Best Trees to Plant in Full Sun

Just like us humans, some plants fare significantly better when they are basking in the warmth of the sunlight on a regular basis. But, why do some plants require more sunlight and which plants are the best ones to add to the portion of your yard that gets full-day sun?

Best Trees to Plant in Full SunPlants need sun to perform the process of photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, cells absorb energy from the sun, water, minerals and carbon dioxide and make glucose (simple sugar molecules) and oxygen. The plant then uses the glucose as sugar and the oxygen is released into the air.

While all plants require photosynthesis to make energy needed to grow, the amount of light energy needed from the sun varies from plant to plant. Over many years the plants have adapted to their natural environments and this has caused them to adapt in order to survive. So, some plants are able to survive in harsh desert, full-sun environments, while others thrive better in less intense climates.

Since all plants, including trees, adapt to their native surroundings any tree service in Portland will first recommend that you choose trees that are native to the Pacific Northwest, even Oregon itself. Choosing a tree specific to the Willamette Valley will give it the best chance to flourish as it’s considered an ecoregion where the plants have adapted alongside native animals to local conditions over thousands of years.

With that said, sometimes urban areas alter the natural landscape making it a challenge for native trees to flourish in a region that was once their natural environment. This is why it is essential for your tree service in Portland to recommend trees that meet the water and sun needs provided by your yard.

Here are some great trees to consider adding to your landscape. These suggested trees are all native to the Willamette Valley and thrive in full-sun environments.

Grand fir (Abies grandis) – This large evergreen grows up to 200 feet tall and 40 feet wide and is super easy to grow. It can grow in full sun, part shade or full shade and prefers moist soil. However, the best reason it’s great for landscape is it supports hummingbirds, pest-eating insects like ladybugs, and birds.

Mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) – This is also a large evergreen tree that commonly grows between 60 and 120 feet fall and 15 feet wide, but even when it gets tall, it has a slug-paced rate of growth. It is, however, more difficult to grow. This tree flourishes best in full or partial sun, somewhat moist to moist ground, and supports birds and other mammals. It is part of the pine family and sprouts cones that are purple, lime-green and red.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. benthamiana) – This is a large evergreen coniferous pine and grows between 150 and 200 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide, and it is easy to grow. It is also perfect for full-sun yards. It has long needles grouped in threes, sprouts large cones, and prefers well-drained soil. This rugged-looking, lean tree was referred to as “a Clint Eastwood of a tree” by writer Arthur Plotnik and lent its name to the ranch in TV show “Bonanza”.  This pine is wind-resistant, fire-resistant once mature, and produced reddish-brown cones. It also gives off a sweet scent.

Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) – The oak is a large deciduous tree and grows 25 to 70 feet tall and 30 to 60 feet wide. It is moderately hard to grow and flourishes best in full sun. It grows slowly, prefers well-drained soil, and sprouts acorns in the fall. It is also a great tree to plant if you want one that attracts pest-eating insects like ladybugs and is an ideal home for birds and mammals. This tree is a member of the beech family and one of only four deciduous oaks native to the west coast.

Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus var. laevigatus) – This large evergreen shrub is a lovely addition to full-sun yards as it produces lush, white flowers in summer and glossy, sticky leaves. It grows 8 to 10 feet fall and 8 feet wide and is easy to grow. This tree is also perfect for supporting pollination and birds and hummingbirds love it too. This perennial shrub blooms from April to August.

Indian Plum/Oso Berry (Oemlaria cerasiformis) – Sometimes considered a shrub, this smaller tree grows between 8 and 15 feet and can thrive in either full sun or full shade. While it does produce berries that are favorites for birds to snack on, you do need to add a male and female version of the trees to enjoy this sight. This early bloomer starts producing its flowers in February, but the scent is only appealing to some. While it’s been described as Hawthorne-like or almond-scented, others have said the Oso Berry smells like melon rinds and cat urine. Interestingly, it’s also said that the leaves have a cucumber smell when crushed.

Fringe cup (Tellima grandiflora) – This is an herbaceous perennial and grows to a small 1 to 2 feet. It is perfect for a small space in your full-sun yard and tolerates all seasons well. It was named for its flower whose petals “create a fringe around the floral cup.” There is a myth that says woodland elves eat it to improve their night vision.  

Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) – Like the Fringe Cup, this is an herbaceous perennial that grows to about 1.5 feet tall, flourishes in full-sun landscapes and tolerates all seasons well. It is also easy to grow, but can take up to two years to germinate and 7 years to flower. When the tree flowers it is white then fades to pink. The seeds are favorite snacks for squirrels and chipmunks.

Western Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) – This herbaceous perennial grows up to 1.5 feet tall. It thrives best in moist, but not standing water and ironically, also likes full sun. However, despite its contradictory desires, it is nice for yards as it attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies. It is listed as one of the top 10 plants for habitat gardening probably because of its lovely flowers, but be careful with kids and pets as the foliage is toxic if ingested.

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