Planting vegetables in the right spot in your garden is one of the keys to getting a bumper crop. Some love the sun, others start wilting if they get too much sun, and so on. Thankfully, you can find a vegetable that will grow well in just about any type of garden.
If you have a full sun area in your garden, you’ve got some excellent options for vegetables to plant. There are quite a few veggies, including some very familiar ones, that grow best with lots of sunshine.
Here’s a quick guide to what full sun actually means (and how to know where you have it) and the top full sun vegetables for an edible summer garden.
What Is Full Sun?
It’s not difficult to determine whether you have full sun in your garden or not once you know what to look for. If you do, there’s a wide range of vegetables you can grow.
There are a lot of terms in gardening that can be confusing for new gardeners. If you aren’t quite sure what full sun, part sun, etc. means, here’s a few definitions to know:
- Full Sun– Plants get six hours (or more) of unfiltered sunlight a day. This means sunlight should be hitting your plants directly- not being filtered through trees.
- Partial Sun– Plants get four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, some afternoon sun preferred.
- Partial Shade– Plants get four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, morning sun preferred. (Often used interchangeably with ‘partial sun.’)
- Full Shade– No more than four hours of direct sunlight a day and preferably only morning or filtered sun.
If you want to determine whether an area of your garden gets full sun, you can do this with a simple test.
Place a rock (or similar object) in the area(s) where your garden is going to go as soon as the sun directly hits that area. Mark down the time. Check on that area regularly- at least every hour or half hour- and make sure the rock is still getting direct sunlight.
As soon as the sunlight becomes filtered or shade moves in, mark down the time again. You can then count how many hours that area stayed in the sunlight and determine whether it counts as full sun or not.
Just keep in mind that some areas will get full sun early in spring and will change to part sun as the trees leaf out. Make that a part of your calculations as you plan your summer garden.
Full Sun Vegetables for Your Summer Garden
Tomatoes are one of the most popular sun-loving veggies. There are so many different varieties you can grow with all different colors, shapes, and sizes.
Tomatoes are a favorite summer vegetable that also happen to love full sun. They like heat as well, so plant them after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed in the spring.
For large, juicy tomatoes, try a beefsteak variety. Hybrid tomatoes will be easier to grow and have better disease resistance, but heirlooms can’t be beat for flavor.
To get tomatoes that are ready weeks earlier than the largest ones, add some cherry tomatoes to your garden and cook with them or enjoy them fresh.
Whether you like sweet or spicy, there’s a pepper out there for you. Go off the beaten track a bit and look for heirloom varieties that have unique colors (like brown or purple) and fantastic flavor.
Peppers are another favorite in the summer garden and will soak in all the sun you can give them. If you live in an area with long, cold winters, try planting your peppers in a container garden where the soil will warm more quickly.
Jalapeños, habaneros, and other hot peppers will spice up your recipes when you harvest them fresh. Most hot peppers are very prolific, so be prepared for a big harvest.
Sweet bell peppers also love the sun and taste fantastic straight from the garden. They can take a while to fully color, so have patience!
You may be most familiar with the dark purple eggplant, but there are a surprising number of varieties to choose from. Some are long, some are egg-shaped, but all share that eggplant flavor.
Closely related to tomatoes and peppers, it’s no surprise that eggplants are also full sun vegetables.
You can grow the traditional large purple eggplant, or opt for a long Asian variety that is very tender and tasty when small. There are even white, egg-shaped varieties that look ornamental yet are still edible.
Try grilling your fresh harvest to add some great, almost smoky flavor to eggplant.
Cucumbers are another classic summer vegetable that enjoys sunlight. Grow them for fresh eating, pickling, or both.
Pickles, anyone? Cucumbers are another staple in the summer garden and need full sun in order to grow well.
You may be surprised to learn that you can grow cucumbers in containers if you’re short on space in your garden. Once plants start producing, you may be harvesting the fruit for weeks, so plan on sharing or doing some large batch recipes.
