The sun is not the only factor in choosing full sun perennials. It is important to understand that there is no list of full sun perennials that would be suitable for any garden. Of course, the plants that are right for your garden will depend on where you live. The climate is important. And the microclimate too. But one of other most important factors is what type of soil you have, and its properties and characteristics. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the full sun plants that could be an option for some common soil types.
It is a good idea to consider planting some edible crops in areas of full sun. Areas of full sun can often be the best places to grow food in your garden. And it is a good idea to make the most of the space you have available to grow food. Growing food in your garden can improve food security for you and your household. It can be a wonderful way to go greener, and do your bit for the planet. It can be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and general environmental impact. You could also reduce the amount of waste you generate. There are, of course, plenty of other plants that will thrive in full sun. But in this article we will focus on plants that can feed you.
Read on to learn more about the edible plants that might do well in full sun where you live:
Full Sun Perennials for Heavy Clay Soil
The important thing to understand about heavy clay soil is that it has both positives and negatives. Clay soil is rich in nutrients and retains these well. It is also good at retaining water. This can be both a blessing and a curse. What is good during the summer months can lead to waterlogging in winter or during rainy periods. Clay soil is slow to warm in spring, and more prone to freezing in winter. It is also more prone to compaction than other soil types.
Switching to a ‘no dig’ gardening system will help you to slowly improve a heavy clay soil over time. Adding plenty of organic matter is key. It is also important to avoid trampling growing areas to avoid compaction, and planting on small mounds to reduce problems with root waterlogging in wet areas can also help. Taking these measures will help to increase the number of plants you can grow successfully over time.
In addition to taking these measures to improve the soil, you can also improve their gardens by choosing beautiful full sun plants that thrive / bloom and flower in a clay soil. Food-producing perennials to consider during the initial stages of soil improvement include:
- Malus (a wide range of apples and crabapples) – These are best grown in well-drained, medium moisture, acidic loamy soil. They can easily adapt to a large range of soils, and established trees come with a high drought tolerance. You want to prune the trees in the late winter months to keep them healthy.
- Pyrus (pear trees) – Pear trees planted in humusy loams that drain very well, and they require medium moisture levels. They can tolerate heavy clay that other fruit trees can’t tolerate. You should plant two or more varieties for the best chances of cross-pollination. If they bloom in early spring, the flowers can get frost damage.
- Shallow rooted leafy crops like lettuce, chard etc. which benefit from clay soil’s ability to retain water in the topsoil. – A lot of these leafy crops are cool-weather crops that do well in the fall and spring. The seeds can germinate in temperatures as low as 40°F, but the ideal temperatures fluctuate between 60°F and 65°F. They need at least six to eight hours of sun a day, and you want to plant them in well-drained soil.
- Brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts etc..). Brassica crops tend to do well in clay because they like to be firmly anchored, and clay soil’s structure allows this. Make sure that the soil for these crops has adequate nitrogen levels. They should also be easy to irrigate. These plants are heavy feeders that require a consistent amount of water to grow strong. If you have a decently fertile soil, you shouldn’t need to fertilize to encourage growth.
- Plants with deep tap roots like fava beans and alfalfa, that break up the clay soil with their roots. These plants have between a 75 and 90-day growing season, depending on the variety you pick out. In milder climates, you can plant them in the fall and let them grow very slowly throughout the winter months into the spring for an early harvest. The soil should be slightly acidic to neutral, and they do best in zones two to seven.
- Roots and tubers like daikon radishes and potatoes, that also help to reduce soil compaction and break up the clay. Ideally, you’ll keep the soil slightly dry but very rich in nutrients for these plants. They can rot if you leave them to sit in soil that is too moist, and you shouldn’t have to apply fertilizer to get a nice crop.
- Squash and pumpkins. These, and other hungry crops will benefit from the nutrient rich clay soil types. Most of these plants require warm soil and warm weather to grow and produce a host of pumpkins or squash. In most cases, you’ll have between 90 and 100 days from the date you planted them until you have ripe squash. You can plant them indoors if you live in colder zones around three weeks before the last frost leaves to encourage a fall harvest.
