Plant Size Impacts on Sun and Shade

Plants in the landscape are constantly growing, changing, and dying. Larger plants will eventually shade out sun loving plants beneath them. Be prepared to replace sun loving plants with more shade tolerant plants when needed.

Large trees will have the biggest impact, followed by medium and small trees, and large shrubs. Conversely, if a large tree is removed, consider the impact of sun on shade loving plants. Some will adapt well while others may show signs of sun scorch or browning of leaves. These plants will need to be transplanted to more shady locations in order to thrive.

Brown, scorched leaves on shade loving Hostas Photo credit: Susan Buffler
Shrub rose “leaning” toward the light. Photo source: Susan Buffler

Existing Plants

  • Observe sun and shade patterns throughout the day and over the growing season.
  • Understand how the landscape will change over time.
  • Determine how large existing plants will grow.
  • Match suitable shade tolerant plants to areas of existing shade.
  • Match suitable sun loving plants to areas of existing sun.
  • Mature tree roots may make it difficult to plant underneath trees.
  • Some mature species such as Black walnut can be toxic to nearby plants.

New Plants

  • Recommendations for planting trees for shading buildings depends on mature plant size.
  • Plant small trees 10 to 15 feet  from the building.
  • Plant  large trees 15 to 20 feet from the building.
  • Know the direction of the sun during the day.
  • Mature plant size is often underestimated.
  • Plant deciduous trees on the south, and southwest side of buildings to let light inside in the winter and to provide summer shade.
  • Plant large evergreen trees on the west and northwest side of buildings to provide shade from late day summer sun and to block winds from the north west.
  • Make sure trees will not eventually block solar panels.
  • Sun loving perennials and shrubs planted under new trees will eventually be shaded out and will “lean” toward the sun, become spindly, or stop flowering.
  • Water needs may change as plants grow.
  • Know plant sun and shade needs.

Additional Resources:


Minnesota – Gardening in the Shade
Missouri – Landscape Plantings for Energy Savings
Missouri – Tree Placement on Home Grounds
Nebraska – Planting Under Trees