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Sun, Shade or Something In-Between?

Lots of people are unsure of what a plant label means when it says “part shade” or “part sun”. Sure, absolutes are easy to define, but what constitutes “part”? Do those terms actually mean the same thing? Are there any tricks to reading a plant label to know the best place to plant? Here are some explanations of plant tag exposure terms, and what they mean in your garden. Match what the plant tag says to your actual garden conditions, and you'll have happier, healthier plants!

Sun/Full Sun=at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. These two terms are usually used interchangeably, but if you see “full sun” you really can’t get away with less than 8 hours of sun. Since a full day’s sun is usually also quite hot and dry, increase your chance for success here by using plants that are also marked as drought tolerant. Signs that you don’t have quite enough light for full sun plants are poor or weak growth, diminished flowering, and insect and disease problems.

Part Sun=about 5-6 hours of direct sun a day, no less. These plants like it pretty bright overall, with some tolerance or preference for more intense sun.

Part Shade=about 4-5 hours of direct sun a day, no more. Plants marked part shade will probably fare better on the shadier side of the equation, and likely will have problems with intense afternoon sun.

There is a sweet spot of about 5 hours of non-midday sun in which plants of either “part” persuasion will do well. Plants that prefer partial exposures love morning sun the most, late afternoon sun fairly well, and midday sun the least. If you have midday sun, choose plants labeled “sun to part sun” so you know that they can better tolerate the more intense midday rays. Plants tagged as “shade to part shade” will not be as happy if all their sun is hot midday sun. Bright dappled shade is a good place for either part sun or part shade plants. Signs that your plants are getting too much sun include browning leaves, overall pale, washed-out leaf color or yellowing, or sunburn.

Shade=less than 4 hours of direct sun a day (but not 0 hours!). Be careful about burning if those few hours of direct sun are all at midday. Keep in mind that the less actual sun (or bright reflected light) your shade area gets, the less it will support really good bloom production on flowering plants and plant growth in general will be sparser. You’ll almost never see a plant tag that says “full shade”, because all plants need some light, even shade lovers!

Sun exposures are calculated by adding exposure times if plants receive midday shade. So a garden bed with sun from 8 AM to noon, than again from 3 PM to sundown is full sun. For even more accurate calculation of your exposure, especially when your sun occurs mostly early and/or late in the day, count the hours of sun before 10 AM and after 6 PM as half an hour of sun exposure, since the early and late day sun’s rays are more angled and less intense. So the example given above would still be considered sun, but a bed that gets sun from 7 AM to noon might still be OK for shade plants (7 AM to 10 AM=1.5 hrs + 10 AM to noon=2 hrs equals 3.5 hrs total)

Tips to remember

  • Almost all full sun plants will be happier if they get relief from the midday sun in the hottest summer months, but like the mythical “evenly moist, well-drained soil”, areas shaded only from noon to 3 PM are hard to come by. If you have either, rejoice.
  • Exposures matter when the leaves are present and plants are growing. So if your exposures slip to the low end during winter because of the angle of the sun, it doesn’t matter much for deciduous shrubs and perennials. That’s also why many spring bulbs that prefer sun do fine in beds shaded by deciduous trees-by the time the trees leaf out the bulbs are finishing up their active growth cycle.
  • You can sometimes “cheat” an hour or two of sun with water. Meaning, a plant that prefers part shade may tolerate more sun if the soil is adequately moist. This varies from plant to plant, but it’s certainly worth experimenting if you have a specific plant in mind for an area. By the same token, you will fry a sun plant if the soil is too dry, no matter what the tag says.
  • Plants tagged as “sun to shade” will not look the same when planted in sun as they do in shade. Many plants will survive in a wide range of exposures, but few thrive in all possible conditions.        


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Shearing vs. Pruning


Here at New Garden Landscaping & Nursery we pride ourselves on using correct horticultural techniques when maintaining our customer’s landscapes, and strive to give equally correct advice to retail customers in our garden centers. One technique we advise is the use of hand pruning versus shearing for landscape plants; even though it takes longer and adds cost to a maintenance job, it is more than made up for in overall plant health and appearance. This month we asked Katie Cardille, manager of our Garden Enhancement program, to explain the benefits of hand pruning.

