Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Creating a Sun Chart for Your Landscape

Texas sun, is not like other sun. Yes, I know it is the same one…but I have traveled all over the country and lived here for 35 years and I’m telling you, Texas has a special kind of sun conditions for people and plants. Much like the desert heat, we get intensely long days with hot temperatures, but in Austin specifically, we don’t cool at night and our poor plants are subjected to extremes from drought, to gully washers, to windy to stiflingly humid. If this isn’t bad enough we’re planting them in rocks, clay or both. Seeing as we’re asking so much of our plants and trees already, the least we could do is to plant them in the correct light.

One of the most common mistakes aside from placing plants too close to one another, or choosing plants that are too big for the space when mature, is choosing the wrong plants for the light conditions you have. A full sun plant in a deep shade yard is pretty much a swing and a miss no matter how you look at it. You will have a leaning plant reaching for sun, that is vulnerable to pests and may never bloom.

The easiest way to avoid this costly mistake is to create a sun chart for your front, sides and back yard in one of two simple ways. The first is to take photos every two hours or so on a day when you are home. So for example, you would take a 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 2:00 and so on until the sun goes down. You would catch the light in each space you are desirous of creating new beds in, then watch for the light conditions to change one way or the other. The other option is to use a drawing of your space and/or the beds you are planning and create a chart as I show below to demonstrate the hours of full sun to part shade to full shade. Below, the sun-dial from this property survey shows that the landscape in the front beds will have a lot of shade in the day and the left side of the bed will have full afternoon sun. This is a complicated plant profile and it would be difficult to plan without knowing the hours of direct sunlight. These areas will have to have plants that do well in sun to shade. The diagram below would allow you to “plug in” plants in your design where they are most suitable for each space.

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If you only have a mostly shady spot that just happens to get full sun in a section of your yard from 2:00 -5:00 like the lower left corner of this drawing (above) then that tells you, you cannot use a full shade plant because that sucker is gonna cook like an egg on a sidewalk in the blazing, late day, Texas heat. Shade plants are delicate and they are not going to survive an afternoon heat blast. However, there are plants that will take a beating in those conditions and it may require some homework to know who they are. Off the top of my head a few plants that will tolerate such punishment are Rock Rose Pavonia, Turks Cap and Mexican Honey Suckle. After you create your sun chart you can begin to find the right plants by Googling “sun plants for Central Texas”, or call a landscape professional like me for a landscape consultation or design ;).  In the mean time, here are some plants that tolerate, or thrive in shade to sun in Central Texas.

So before you begin your next landscape project, beds or tree planting, consider the light hours you have each day. A full sun plant needs at least 6 hours of full sun to bloom prolifically. Shade plants and some part sun plants, cannot take hot afternoon sun at all so buy native and adapted plants for your hardiness zones (in Austin we are zone 8) so you know that the “full sun” tag really means, “Texas Sun”.

So, as you can see in the photos above, each yard has very unique light conditions. Varying from full sun, to full shade and everything in between. A landscape design has to have continuity with plants, color and texture so it makes sense throughout the space. By taking photos of your yard at various times of the day you can see exactly how many hours of sunlight each bed will get and where. Then layout your plant list/design to suit each space by choosing native and adapted plants for your sunlight hours, plants that have the same water requirements (low and xeriscape), and of course the right size, then be sure there is seasonal color, texture and interest throughout the year.

if you’re in, or around the Austin area and would love to just have someone provide you with a custom plant list or custom designbased on your light and design preferences, give me a call or text at 512-733-7777, or email me at lisalapaso@gmail.com to set up your Landscape Consultation.

TLisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

2 Comments

  1. Charlene Ritchie

    Thank you so much for this information. I am going to go take pictures of my yard as I have to replace some foundation plants.

    • Charlene, this is one of my all time greatest tips for “weird spots” that never seem to thrive. It is either the soil, or the plants. Soil can be destroyed by chemical use and further complicate matters, but when that isn’t the issue, it’s typically the wrong plant for the region or the light.

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