Garden row orientation: east-west, or north-south?

nick_b79(4/5 Southeast MN)January 12, 2008

I'm wondering if there is any benefit to orientating your rows so that they run either east to west, or north to south? I remember my grandmother would always say to plant vegetables in north-south rows because it reduced shade? Has anyone found noticeable differences, or is this an old wive's tale?


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anney(Georgia 8)

I prefer to plant my rows north-south with my tallest vegetables at the north end of rows (actually raised beds). That's because as the sun travels from east to west, the plants aren't shaded by those on either side. But remember, too, that the sun always stays in the Southern sky as it moves east-to-west, so if you put your short plants at the southern end, they aren't shaded by taller plants.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 7:39PM
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But remember, too, that the sun always stays in the Southern sky as it moves east-to-west . . .

From up here near the 49th parallel - the sun right now barely gets above the southern horizon however . . . .

In mid-Summer, the sun shines brightly on the northside of my home both morning and afternoon. Therefore, my rows are great sweeping arcs!!
(no, no - just kidding ;o)


    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:03PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Well, the shadow on the north side of our house is shorter in summer, but it doesn't disappear! Are you saying that you have no northside shadow at all?

So, other than arcs :-) how do you orient your plant-rows?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:27PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Two gardens here are north-south and one is east-west. These are mainly for drainage reasons. It sure can rain here at times and I don't want to impound a three inch rain. One is a raised bed area that absorbs water like a sponge, but I still like the idea of not trapping a large rain.

Having tall crops on the north is the main thing.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:31PM
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I think that what anney says is the traditional thinking. Due to the shape of my yard, I have to run my beds east-west to get the best use of my space. I've sort of pondered this a bit and finally decided that the orientation may really not make that much difference.

Hard to explain but I'll try to provide a visualization this way.... Imagine a grid with equal squares and veggies in each square. Figure out where the plants would go based on sun path (taller to the north and shorter to the south). Keep the plants in this position and then overlay the beds. You could keep the plants in the same relative locations no matter how the beds run - you'd just have the paths in different places. So it would be a case of doing short to tall in rows vs in columns.

In my planned garden, with long beds running east-west, shorter peppers will be in a long bed with more exposure to the south and the taller tomatoes will be behind those in a long row on the north side of the lot. So, none of the tomatoes would be shaded by the shorter pepprs. If the tomatoes and peppers each ran in north-south rows, some of the tomatoes or some of the peppers (those more to the south) MIGHT shade the plant next to it in the row, at least in theory - probably unlikely in practice.

Don't know if this makes any sense to anyone but me , but thought I'd throw it out there.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:40PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


I agree with you and Wayne. Having shorter plants unshaded is the most important thing, and one can do that with rows running either way.

Here in the deep South, the afternoon sun is often experienced as much brighter and hotter by people AND plants, so some things, like lettuce and tomatoes, can benefit from a bit of shade in the middle of summer. I plant lettuce on the southeastern side to give it some shade by taller plants located in rows west of them. I plant my tomatoes where the dappled shade reaches them about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. That shade is usually several degrees cooler. They don't seem to have suffered from too little sunlight, so it works well.

And yes, drainage is a consideration, too. I'm lucky that our land is relatively flat, though it gently slopes down on the north side, but we've had drought, so too much water hasn't been a problem for a long time.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 9:03PM
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At your latitude, if you have the scope, definitely run the rows north-south. You'll notice that professional greenhouses always run north-south for the same reason - the rows inside can be the same and it presents the smallest wall area to the north. Often that north wall is solid and insulated. So in fact if you had a nice high stone wall on the north side of your garden, all the better.

Anney, in the northern hemisphere, the sun can only shine on a north-face in early morning and late afternoon. And it's only noticable at higher latitudes and only for about a month before and after the summer solstice.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 7:49AM
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PNBrown has got it right, Anney, except we might have gardeners here from above the Arctic Circle . . . well, I guess not.

Of course, our Arctic gardeners would have 24 hour sun shining on all sides of their gardens and homes through the course of the day.

Steve's digits

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 10:39AM
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Nick, what I'm saying, in a rather silly way, is that the farther north you are - the less important row orientation will be.

I have great, long shadows at midday right now but that's not true during the Summer. Morning and afternoon sunlight is coming from northern quadrants (is that the right word?) during the Summer months. That's probably true for you, as well.

At 48° northern latitude, I haven't worried at all about row orientation and just keep taller plants away from shorter plants.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 10:51AM
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Morning and afternoon sunlight are the least important though, don't you agree, Steve? It's the mid-day sun that really matters, IME, that critical period from 10-2, or 9-3. And the mid-day sun is lower the higher the latitude, so obstructions to the south need to be further away I should think. In the tropics, for example, I imagine one doesn't have to have any clearing to the south. At my latitude (about 42) I like to have a clearance of about half the hight of the objects to the south from the plants.