For pickles, choose a small “baby” variety that can be pickled whole or easily sliced. For fresh eating, choose a larger variety but harvest before they get too big and become seedy.
There are many different kinds of summer squash, even though zucchini remains the favorite. Try a few to discover the unique flavor of each.
Harvesting zucchini and yellow squash is a true sign that summer has come to the garden. All varieties of summer squash need full sun to thrive, so be sure to place them where they can enjoy the sunlight.
Many gardeners like to plant summer squash in raised mounds to help the soil warm more quickly and to improve drainage. You can easily start them from seed either indoors or directly in your garden as long as you wait until the soil warms to plant outside.
For something new, try a yellow crookneck squash, or stick with the classic and much-loved green zucchini.
Pumpkins are a favorite winter squash variety. If you’ve never thought about growing them at home, it’s very easy- as long as they have lots of space to grow in.
Like their summer squash cousins, winter squash are also full sun vegetables that won’t grow or produce well if they get too much shade.
You’ll need to plant winter squash at about the same time as summer squash, but don’t plan to harvest them until very late summer or fall. One of the benefits of growing winter squash (and where their name comes from) is their ability to be stored through the winter.
For Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations and food, try your hand at growing pumpkins, which are a type of winter squash. Butternut squash, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash are also popular varieties that store well.
Green beans are a great option for making use of vertical space in your garden. Pole beans will climb up instead of out and can fit into small garden spaces as well as large.
Green beans are another great choice for a sun-filled garden. Pole beans make use of vertical space (just don’t plant them where they’ll shade out other crops), and bush beans are a more compact plant.
You can also plant dry beans in your summer garden to be able to store and cook beans through the winter. Dry beans are simply a type of green bean that are harvested when the pods dry out rather than when they are fresh and green.
Beans can be planted from seed directly in your garden after the soil has warmed in the spring. They sprout and grow quickly and are a great crop for beginner gardeners.
Add something sweet and juicy to your garden by planting melons. Huge melons will take a long time to get ripe, but you can add some smaller varieties to fill in the gap.
You might think of melons as a fruit, but they are technically considered full sun vegetables because of how they grow. Melons are actually closely related to cucumbers and squash, which have already been mentioned as great summer vegetables.
Being able to harvest watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc. from your garden midsummer is a real treat. Any type of melon adds a sweetness to your vegetable harvest and there are plenty of varieties to choose from.
Watermelons typically take the longest to become ripe but are the most popular. Mix in some small muskmelons or cantaloupes to harvest earlier in the summer.
Sweet corn isn’t often seen in a backyard garden, but it’s a great full sun vegetable to be aware of. With a little extra work, you can be harvesting your own fresh ears of corn in late summer.
Growing sweet corn is not as typical in a home garden, but you might be surprised at how simple it is to add a small patch of corn to your garden. Corn needs full sun to grow in and has a few specific growing requirements to be aware of.
The major key to growing corn is starting it from seed as soon as possible but not letting your plants be exposed to frost. You should also plant in a square or a rectangle, rather than rows, to make sure your corn plants get pollinated and produce ears later on.
To use a time-honored Native American planting trick, plant the “Three Sisters” together in your garden: corn, pole beans, and summer squash.
Okra is a beautiful plant as well as an edible one. It blooms with large, eye-catching flowers that eventually form the green pods that get eaten.
Okra is a crop more often grown in the south than the north, but it’s another excellent full sun vegetable. Along with lots of sun, okra loves heat and does well in dry weather, although you may need to water it occasionally.
A close cousin of the ornamental hibiscus plant, okra can be very decorative as well as edible. The flowers are large, beautiful, and look distinctly like hibiscus flowers. They eventually turn into dark green pods that should be harvested while they are still small.
If you’re concerned about slimy okra, look up some recipes for roasting it or try making it into pickles.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are two more sun-loving vegetables. They can both be grown in the ground or in containers, depending on how much space you have available.
Potatoes are a crop that needs to be planted in early spring to be harvested anytime from early to late summer. They absolutely need full sun to grow in and can be dug up as young or full size potatoes.
