This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a qualifying purchase.

Have you ever struggled to keep some plants alive in your garden?

Do you painstakingly place them in the ground, only to watch them slowly wither and die?

And have you wondered why some kinds grow well for you while others are constantly sickly?

Do you wish you could figure out the secret sauce to growing plants successfully in your garden every time?

What you probably already know is that all plants need some combination of three things to grow their best: soil, water, and sun.

So how do you know if you have the right combination? The short answer is: You need to get more familiar with your yard. But how do you do that?

First off, let’s start with the sun situation. (You may have guessed that was the direction I was going based on the title of this post.)

Providing the right amount of sunlight is one third of the equation for growing plants successfully!

So, let’s get you set up for gardening success by knowing what the sun situation is in your yard.

There is a simple way to determine your yard’s sun situation.

It’s a lesser known gardening secret, and it’s my first rule of thumb for developing a green thumb. ? 

Make a sun map of your yard.

If I asked you right now, could you tell me about how many hours of sunlight your healthy plants are getting? How about your unhealthy ones? Do you know if the sun is shining on them mostly in the morning or in the evening? Or not at all?

Sun matters.

You need to know how much sun your garden is getting each day, and when. Because, you may have noticed, when you buy a plant at the store, it comes with planting instructions which say how much sunlight it needs.

That’s where a sun map comes in to play.

A sun map is going to help you ace your plants’ sunlight needs.

What is a Sun Map?

A sun map is a representation of the sunlight in an area throughout the day.

A sun map of your yard will tell you how much time an area is in the shade vs sun. And it will tell you when the area is in the shade vs. sun.

It’s extremely useful to have a sun map of wherever you have your garden beds or anywhere you plan to plant something.

Why? Because you can confidently plant your plants in your yard. You’ll know where they will get the right amount of sunshine. And you may discover you need to transplant existing plants somewhere more sunny or more shady.

Basically, the sun map helps you plan before you start digging and planting plants willy nilly. And that’s an important part of plant care. Your plants will grow successfully the first time.

Not only will your plants grow better with the right amount of sun, you’ll save money because your plants stay alive. And you’ll enjoy their beauty longer.

Once you have created your sun map, you can refer back to it as often as needed while you’re making your planting plans. Or throughout the growing season if a plant needs extra attention.

It could even come in handy when you’re planning an outdoor party and want to make sure that your guests will be comfortable.

So, now that you understand the importance of having a sun map, let’s make one.

How to make a sun map

Sun maps are quite simple to make and you don’t need much at all to do it. Here’s the short and sweet supplies list.


  • camera (like a camera phone),
  • location to organize your photos (like a folder on your computer, Google Photos, DropBox, etc)
  • and a lazy, sunny day.

You need a lazy, hang-around-at-home kind of day- preferably when you can be home all day because you’ll be going outside to take pictures every hour. And preferably when it’s sunny because a cloudy day will skew your results.

If you work during the week, weekends are perfect for this. Give yourself a real day off, when you really have nowhere to be.

Then, all you have to do is go outside and take pictures of your yard every hour!

I had so much fun doing this with my 8-year-old daughter over spring break. We started taking pictures at 8 am. Every hour, the timer would go off and we’d both run outside to take pictures all over the front yard and backyard.

We’d laugh at the squirrels and listen to the birds chirping, and would note to each other how the shadows changed noticeably since the last time. Even after just one hour!

I let her take pictures of anything and everything she wanted.

However, for the sake of sun mapping, I tried to stick to the same spots each time I went outside.

By taking pictures of the same spots each time, you can make an hourly sun map of each spot in the yard at the end of the day.

Frugal Thumb Tip: Each hour after you take photos, spend a minute renaming the photos to include the location in your yard and the hour. Then save them all in a folder together. By organizing your photos this way, you will be able to sort them easily by area.

Here’s an example of the sun map that I made with photos I took from the same spot on our patio every hour:

You really can see how the sunlight changes throughout the day around the patio!

So, once you have taken photos every hour from sun rise to sunset (which, around here means about 8am to 7pm), you’ll be able to use your photos to figure out how much sun your yard really gets.

If I still haven’t convinced you that a sun map will come in handy and help your plants grow better, here’s my practical application:

After making sun maps of my yard, I was able to confidently decide where to set up some new raised beds for my veggie garden this year.

Most veggies need full sun, and I have a lot of trees in the backyard. I wasn’t sure where it would be safe to plant them back there.

Because of this sun map, I was able to determine where I was getting the most sun (at least 8 hours) in my very shady backyard and plan my veggie garden accordingly.

See? A sun map is useful and simple to make, right?

Now you know what, why, and how to make a sun map!

So go make one for your yard.

Then watch your plants grow better than ever this year. While your thumb turns greener too.

Believe me, once you have a sun map, you’ll wonder how you got by without it.

Be thrifty and green,