Full Sun Plants for Sandy, Free-Draining Soil
A sandy, free-draining soil can also have both positives and negatives. Sandy soil tends to be far lower in nutrients than clay or loamy soil. It is not very good at holding water and so dries out very quickly in full sun in summer. These types of soil are far more prone to erosion and nutrient leaching. However, they are quicker to warm in spring, drought tolerant and not as prone to waterlogging or freezing in colder weather.
As with clay soil, adding plenty of organic matter and adopting a ‘no dig’ gardening approach can help to improve the soil. Mulching the surface of growing areas can help to protect and preserve the soil beneath, as well as improving it over time. Avoiding bare soil is hugely important with this soil type. Sandy soil can also benefit from the addition of biochar. Biochar is charcoal that has been steeped in a nutrient rich compost tea (or similar). Placing this into light, sandy soils can improve its ability to retain both water and nutrients. Using biochar is also a way to sequester carbon in the soil.
Edible full sun plants for sandy soil are typically drought tolerant. Beautiful plants will tend to flower / bloom and produce fruit in this soil type while you are undertaking improvements include:
Carrots and other root crops do well in loose soils.
- Japanese Plums and sweet cherry trees, apricots, peaches and many other fruit trees do better in these soils than in heavier ones, especially when sandy soil is improved to create a sandy loam. Most fruit trees like to have well-drained soil. However, pears, apples, and plums are much more tolerant of poorer conditions. If you have a huge problem with soil drainage, plant them in raised beds to ensure they don’t sit in water.
- Root crops like carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets and French radishes. Roots will tend to grow better in loose, free-draining soil types and can cope with the drier and less nutrient rich conditions. Generally speaking, root crops need loose, well-drained soil to grow and allow the root system to expand. On every soil type by sandy soil, you’ll want to have a raised bed. These style beds allow the soil to dry out and warm up quicker in the spring. These plants need some fertility to grow well, but you want to avoid adding nitrogen-based fertilizer because it can lead to plants with small roots and lush green tops or hairy roots. Perform a soil test and add organic fertilizers that have higher amounts of potassium and phosphorus.
- Onion, garlic and other bulbing alliums. These can grow in a wide range of soils but can thrive in lighter soils and will do better where there is no risk of waterlogging. Allum can also tolerate partial shade as well as full sun. The soil should drain well too. However, the most important condition is that you keep the beds moist but not saturated at all times. Too much water can cause the roots to rot.
- Summer crops like tomatoes and corn can appreciate the warmth and good drainage of sandy soils. (But their nutrient needs must be met, so additional feeding may be required and mulches are essential in very free-draining locations.)
- Asparagus. This is one edible perennial that does best in light, sandy, free-draining soils. Ideally, you’ll plant asparagus on the north or west-facing side of your garden to ensure that the taller spikes won’t cause too much shade for other plants. You want to space them 12 to 18 inches apart when you plant them, and make sure the soil drains well and is rich in nutrients.
- Mediterranean herbs, like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and marjoram. These full sun plants thrive in low nutrient, low water conditions. This type of herb can handle a lot of water, but you want to avoid getting the plant’s feet wet. So, the soil has to drain well between watering sessions. Once these herbs get established, you don’t have to worry too much about irrigation. However, they won’t do well with extended dry periods.
Full Sun Plants for Chalky/ Alkaline Soil
As well as thinking about soil type and texture when choosing full sun plants, it is also important to think about soil pH. Soil will be alkaline, neutral and acidic. And while you can alter and amend soil pH to a degree, it is best to choose plants that can cope well with conditions where you live, so that they can bloom and flower in the habitat.
If your pH is between 7.1 and 8.0 then you are dealing with an alkaline soil. You can buy pH tester kits which will allow you to test the soil in your garden. If you are not sure whether you have alkaline soil, but do not wish to purchase a pH tester kit, you can also take some of your soil and place it in vinegar. If it froths up, it is high in lime and alkaline in nature.
Alkaline soil can cause certain problems for gardeners. Phosphorus, iron and manganese become less available when the pH is alkaline, especially if it is more extremely so. However, some plants, including a range of vegetables, may thrive in slightly alkaline conditions. Here are some edible full sun plants to consider if you have alkaline soil:
- Trees such as the field maple, hawthorn and blackthorn (with edible potential). These trees don’t always require fertilizer applications. If you choose to fertilize the soil, get a tree-specific fertilizer. If the product has too much nitrogen in it, it can burn the soil. You could do a mycorrhizal treatment to promote soil health and keep your trees healthy.
- Perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Most of these herbs need at least six hours of sunlight a day. You’ll also want to set up a watering routine, especially when the scorching summer temperatures come around to keep them healthy.
- Legumes such as pole beans and peas. Most plants in this family grow very well in soil that stays moderately moist and has an average fertility rating. Adding organic matter or mulch to the soil can help preserve the moisture levels and lower the temperature. You want to water consistently and not allow the soil to dry out.
- Brassicas. (Members of this plant family can do well in alkaline soil since alkalinity can reduce the incidence of problems like club root disease.) Plant members of this family do well in soils that have slightly higher nitrogen content, as long as you can irrigate them. They need a lot of nutrients and steady water. You won’t need to fertilize them during the growing season if the soil is adequately fertile.
Full Sun Plants for Acidic Soils
If your soil has a pH of between 4.5 and 7, it is acidic. If you have a pH around 5, you have very acidic soil. The more acidic your soil, the more limited your choice of full sun perennials will be. A somewhat acidic soil, however, can be perfect for acid-loving (ericaceous) plants. With mildly acidic soil, you should have no difficulty in finding edible full sun plants to grow that will bloom and flower.
Some examples of some edible crops that you may be able to grow in full sun in your garden include:
- Certain apple trees. (Apples are the most acid-tolerant of the common fruit tree varieties. They can cope well with a pH of around 5-6.5.) Ideally, you’ll have loamy and deep soil that has a moderate fertility rating for these apple trees. The soil should drain well while retaining a decent amount of moisture. They also like a frost-free and sheltered area. You want to plant them when they’re dormant from the late fall to the early spring months.
- Rowan (Sorbus) (Berries are edible when cooked and can be used to make a jelly.) After this tree roots deeply, you’ll want to keep the soil moist. However, it can also withstand cold, winds, and drought. You might need to prune it when it’s younger to get rid of vertical branches or branches that crossover. Once it matures, you won’t need to prune it.
- Potatoes are a vegetable that is tolerant of acidic conditions. They can do well with a pH of between 4.5 and 6. You should note that this is an aggressively rooting plant, and they do best when you plant them in a loose, light soil. Keep the soil consistently moist and ensure it drains well between watering sessions.
- Some of the best edibles for ericaceous soils are soft fruits/ berries such as: blueberries/ blaeberries/ bilberries, lingonberries, cranberries, cowberries. Blackberries and raspberries can also cope with somewhat acidic conditions. Put your berry bushes or shrubs in a sunny spot, but be aware that many of them can also withstand partial shade. THe more sun they get, the more fruit they’ll produce. Make sure they have shelter from the wind, good air circulation, and that they have rich soil.
Popular Full Sun Perennial Flowers
Full Sun Native Plant Border by Ron Frazier / CC BY 2.0 Flowers are a popular item that can thrive in a huge range of soil types. This is why many people love planting them and mixing and matching to create eye-catching flower beds or borders.
There are, of course, plenty of other non-edible full sun perennials that you could consider in your garden, whatever your soil type may be. But if you want to live sustainably and ethically, you should always think first about the food plants you can grow in full sun areas of your garden.
There are several different types of salvia. Some are perennials, but a lot of people will grow the red salvia plants as an annual. Caradonna is a popular perennial type. You’ll get darker flowers with slightly more narrow spikes to give it a dramatic look and feel. They also look very delicate, and you can get a broad range of colors from a light blue to red to purple and everything in between. They look good planted in clusters or spread out along a border.
This is one of the more striking full sun perennials on the list. They come in a bright range of eye-catching colors, and they stand out even more due to their height. However, the height also means that they can cast shadows on other plants around it, so be mindful when you plant them. They work well along the back row of a layered garden or along a fence, and they grow well planted with hollyhocks or Italian bugloss.
You can easily use these daisies to bring a splash of color to your yard in the fall months. You should cut them back during the summer to help keep the foliage more compact. Also, this can delay blooming times until late August. They come in a brilliant white coloring, but you can also get Black-eyed Susans if you want a little bolder look and feel in the fall months.