While you may be most familiar with potatoes grown in long rows and hilled throughout the season, this is actually a great vegetable to grow in large containers. You can gradually fill up the container with soil as the potatoes grow and simply dump it out to harvest.
Another more rarely grown vegetable to grow is the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes aren’t true potatoes, but they do produce potato-like tubers that are starchy and sweet.
Sweet potatoes are more of a warm-season crop, so you’ll need to wait longer to plant them than regular potatoes. They take a long time to mature and need warm weather during this time, so northern gardeners may want to look for newer varieties that are quick-maturing.
If you like making salsa verde, why not try growing your own tomatillos? They have their own unique flavor but require many of the same growing conditions as tomatoes.
Tomatillos are a relative of tomatoes, although they have their own very distinct flavor and appearance. The fruits actually look like small lanterns as they develop because they have a papery husk that surrounds the inner fruit.
Like the other plants on this list, tomatillos are full sun vegetables that also thrive in the heat of summer. There are green and purple varieties that both have a tart, almost fruity flavor.
Tomatillos are best started indoors because they won’t have time to mature if directly seeded in the garden. Harvest them when the husks start to split open, revealing the fruit inside.
Garlic is an easy plant to grow as long as you get it in the ground in the fall (rather than in the spring). It has great flavor when eaten fresh and can also be dried for storage.
Garlic is a fantastic full sun vegetable for chefs (and garlic lovers) to plant in their garden. It’s a bit unique because you actually plant the cloves in the fall for a harvest the following summer.
One of the keys to growing garlic successfully is picking a variety that’s suited to your region. There are two main types: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.
Hardneck varieties are very cold hardy and usually best for gardeners in northern regions where the winters are cold. Softneck varieties are less winter-hardy but tend to have a stronger flavor and store better than hardnecks.
There are some fantastic cultivars, no matter which variety you need to grow, and you’ll be able to store some garlic for winter if you plant enough.
Onions are another kitchen staple that can be grown in a full sun garden. Plant them early and start enjoying them in midsummer.
Onions are a full sun, cool weather crop that should be planted early in spring to be harvested in early to mid summer. You can plant them from sets bought at the store or be more adventurous and start your own seeds indoors 10-12 weeks before your last average frost date.
Onions are another crop that can be eaten fresh or stored. To store them, make sure you choose good storage varieties like ‘Patterson’, ‘Cortland’, or ‘Redwing’.
With onions, you also need to match the type to your growing region. Long day onions are best for northern areas with long summer days, while short day onions are more often grown in the south. Day neutral onions grow well in most areas.
Leeks aren’t as well known as their cousins onions and garlic, but they make a great addition to a sunny garden. They have a milder, sweeter flavor that can be an onion replacement.
Leeks are closely related to onions, though they have a milder and sweeter flavor. Like onions, they need a full sun area of your garden to grow in and develop leaves that look very similar to garlic foliage.
Rather than developing a true bulb like onions do, leeks technically develop a swollen base to their stems that is the part cooked and eaten. It looks a lot like a bulb and is used very similarly in recipes.
Start your leeks early in the season and plan for about a three month growing period before they’ll be ready to harvest.
Herbs are a great companion plant for any full sun vegetable garden. Grow them in the ground or in containers and enjoy them fresh in recipes.
Though not technically vegetables, herbs are fantastic plants for a full sun garden. Many of them thrive best in sunlight and complement any other vegetables (and fruits) you may be growing.
Make good use of herbs by planting them in and around your vegetables. Many herbs repel common garden pests and can help with natural pest control in your veggie garden. They also add a lot of fresh flavor to recipes you may make with your summer harvest.
Making the Most of Full Sun Vegetables
You don’t need to worry about having shade in your garden to be able to grow vegetable crops. There are many fantastic vegetables (as you can see) that grow best with lots of sunlight. Most of them are considered summer vegetables that also do well in the heat.
If you want to extend your growing season, check out these great late summer vegetables that can either be harvested in late summer or planted in late summer for a fall harvest.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.