I’ve always loved fielding questions from fellow gardeners about problems they are having. It helps to stretch my knowledge – and sometimes increase my humility when I make a mistake. One of the things I enjoy is following a Facebook group where gardeners across the country post problems they are having. Most of the posts are from serious gardeners with a puzzling problem but every now and then a question comes that has me either fuming or laughing. This time it was a little of both.
The gardener in question had a problem growing tomatoes. She complained that the plant was losing leaves from the bottom and didn’t seem to be thriving. She included a photo of the plant and the added information that she lived in an area known for sunny skies (exact location withheld to give her anonymity). I took one look at the photo and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. The tomato was clearly growing on a shaded patio. When questioned about this the gardener insisted it got “dappled sun” and should be doing okay.
I know she meant well, thinking that dappled sun would be fine but it just isn’t the same as the full sun the plant really needed. I have seen this misunderstanding again and again in the years I have been a garden writer. People just don’t really believe it when they’re told that “full sun” means a place without shadows. This poor tomato plant was struggling on a starvation diet. That’s what you’re doing to a plant if you put it where it won’t get enough direct sunlight.
Okay, pop quiz time. Take a look at the photo to the right. This man is digging a hole for a new plant. Based on what you see, what is the overall sunlight this transplant will get? Not full sun, that’s for sure. This plant had better be content with shade, possibly even “deep shade” judging by the size of the trees in the background. I can just hear one or two people saying, “But the sunlight will filter down through the leaves and it will be okay.” Yes light will eventually reach the plant but it will be weak and not nearly enough for a healthy plant.
Think of sunlight as food, which is exactly what it is for plants that depend on photosynthesis. Putting a plant that needs full sun in a shady spot is like putting an athlete on a starvation diet – nothing good will come of it. There is absolutely no substitute for the right amount of sunlight. Fertilizer can’t replace it. Good intentions certainly won’t either.
Now take a look at the photo to the left. How would you describe this? If you said “full sun” go the head of the class. This bed of scented geraniums is getting the all-day sunlight it needs for healthy growth. This is the same conditions that the poor tomato plant growing on that patio needed.
Bottom line – full sun means FULL SUN, not part shade or dappled shade. You may fool yourself but you can’t fool the plant. It will just wither and die without enough life-giving sunlight.