Winter Garden with sunlight

How to Assess your Garden’s Light Exposure

I had absolutely no idea whatsoever of gardening basics, such as garden light exposure, soil type, plant types, etc when we moved into our current property.

Assessing the garden took a few months and I’m still learning. That’s because simply saying ‘my garden is West-facing’ is not enough to help us with planting plans. Here is how you can assess how much light your garden gets so you can eventually decide which plants will suit your space.


Summer Garden
Part of our garden bathed in afternoon sun this year.

This means the side your garden faces. Take a compass, either handheld or by using one of many mobile phone apps, and head out into your garden. Stand with your back against the wall of your house which faces the garden, your compass pointing forwards. The direction your compass faces is the direction your garden faces. Here is what each direction means :

AspectLightProsConsSuited For
South-facingThe most you can get!Ability to have a great variety of  Sun-loving plants + sunbathing!Can get too hot, needs regular watering, paint can fade, and south-facing walls can crack sooner. Also means south-facing rooms in the house are warmer.Those who enjoy spending most of their time in the Sun, in their own garden along with growing their own produce (since the garden acts as a suntrap).
North-facingThe least you can get!Doesn’t get too hot, stable temperatures both inside and outside, minimal watering needed.Difficult to find and maintain shade loving plants and grass, inability to grow large trees due to their adding more shade.Those who dislike the Sun and continuously having to water their lawn/plants.
East-FacingMorning Light mainlyCatches the gorgeous morning light and protects plants from the scorching afternoon Sun.Not enough planting options for some, difficulty with shade as with North-facing gardens (but to a lesser extent).Those who like to enjoy a Cuppa on the patio every morning, proudly looking at their garden.
West-FacingAfternoon and evening lightGood amount of light and wide variety of planting choices, doesn’t get as hot as South-facing plots.Lack of morning Sun, plants still need to be able to withstand afternoon Sun.Great for entertaining, like South-facing gardens.

Light Blocking or Aspect Modifying Factors:

In addition to the aspect, the general microclimate is crucial in assessing your garden’s light exposure. These include mature shrubs, trees, walls, surrounding buildings and where your garden is positioned. For example, having a South-facing garden at the bottom of a valley is very different from having a South-facing garden at the top of a hill. The latter will clearly be much closer to the above definition of a true South-facing garden.

Winter Garden with sunlight
A part of our garden bathed in the Winter Sun.

Another factor that helps you assess your garden’s light exposure is where you live and the general amount of Sun you get along with seasonal variability.

Make a sun-map of your garden:

After you have considered the above, you will notice these factors have only given you a general idea of how to assess light exposure in your garden. The single best way ascertain how much light your garden gets is to make a sun map of your garden. Keep a record of the main areas of your garden and write down how much sun/shade you get in every hour. A simple table can be made for daylight hours, as shown in this post.

I took photos of my garden at every hour of the day and during various seasons, as shown in this advanced post. However, if this proves too much for you, just jot down the main areas in your garden and make notes of how much sun they get at each hour. You will be surprised at the variation in the light your garden is exposed to, with the changing seasons.

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