Stella De Oro Daylily
This is one low-maintenance plant that will bloom for weeks on end without a lot of care from you. It’s a workhorse in your garden, and it can add bright foliage and pretty colors all season long. These are immensely popular plants, so it’s not uncommon to see them in gardens scattered up and down your block. Bright yellow is a very popular choice, but you can also get them in purples, reds, oranges, and bi-colors where it starts out light and turns darker by the leaf tips.
The iris is one plant that is an old favorite for your full sun perennials. They are a pretty flower that is extremely fragrant, and this can attract pollinators to your yard. If you want something to stand out, try planting the Batic cultivar of iris because it will give you stunning flowers with bi-colors when it blooms. It has an upright habit with pretty green foliage to bring a little height to your yard or garden.
Red Hot Poker
The Red Hot Poker is one of the common names for the Kniphofia plant. Since not all types are red, there are several different names for it. Redhot Popsicle is one name for a red variety of this plant, and it’s part of the Popsicle series. These plants hail from South Africa, and they’re hardy to plant outside to zone five. They have oddly-shaped flower spikes that can turn them into focal points in your yard. They also prefer to have drier and more sandy soil.
When you think of the coneflower, you’re most likely imagining the purple color, but there are many more colors available. Bugs love to chew this plant’s petals up, so they do require more maintenance and supervision to keep them looking nice. Goldfinches adore the seeds, so you could use them to attract birds to your yard all spring and summer long.
Cornflowers by alvaroreguly / CC BY 2.0 The pretty colors and sheer height of coneflowers add a dramatic look to your yard or garden, and this is why many people choose to plant this full sun perennial.
Perennial Bachelor Button
This is a perennial type of bachelor buttons, and their classification is Centaurea montana. If you’re after the annual bachelor buttons plant, look for Centaurea cyanus. They have very delicate flower structures to them, and it’s one of the few flowers that comes in a beautiful blue color. You can easily create a gorgeous contrast by planting this flower with a Stella De Oro Daylily.
Unlike many of the full sun perennials on the list, this one needs moist soil to do well. Having a flowing patch of this plant spilling down a slope in your yard or reaching over stone walls or fences creates a very eye-catching look and feel. It blooms in the early spring months to the middle of summer, and it’ll attract a host of pollinators to your yard. It’s a great way to cover stubborn spots where grass won’t grow well.
Chocolate Drop Sedum
While several of the full sun perennials do well in drought-like conditions, this is exactly where Chocolate Drop Sedum does best. This plant is a surprising addition to the succulent family due to the different growing conditions it prefers. Make sure you water it sparingly, and make a point to water in the early morning or early evening hours to avoid scorching the leaves.
This plant is a huge hit in rock gardens, and it gets its name from how it looks when it blooms. You’ll get silver foliage that beautifully offsets the silver foliage. It’s a low-growing plant that does best in zones three to seven. The soil should be dry, sandy, and well-draining. Remove any faded blooms in the early spring months to prevent it from self-seeding and spreading. Also, remove any diseased or dead foliage to keep the plant looking its best.
Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks is a succulent that produces bigger rosettes and tiny offspring, hence the name. It might look like a dainty choice, but it’s a hardy full sun perennial that can tolerate sandy or rocky soil with drought conditions. You do want to ensure the soil drains well and that you don’t waterlog it. Once the rosettes bloom, they’ll die. You should remove them to let the smaller plants fill in. Plant them in zones three to eight in full sun for the best results.
The final full sun perennial on the list is yarrow. It produces white flowers that are flat-topped, and you can choose from several colors. They have yellows, creams, reds, pinks, and bi-color pastels. This is very attractive to any butterflies in the area, but you want to ensure that you give it room to spread out. When it spreads too far, you can pull it out to help control it. Cut it back after it flowers for the first time to help keep the shape and encourage additional blooms. Yarrow does well in zones three to nine, and the soil should be average with dry to medium moisture levels.
Over time, you can grow trees to create some dappled shade that will help more plants to thrive from early summer to late summer, during the hottest part of the day. You can turn sun-baked spots into fertile and productive polycultures or forest gardens. By choosing the right plants for the right places, you can make the most of your garden, wherever you live.