peppers from our article Study Shows, Eating Hot Peppers Helps You Live Longer! and learn more about how to grow peppers from our article Growing A Plethora of Peppers.
Although we think of pumpkins as a cool-weather vegetable because they’re harvested in fall, these cheery orange veggies actually love to soak up the sun. Pumpkins do their best growing when they’re planted in full sun, but they will tolerate a spot that gets partial shade if that’s all you have available. To make sure you’ll have mature pumpkins ready to harvest when Halloween rolls around, you’ll need to put them in the ground in midsummer—so make sure to plan ahead so you won’t miss the chance to carve spooky jack-o’-lanterns with your homegrown harvest. You can find out more in our articles How to Grow Giant Pumpkins: The Ultimate Guide and How to Harvest, Eat, and Store Your Homegrown Pumpkin Seeds.
Squash (Summer and Winter)
Squash plants can take all the sun they can get, and more sunlight typically leads to higher yields. Summer squash is one of the fastest growing garden vegetables, and one of the most versatile vegetables in the kitchen, as they can be enjoyed raw, fried, roasted, steamed, sauteed, pickled, and tossed into soups and stews. Winter squash plants like acorn squash, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash enjoy full sun too, though they don’t sprout and mature quite as quickly as summer squash. Learn more in our article How to Grow Winter Squash or, for those with container gardens, Can You Grow Squash in Pots? You can also find out how to make the most of your harvest with our articles Curing Squash: Preserve and Store Your Harvest for Months to Come and How to Grow, Harvest, Store, and Prepare Squash Blossoms.
Sweet potatoes have tropical roots and are a standard in the world of Southern cuisine, so it makes sense that these little tubers love to grow in sunny spots. They can even take some serious heat, as long as they’re provided with a consistent and generous supply of water. Sweet potatoes really flourish when the weather is hot in the daytime and stays warm at night. That means you’ll need to plan your planting date so you’ll be harvesting your crop of sweet potatoes before nighttime temperatures start to dip lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8 degrees Celsius). You can learn more in our articles How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Your Garden or, for those using container gardens, How to Grow Sweet Potato Slips in Containers.
Tomatoes & Tomatillos
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown plants in the vegetable garden. Though they are technically fruits, most people consider them a vegetable. Tomatoes enjoy full sun exposure and grow extra large on their vines, so remember to provide your tomatoes with a tomato cage, trellis, or some other type of support. Tomatillos are very close relatives to the tomato plant. These sun lovers taste great right off the vine. Learn more about tomatoes from our article How to Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide. You can also learn about tomatillos from our article How To Grow Tomatillos.
Zucchini is technically a summer squash, so it’s no surprise to learn that they enjoy full sunlight as well. Zucchini is often mentioned as a separate entity from squash, even though they are closely related. A lack of adequate sunlight will affect the health and production of zucchini plants.
Herbs and Fruits That Prefer Full Sun
Aside from vegetables that thrive in full sun, there are also a good number of fruits and herbs that can be grown in full sunlight as well. The herbs that love full sunlight exposure are: basil, chives, lavender, dill, tarragon, oregano, cilantro (coriander), chervil, rosemary, thyme, and echinacea. Fruits that require full sun to grow their best are cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew melons, mandarin oranges, blood oranges, citron, tangelos, grapefruits, lemons, limes, mangos, tangerines, kumquats, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, apples, cherries, and figs.
If you have lots of garden space that gets full sun exposure, you should have plenty of room to get a nice vegetable garden, an herb garden, and a good helping of fruit trees as well. Instead of keeping your vegetable garden and herb garden separate from each other, and separate from your ornamentals and flowering plants, mix them all up together and design the layout based on what plants grow best together. Planting your food crops and flower patches together gives you more chances to pair the best companions possible, and having flowers in your vegetable garden makes your vegetable garden more aesthetically pleasing.