What advantages does hand pruning have compared to shearing?

Hand pruning still results in an even, manicured look while preserving long-term plant health and reducing the need for frequent touch-ups.

With hand pruning the plants maintain a more natural shape, and the pruning cuts are made thoughtfully in a correct horticultural manner. Proper hand pruning allows you to make deep cuts where necessary to keep the plants canopy more open, which allows air and light to penetrate the canopy. Internal growth on the plant ensues when light can reach the inside which keeps leaves growing deeper giving the homeowner the option to reduce plants as necessary without having to defoliate shrubs. With air flow improved this keeps insect and disease problems much lower than with sheared plants.

Hand pruning also lasts longer, because you are cutting inside the plants and stimulating growth from the points that are cut. The plants still grow on the outside but not as fast as if you make thousands of cuts just on the canopy of the plant. Anyone who shears knows the frustration of looking out and seeing all of those shoots a week after shearing it!

What problems can shearing cause for plants?

Each cut on a stem typically stimulates that stem to sprout 4-6 new shoots from the cut area. More cuts with the surface shearing equals a very dense canopy. Eventually what remains is a “shell” of very dense leaves and dieback, especially at the bottom of the shrub. The inside of the shrub is so closed off from light and airflow that bugs and disease have an easier time getting established.  If and when the homeowner wants to reduce that shrub with any significance they have to do a “renovational” pruning, which means cutting down to bare limbs and starting the growth process over.

Can a previously sheared plant be maintained by hand pruning going forward?

It depends on the plant variety. Not on conifers or junipers. Yes for most hollies and other deciduous shrubs, but it requires aggressive pruning with complete defoliation of the plant. If the plant is unhealthy to begin with or growing in a heavily shaded area this is not recommended.

Once the renovation is complete and the plant flushes new growth then they can be maintained with proper hand pruning.

Are there any instances where shearing a plant would be preferable?

Yes, on formal hedges and on plants where the goal is to thicken up the canopy. Even with formal hedges we recommend periodic thinning to keep internal growth present.

So what’s the takeaway for homeowners on pruning vs. shearing?

Hand pruning will keep your plants healthier and extend their life span. It will keep their natural shape so they just look better overall. Plus it gives you your weekends back because you don’t have to do it nearly as much as shearing!


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Berry Crazy-Small Fruits for Small Gardens            

OK, so maybe you want in on growing your own fruit, but you don’t have space for the multiple trees needed for most tree fruits to bear well, or don’t want to wait the two to seven years it takes for fruit trees to reach bearing age, or maybe you’re overwhelmed by the thought of the special pruning needs of fruit trees. Well, berries may be just what you are looking for!  Tasty, manageable, and easy to grow, berries from strawberries to blueberries to raspberries (and even the exotic goji berry) are a great place to start for the beginning fruit grower.


Strawberries are very easy to grow. There are two main types: May or June bearers and Everbearers. May/June bearers provide you with one big crop in May or June. Everbearers provide a large crop in May, then a continuous crop up until the first frost. Note that May/June bearers perform better in North Carolina than everbearers.

Strawberries need full sun most of the day. Place your strawberries in the garden (they do particularly well in raised beds), along a sidewalk, or in a big container or strawberry jar. You’ll want to add soil conditioner, powdered lime and manure to existing soil. In spring, add Espoma PlantTone to soil (everbearers need a second helping in late summer). If you have the room, space your plants 2 feet apart. If you’re short on space, plant them 12-15” apart.

Plant out dormant crowns in March or April. Set plants with the root straight down (never bent) and plant the crown just above the soil line. If planting potted strawberries, plant with the soil levels even.

Mulching in early winter prevents frost heave, and topdressing with pine or wheat straw in spring helps keep berries clean, conserves moisture, and decreases weeds.

Strawberries have shallow roots and cannot tolerate drought, so irrigate during dry periods. Dry periods just before harvest as fruit matures can affect fruit size.

Replace your berries every five years or so as plant vigor will gradually decrease, making them more susceptible to disease. Keeping most of the runners picked off will also help with maintaining overall vigor.


