Plantshed Blog

Sun or Shade?

Sun or Shade?

Author: J.R.

Flowering annuals add splashes of color to an outdoor space. They spill over the sides of pots and window boxes, and they provide beauty along garden edges. They even look great in hanging planters and under trees. No, they won’t come back year after year, but they sure are nice while they last!

A great way to make your garden look full and lush without breaking the bank is to purchase flowering annuals as flats. Flats are comprised of 32 small plants that are priced lower than more mature plants in larger containers.

Let’s do the math: 1 mature plant in a 4” or 6” container: About $7.99!

Pack of 4 small plants like the ones in the photo above: About 0.75 a plant!

A flat of 32 small plants: 0.62 a plant! !

That’s incredible savings! If you bought 32 plants at a mature size—the same number as a flat—you’d have to spend about $256! When it comes to gardening on a dime, being patient for the plants to mature will save you tons of money. Not to mention it’s just nice to watch them grow up.

Annuals in flats will have care tags that help in the selection process. Oftentimes, small plants are not flowering at their full potential, so these tags will provide a photo and a brief description of what you can expect from them. Generally, there are some guidelines about how much space to give them, as well as the maximum dimensions they are likely to reach. Perhaps most importantly, the care tags will also give you some direction on how much sun the plants will need in order to perform their best.

Let’s break down some terms related to sun and shade you’ll likely see on the tags:

FULL SUN: At least 6 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. There are many plants to choose from in this category!

PART SUN: About 3-6 hours of direct sunlight. Similar to part-shade (below), so many of these plants are interchangeable.

PART SHADE: About 3 hours of direct light and usually protected from hot afternoon sun.

FULL SHADE: Less than 3 hours of direct sunlight, usually in the morning, late afternoon, or dappled throughout the day. These are generally the pickiest plants that require indirect light and will burn if in intense sun.

Not sure how much sunlight falls on your outdoor space? One way to determine your sun exposure is to make an hour-by-hour chart. Wake up early on a day with a nice weather forecast and commit to jotting down which areas are flooded in sunlight and which areas are in the shade—on the hour, every hour. Park yourself with a good book and set an alarm clock. It’ll be well worth the time!

Once you’re equipped with some hard data about your sun exposure, you’re ready for the fun part: picking out the plants! Having knowledge of the number of hours of direct sunlight your plants will get will help ensure that none of them get fried or do not reach their full potential.


Large flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Great for gardens and pots.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 8” apart. Grows to 8” tall.


Fragrant blooms attract butterflies, hummingbirds to garden edges, containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 10-12” apart. Grows 8-10” tall.


Silver-white foliage makes a lovely accent in the garden or containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 8” apart. Grows 8-12” tall. 


Vigorous, large flowers and amazing fragrance. Use in containers, garden’s edge.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 12-14” apart. Grows 6-10” tall.


Numerous blooms provide season-long color for gardens or containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 10-12” apart. Grows 6-8” tall.


Large, vibrant flowers attract butterflies to gardens and containers.

Plant in FULL SUN 10” apart. Grows 10-12” tall.


Continuous blooms for gardens, containers. Attracts hummingbirds, butterflies.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 10” apart. Grows 10-12” tall.


Brilliant blooms on uniform plants. Great for mass plantings and containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 12-15” apart. Grows 12-14” tall.


Extra large, vibrant flowers for gardens and containers. Tolerates hot, dry sites.

Plant in FULL SUN 10-12” apart. Grows 14-16” tall.


Elegant, bright spires. Easy to grow in garden plantings and containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 10-14” apart. Grows 14-25” tall.



Brilliant foliage is richly colored. Use in beds and pots

Plant in PART SUN or SHADE 10” apart. Grows 10-15” tall.


Vibrant flowers illuminate the garden. Robust plants stay healthy and vigorous.

Plant in PART SUN or SHADE 10-12” apart. Grows to 10-12” tall.


Mid-blue flowers, green foliage. Use for borders, beds, pots, ground cover.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 12” apart. Grows 4-6” tall.

**We at PlantShed find that these burn in too much sun, so 3-5 hours is probably best.


Vibrant blooms and striking bronze foliage add contrast to gardens, containers.

Plant in SUN or PART SUN 12” apart. Grows 6-8” tall.

**We at PlantShed find that these burn in too much sun, so 3-5 hours is probably best.

Two last comments about these flowering annuals:

Even though the tags say they should be planted far apart, we find that planting them closer together yields fuller, more aesthetically pleasing results by the end of the growing season. Sure, you don’t want to plant them on top of one another, but planting them too far apart will prevent them from growing together en masse and they may look a little isolated and lonely.

The last thing to remember about flowering annuals is that it is essential to “deadhead” the expired blooms. Removing flowers that are wilted or dried up will not only give them a tidier appearance, but it will also encourage them to continue blooming for the rest of the season!

Off you go!