Full Sun? What does it mean?

Full Sun!

What does that mean? Why are my plants not thriving? I planted them in full sun, just like the plant tag said.

Well, funny thing about plant tags, and plant care instructions in general. They don’t know you, or where you live. Full sun is a perfect example of this. Full sun in San Francisco, CA means a completely different thing than full sun in El Paso, Texas. In fact, it means a completely different thing than full sun in Livermore, CA, a town just 90 minutes away.

How will that affect my plants?

Here is one way. Let’s say you just scored some beautiful Aeoniums (like the one in the picture above). These are plants that mostly come from the Canary Islands, a Mediterranean climate not unlike the SF Bay area.


Here in SF, they thrive like crazy! You don’t need to do much, as long as you are planting them outside here. The tag says full sun, so you plant them in full sun and away they go. Your 4 inch plant is a 2 foot monster in no time, with multiple offshoots and soon you are getting flowers from some of the offshoots (which probably spells the end of that portion of the plant – but that is a story for another blog). In the summer they may get a little stagnant, although if you are watering semi-regularly (I say “semi” because remember succulents want a little neglect – too much water can kill them) they may look great even though it is not their regular growing season. Then, once the winter rolls around, they may go sort of crazy, spreading their wide open faces to the sky and inspiring you to write poetry about their sunflower-esque beauty. Yes, full sun in the Mediterranean-like Bay Area is just perfect for Aeoniums.

However let’s say you live in Fresno, a hot southern California city southwest of the Sierra National Forrest where the summer temperature can easily be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You bought your plants in the spring and planted them in full sun, following instructions like the great gardener you are. Now it is July and your plants are disintegrating. The leaves curled up a bit first, and you were concerned so you gave them more water than you felt was appropriate, but you didn’t want them to die. Then the leaves began to burn and fall off, and soon your plant was looking smaller and smaller and very “leggy”. Not long after that, the leaves were all gone and even the stem was looking sad and falling over.

That is because all “full sun “was not created equally. So it is not enough to simply follow the instructions on the tag, a bit more research may be involved in buying the right plants for your area and keeping them healthy throughout the four seasons of the year.

If you are lucky enough to have four seasons.

Which sadly, in SF, we are not.