But a complicating factor is the fact that in middle-latitudes winter gardens are practical. In florida, for example, one needs more clearance to the south in the winter garden because you don't want mid-day shade even at the winter solstice, and a lot of east-west clearance as well. I'd have a separate summer garden wherein very little southern clearance is needed and western shade would be desirable for some crops.

And of course if one has any slope then row-orientation is moot.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 11:06AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day nick,

north south give better spread of sun over the beds as it passes over from side to side. i find in winter for us this is more important for those days of less sunlight.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 2:05PM
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Morning and afternoon sunlight are the least important though, don't you agree, Steve?

I do indeed, sir.

I was over visiting Dad today and as I'm heading back West at 3:30 PM, and with the setting sun burning into my left eye and temple, something occurred to me: The mid-day Summer sun is very high but it is even higher down South during those months.

Hmmmm, well all I can say is that with so little Winter daylight - I really appreciate all the hours of Summer sunshine, no matter which way it is shining!


    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 8:42PM
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Mid day sun is not as important as the location of obstructions.

I live at about 46 degrees longitude and during the summer months the sun moves from the east to the northwest to set. I have some gardens that are in full sun from 9 am until sunset, another that is in shade after 10 am and all the wide range in between. I plant my shade loving plants east and southeast border gardens so they get the shade from the house by late morning. Heat lovers and sun lovers in the north and west or in the south, away from the house and many trees in the south yard.

So I guess what I am saying is that orientation is not as important as location and every yard is going to be different. What path does the sun take in your sky and what obstructions are there? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 9:20PM
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Kay, your first sentence doesn't make much sense to me. Getting unobstructed sun from 10-2 is much more important than unobstructed sun before and after. Therefore, not all obstructions are of equal importance. I agree, though, that supra-garden obstructions generally are more important than row-orientation.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 8:32AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Where I grew up most gardeners were subsistence farmers and their orientation of rows was for drainage purposes.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 11:06AM
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This is rather off-topic but it intrigues me how difficult it is for me, and I'm sure others, to orient myself relative to time & space. I have given it considerable effort probably just for the simple reason that it has been disconcerting - kind of like how we used to spin ourselves around in the swing so we'd get dizzy, huh?

We use terms such as latitude and longitude to try to locate ourselves on a map - entirely an abstract construction. And, use the concepts - seasons, months, days, etc. to try to locate ourselves through time - another abstract construction.

The reality is a turning ball of mud circling a star and wobbling on its course. That sun, so important to us as gardeners, is out there not really up there. And, we are on the Earth but out there with that sun. And, that sun, in Winter or Summer, is higher in the sky at a given moment in Georgia latitudes than it is at 48 degrees north. Have I finally gotten that straight?

When we try to mentally move away, turn and the view ourselves from some imagined position - we often get a little lost. Trying to express what we imagine in language (another abstract construction ;o) is fraught with missteps.

Kay, at "46 degrees longitude," is apparently either in Brazil or Iran. Len, well Len is obviously upside-down and being held to the earth by his shoestrings!

It all reminds me of the effort I put in trying to describe the subtleties of colors when I worked as a rose grower and wholesale florist and yet - I am marginally red/green color blind. And, it reminds me how, as I've steadily lost hearing, my speech (I guess) and even my written communication, has tended to reflect my earliest language learning. I am beginning to commonly use the term, "theys" as an example. Or, turning "there are apples" into "there's apples."

One might have thought that I'd be sounding more and more like the Scandinavian Midwesterners who have moved here and been my neighbors for my entire adult life rather than my Southern father. But, they's wrong.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 12:31PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


I know what you mean. If you expand your thought enough, direction doesn't make sense anymore!

More earthbound, I grew up near the Atlantic ocean, so "east" followed by the other directions was always easy. But I was less sure about directions when I lived inland. My first year out of college, I taught school in the Idaho Rockies, and it was my first experience with driving or walking directions that did NOT include left or right.

Directions in this part of the country were always given by telling you to go north, south, east, or west. "Drive 7 miles west through the pass, then take the south fork." The mountains surrounding the valley where I lived ran roughly north to south (we were in a western valley that footed the Continental Divide range), so you had them as well as the position of the sun as a rough guide.

Anyway, I was there for only one year, but it really expanded my awareness of how to tell "directions" by noticing the surrounding environment and the sun.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 1:04PM
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You're right, Steve, it's a bogglingly complex subject.

