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Plants have just a few basic needs which need to be met in order to survive. Among those, water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight are the most critical. These two basic needs absolutely must be met in order for a plant to grow. It goes without saying, the same truth applies to your lawn, which is comprised of thousands of tiny plants. A well-landscaped yard will meet the basic requirement of sunlight. But why are the sun ray’s so important to plants? Sunlight is converted into food in a process called photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis Basics

Photosynthesis is a complex process in which sunlight and carbon dioxide are converted to food for the plant with oxygen as a byproduct. Unlike animals, plants have cells with rigid cell walls that contain chloroplasts. Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll, which is a green substance that gives plants their color. During photosynthesis, chloroplasts absorb energy in the form of sunlight. The energy is used to split water molecules into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Oxygen is released into the atmosphere as a byproduct of photosynthesis, while the hydrogen and carbon dioxide combine to make glucose, which then feeds the plant. Most of photosynthesis occurs actively in sunlight, though part of the reaction known as the Calvin Cycle occurs without the presence of sunlight, though it relies on stored energy to complete the cycle.

Types of Sunlight

There are four main types of sunlight when it comes to growing plants. Full sun, partial sun, partial shade, and full shade describe the type of sunlight that can impact plant growth. Different plants require different sun requirements, and measuring the sun exposure of your desired growing area can give you a good idea of what types of plants or grass to plant.

Full Sun – Full sun means that the area gets at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, though some definitions may vary. Checking the sun requirements of your desired plants will help determine whether six hours is enough direct light for your plants to thrive. For example, certain types of vegetables require at least eight to ten full hours of sunlight in order to grow properly.

Partial Sun – If a plant needs partial sun to flourish, it generally needs 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Typically, plants that require partial sun need to have some direct sunlight in the morning followed by several hours of partial shade and then exposure to direct sunlight again later in the day. Shade through the middle of the day is often critical, as plants that require partial sun often cannot withstand the direct heat of the sunlight during the warmest hours.

Partial Shade – It may seem as though partial sun and partial shade can be used interchangeably. In some instances they can. However, plants and grasses that require partial shade, it means that greater emphasis should be put on the plant not getting more than 6 hours of direct sunlight. Dappled shade may also be used to describe plants that require partial shade. These are usually woodland plants which receive filtered sunlight through tree branches.

Full Shade This refers to plants that need little to no direct sunlight throughout the day. Less than 4 hours of sunlight per day is ideal, and preferably either morning or evening sunlight and avoiding the hottest direct sunlight of midday when the sun’s rays are the strongest. It is important to note that full shade does not refer to total darkness–all plants need some light in order to perform photosynthesis.

Trimming Trees for Better Sun Coverage

In many parts of the country, large, old trees branch out majestically over the yard. These trees may look grandiose and regal, but in many instances their thick canopies block out any direct sunlight from reaching your yard. In many lawns, you will see areas beneath trees, which are shaded all day long, with thinning patches of grass or even no grass growth. Believe it or not, you can still find ways to allow sunlight to filter through without cutting down that majestic oak in your front yard that has been there for a century. Cutting lower limbs from trees can help allow sunlight to reach the soil beneath. Trimming interior branches can help open the tree canopy as well. This allows sunlight to pass through to the ground while improving air flow for the tree. It is a win-win because it is better for your lawn and better for the health of your tree. In extreme cases or if a tree is unhealthy or a blight to your landscaping, removing the tree can also certainly improve the overall appearance of your yard while allowing for proper sunlight for plants and turf.

Growing Grass in Shade

Most turf needs at least 4-6 hours of sunlight per day to grow properly. With that being said, there are some measures which can be taken to improve the quality and quantity of grass growing in shady areas of your lawn if trimming or cutting down trees is not a viable option. Certain varieties of grass are better suited for shadier areas of your property as well. Fescues are often a good choice for those parts of your lawn that do not get as much sunlight. These grasses only require a small amount of sunlight per day and are resilient enough to grow in shadier areas of your yard. When purchasing grass seed, search for shade-tolerant blends or hybrids that are adapted for your particular region for best results. Do not focus on one specific type of grass seed–instead try a blend. This way if one variety of seed fails because of conditions in the shady area, other varieties might thrive.

Sunlight is a vital source of energy for most living organisms. Plants are different in that they do not rely on outside sources for food. Instead, they convert the sun’s light energy into food through photosynthesis. Knowing the type of sunlight a particular plant acclimates best to is crucial for the success of your greenery. From full sun to full shade, all plants require at least some amount of sunlight in order to survive. While the name may be deceiving, full shade plants cannot survive without at least a few hours of sunlight per day. Mapping out the sun exposure of your yard prior to growing any type of plants will give you a good idea of which plants can be cultivated in certain areas of your yard and get you on your way to lush greenery throughout your lawn and garden.

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