Blueberries come in a variety of sizes and shapes. You will want to pick plants that fit your landscape (and appetite). They range from groundcover (24 tall) to hedge type (highbush, up to 72” tall). Be sure to give them plenty of room to reach their mature size. Think about using the hedge varieties to form an edible screen or hedge in your yard. Blueberries also have beautiful fall color, so think of them as an ornamental shrub as well.

There are different fruiting seasons for blueberries - early, mid, and late. Think about planting one or more of each type for a full season of berries. Also, because the Rabbiteye variety requires crosspollination for maximum fruit set, be sure to plant 3 or more cultivars if growing this type. There are also new cultivars that are self-fertile, meaning an acceptable fruit set can be achieved with one plant. These varieties will be tagged as such.

Since blueberries are naturally bog or swamp plants, it is important to plant them with organic soil amendments. This will help to retain moisture. Adding peat moss to the amending mix and then topdressing with more every spring helps retain water and lowers the pH, perfect for acid-soil loving blueberries. In dry summers supplemental watering may be necessary.

Blueberries prefer full sun but will tolerate part sun. If you will be planting them as a hedge or screen, space plants 4’ on centers. Be sure to water plants during dry spells. Blueberries are cold-hardy to about -25°, so no winter protection is required. Fertilize at the beginning of the growing season with an acidic fertilizer like HollyTone.

Blackberries & Raspberries

Blackberries and Raspberries are in the bramble (rose) family. Native to North America, they are very easy to grow if you follow a few simple rules.

Choose a site where you have never grown Potatoes, Tomatoes, or Eggplant. These plants may host verticillium wilt, which can live in the soil for years. Blackberries & Raspberries prefer full sun but will perform pretty well in a half day of shade. Once a site is chosen, combine compost, topsoil, and existing soil into a 24” wide by 24" deep location. Plant your blackberries so that when the soil settles, the plant will be at the original ground level. Water thoroughly after planting.

Fertilize plants at the beginning of the growing season with a natural formula such as Espoma PlantTone. Do not overfeed, as this will lead to lots of vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production. Blackberries & Raspberries are cold-tolerant to -25° and need no winter protection.

After a cane has fruited, prune it back as far as possible and discard. This minimizes disease. The following spring, cut back the remaining canes to a convenient height and thin to 3-4 canes per square foot. When thinning, leave the strongest, healthiest canes.

Goji Berries

This popular “superfruit” has been a pricey staple at grocery stores and is valued for its high concentration of antioxidants. Goji berries are actually hardy to zone 5 and very easy to grow, with high yields of fruit that can be dried or eaten fresh. Goji berries flower and produce fruit through summer and up to the first frost.

Goji berry is also known as wolfberry, and is related to tomatoes, potatoes and petunias!

Pick a location with full sun for the most fruit, but goji berry will tolerate some shade. Well drained soil is preferred, with no particular preference for special pH.  Since goji berries are fairly large (5-7’ and somewhat sprawling in habit, be sure to give them adequate space. They can even be grown in containers if you pick a large enough one. They are also self-fertile, meaning you only need to plant one for fruit.

Purple flowers should start to appear in late spring/early summer, and fruit will be red when it ripens, Goji berries get sweeter the longer they are on the plant. Simply pluck the ripe fruit off the stems-they should come off easily.

Apply fertilizer suitable for flowering woody plants (rose fertilizer is particularly good) in early spring as new growth begins. While no pruning is necessary for goji berry to flower and produce fruit, for the sake of controlling the size and loose habit you may wish to do some minor shaping. To control size, shorten the horizontal branches by about half to two-thirds in early spring, just as the buds begin to break. Plants can be renovated with hard pruning, but fruiting will be reduced until the following year.

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Image credits
"Tree With Sunlight" by Sura Nualpradid courtesy of [][1]
"Strawberry Bowl" by stockimages courtesy of [][1]
"Blueberries On Bush" by Rosemary Ratcliff courtesy of [][1]
"Leaf On Raspberry Fruits" by adamr courtesy of [][1]
"Red Dried Goji Berries" by Praisaeng courtesy of [][1]