For instance, to add to it, there is the issue of leaves and when they come out in spring and fall in autumn. When trees are obstructions, which they often are for most of us I would think. Here I have mostly oaks shading my garden. They leaf out very late and hold on to the leaves very late. So the earlier I can start things the better to take advantage of time of year with the least obstruction. The oaks are not fully leafed out til late may which is getting close to the highest sun. I can put my cold-frames for starting stuff in areas that are sunny in march and april but quite shady and useless after the summer solstice.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 1:21PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

Keep the tall plants in the back. Other then that, i don't think it matters a whole lot. If someone could dig up some university research or something, then i'll probably be proven wrong! Speaking of long shadows. Holy cow...if you pay attention between Dec 21st and June 21st...the difference is amazing.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 4:45PM
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    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 6:03PM
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Hum.... well, I made a little drawing to illustrate how I visualize the "orientation thing" but couldn't get it to post so I'll try to do it in a text format.

Assuming that taller plants are to the north and shorter plants are to the south, you would have a configuration like this:


5' 5' 5' 5' 5'
4' 4' 4' 4' 4'
3' 3' 3' 3' 3'
2' 2' 2' 2' 2'
1' 1' 1' 1' 1'


Assuming that the above is the correct arrangement
of plants based on height in relation to southern
exposure, rows running north-south or on the diagonal
would go from 1' to 5' (or 5' to 1') whereas rows going
east-west would all be of the same height. Although it's my understanding that the north-south orientation is the most desirable, it seems that the east-west orientation would be better as all the plants within a row could be
of the same height.

In the diagram above the sun would move from right
to left (if east is on the right) along the southern sky. So every plant WITHIN EACH ROW would get the same amount of sun exposure as the other plants within that row. (I visualize it as a general going down the line reviewing the troops - short guys in front and tall guys to the back so the general sees everyone as he marches down the line).

Having each row of equal size plants (in an east-west row orientation)just seems easier to me than having to array plants of different heights within a row (as you, in theory at least, would do in the other orientations).

Am I understanding all this correctly - if not, let me know please!


    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 2:29AM
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I guess we might have to define what is meant by "row". What you are describing could be a grid where very plant is equidistant, in which case there is no orientation issue, right? Typically a "row" is a line of plants spaced closely enough that they effectively form a wall, a sunscreen. The gap to the next row is usually considerable, so when viewing a line of plants from the other axis (90 degrees), they do not form a total sunscreen.

So if the rows run north-south then they shade eachother in morning and afternoon when the sunshine is weakest, and don't shade eachother as much during mid-day when sun is strongest, because the sun is shining down those big alleyways between the plants. I think this is primarily an issue for flat plots with plants all about the same hight. If the plot is not flat then the importance of running furrows in contour takes paramount position. If plants are going to be of very different hight then yes of course tall plants to the north and shorter ones to the south becomes paramount (and is more important the higher the latitude). If one doesn't really use a "row" system, as I don't, then one needn't think about it all.

But it's an interesting mental excercise, nonetheless.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 8:09AM
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Yeah, but ... if I'm a foot-high plant in a north-south row, I'm a lot less interested in whether there's a 5' plant 50 feet north of me, than I am about my brother plant that sits about 4 - 6" south of me, also one foot high, that cuts off the sun from many of my lower leaves from 10 till 2, over noon.

Wouldn't I be happier in an east-west row, getting sun over pretty well all of my south-facing leaves, throughout the day? It seems to me that I'd be getting more sun over more of my leaves, that way, even if I have a brother and sister 4 - 6" on either side?

As for any old "winter garden", around here between about late Oct. or before March/April ...

... any plant outdoors will be covered with snow and friz solid, most of the time.

Even a down-filled opvercoat wouldn't help.

And I should have put some dirt into margarine containers, etc. and a bunch of various kinds of seeds into the dirt, then put them into a south-facing window, several weeks ago. And made sure that the furnace kept running!

ole joyful

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 11:14PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

Ok so we've beaten the sun thing to death but there's another thing I consider every time I plant.......Wind! Every spring we get huge amounts of much so that my partner and I lost an entire row of 5' tall tomatoes because of a freak windstorm.(I still can't forgive myself for not staking those cages) So you might want to take that into consideration too.......especially if you get crazy weather in the summer.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 8:07AM
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Glad I've found you. I've read through all the posts but am still confused and was happy that someone brought up wind. Sorry to hijack your post but we live in the middle of a bare field in the south part of Canada. We have no shelter and terrible north wind. I am thinking I need to plant my rows north to south so the wind blows through easily??? We also get strong west winds (Chinook Winds) that are warm but strong. Drainage on the other hand would collect on the east side of the first row ... running downhill from the east to the west. In my head if I planted my corn for example on the north end of the rows they would shade the garden as the sun sets in the NW. Does that mean I should plant the taller veggies at the south end of the rows?

Again sorry to hijack.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2008 at 2:23AM
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