The 10 Best Plants for Morning Shade and Afternoon Sun

Create a lush landscape in morning shade and afternoon sun by picking the right plants that thrive in this light exposure.

morning sun and fog with barn
Bob Stefko. Photo: Bob Stefko

One of the beautiful things about a garden is that it's always changing. Change is also one of the most challenging things about gardening! While the soil quality might change incrementally over a season, light levels change daily. Pair the changing light in your garden with plants that thrive in those conditions to have the best success. Morning shade and afternoon sun can be a perplexing combo but take heart, there are hundreds of plants that will thrive in this light exposure. Choosing just-right plants becomes easier when you know the different types of sunlight your yard gets.

Types of Sunlight for Plants

Full sun, part sun, part shade—what does it all mean?  Sifting through light requirements on plant tags and then lining those up with the conditions in your yard can be tricky. Here’s a rundown of terms and definitions commonly used in gardening.

Full sun: six or more hours of direct sunlight per day. The sunlight doesn’t have to be continuous; a plant might receive 2 hours of sunlight in the morning and another 4 hours in the afternoon. The key word here is “direct.” Sunlight is in no way obscured; it is directly illuminating the plant

Part sun: 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Part shade: 2-4 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Shade: less than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day. 

Morning vs. Afternoon Sun

Morning sun is less intense for a plant than afternoon sun. The angle of the sunlight hitting the plant coupled with the moderate morning temperatures make morning sun exposure less intense. Plants that grow best in lower light levels are most likely able to tolerate a few hours of morning sun versus the same amount of afternoon sunlight. 

Plants react differently to light by region too. A few hours of afternoon sun in Georgia packs a lot more punch than a few hours of afternoon sun in Minnesota. A plant that grows in full sun in Minnesota might require afternoon shade when planted in Georgia. Bottom line: consider your region when defining light levels in your landscape.

10 Best Plants for Morning Shade and Afternoon Sun

Plants labeled for full sun are the best fit for morning shade and afternoon sun. Here’s why: the intensity of the afternoon sun (particularly important consideration in the South) is likely to offset any shortcomings the area receives in reaching 6 hours of direct sunlight. An area that receives an entire afternoon of direct sunlight falls squarely in the category of full sun growing conditions. Each of these easy-care perennials for full sun will likely thrive in a spot that receives morning shade and afternoon sun. 

  1. Baptisia: Late spring-blooming baptisia stands 3 to 4 feet tall and adds valuable texture and structure to the garden long after the blooms have turned to lovely dried seed pods. 
  2. Black-eyed Susan: Easy to grow in dry soil and places where other plants struggle, black-eyed Susan has bright yellow flowers on top of 30-inch-tall stems. 
  3. Catmint: A low-growing plant that is perfect for the front of a landscape bed, catmint has silver-green foliage and it’s purple or white flowers are popular with pollinators. 
  4. Coneflower: A North American native and food source for wildlife, coneflower grows 2 to 3 feet tall and blooms from summer though fall.
  5. Daylily: While its flowers last only one day, daylily makes up for the short single flower lifespan by producing hundreds of blooms. Expect a daylily plant to flower for 4 weeks or more. 
  6. Garden phlox: White, pink, red, or purple flower clusters top the 2 to 4 foot tall stems of garden phlox from July through September. 
  7. Hardy hibiscus: Dinner-plate-size flowers make hardy hibiscus a garden favorite. It’s slow to emerge in spring but steals the garden stage from mid-summer through fall. 
  8. Salvia: Purple flower spikes punctuate this long-lived perennial. Cut back flower spikes on salvia plants in July for a second flush of flowers in late summer. 
  9. Sedum: Ranging in height from 2-inch-tall ground-hugging varieties to lofty 3-foot-tall types, there is a sedum for nearly every garden. One of their best attributes is that they tolerate drought with ease.
  10. Yarrow: Wonderfully drought-tolerant, yarrow sends up flowers in shades of yellow, white, red, and pink. Cut flower stems back in mid-summer for a second flush of flowers in late summer.

Consider All the Factors

Remember, light quality is just one consideration when choosing plants. Soil type, moisture availability, and winter hardiness are other important factors to consider. Look at all aspects of the growing area when choosing plants. And if you do place a plant in the wrong location and it languishes, simply grab a shovel and move it. Plants are mobile and forgiving when you give them a little extra TLC to reestablish in the new growing spot

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