If you’re starting to plan a new garden, one of the first things to do is to establish where you’ll find the maximum sun throughout the growing season. Especially if you’re gardening in a small area, existing trees and structures cast shadows that can have a big impact on the space you’ll have to grow sun-loving vegetables and flowers. A shade map is a great tool to find the best places to site your planting.
To begin, draw your space out to scale, and include all existing buildings, trees, fences or other structures that will cast shade during different times of the day. The example below is a shade map I created in June, on the first day of summer. My house and garage are at the west end of my city lot. At the east end, there are four huge fir trees (outlined in black), and I have three deciduous trees (outlined in green) in the middle of the yard. At first glance, the map may seem a jumble of lines, but each colored line represents the area that is in shade at different times during the day.


I’ve drawn the shapes cast by the shade at 9:00am in blue, at noon in yellow, 3:00pm in green, and 6:00pm in pink. This means as the sun shines into my garden from the east at 9:00am, everything within the blue boundary is in shade. By noon, with the sun almost overhead, only the areas inside the yellow boundary are shaded. By 3:00pm, the sun has moved to the west, and the shadow cast by the house and garage falls within the area of the green lines. Finally, at 6:00pm, the sun is lower in the west, and the areas from left to right within the pink boundaries are shaded.
The patterns of sun and shade change greatly from spring through fall. By mapping your space in March, June and September, you can get a very accurate idea for the best place for the best plant. Of course, you won’t want to wait a whole year before you plant your first garden, but like everything else in gardening, each year you gain a little more knowledge and experience. So make your first shade map this year, and next year you’ll have another tool to make your garden just a little better.