Full Sun Perennials For Every Soil Type

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

Crabapples will grow in clay soil and fruit trees like this can be a good way to make the most of a sunny spot. 

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:

Potatoes break up clay soil. 

  • Malus (a wide range of apples and crabapples)
  • Pyrus (pear trees)
  • Shallow rooted leafy crops like lettuce, chard etc. which benefit from clay soil’s ability to retail water in the topsoil. 
  • 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. 
  • Plants with deep tap roots like fava beans and alfalfa, that break up the clay soil with their roots. 
  • Roots and tubers like daikon radishes and potatoes, that also help to reduce soil compaction and break up the clay.
  • Squash and pumpkins. These, and other hungry crops will benefit from the nutrient rich clay soil types. 

Full Sun Plants for Sandy, Free-Draining Soil

The beautiful Apricots are one fruit tree that can do quite well in sandy soil. 

A sandy, free-draining soil can also have both positives and negatives. Sandy soil tends to be far lower in nutrients than a 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 looser 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Mediterranean herbs, like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and marjoram. These full sun plants thrive in low nutrient, low water conditions. 

Full Sun Plants for Chalky/ Alkaline Soil

Mediterranean herbs like rosemary are a great choice for alkaline, free draining soils. 

As well as thinking about soil type and texture when choosing full sun plants, it is also important to think about soil pH. Soil with 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:

Asparagus does well in an alkaline soil. 

  • Trees such as the field maple, hawthorn and blackthorn (with edible potential).
  • Asparagus
  • Perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
  • Legumes such as pole beans and peas
  • Brassicas. (Members of this plant family can do well in alkaline soil since alkalinity can reduce the incidence of problems like club root disease.)

Full Sun Plants for Acidic Soils

Blueberries need acidic soil and fruit best in full sun

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.)
  • Rowan (Sorbus) (Berries are edible when cooked and can be used to make a jelly.)
  • Potatoes are a vegetable that is tolerant of acidic conditions. They can do well with a pH of between 4.5 and 6. 
  • 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. 

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.

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.