These definitions can be used as guidelines when determining soil and light conditions. Using the PlantFinder can help you hone in on plants that thrive in the soil and light conditions at your location.
Dry soils are extremely well-drained sand, gravel or rocky soils that do not hold water and tend to dry out rapidly. A surprising variety of native plants will thrive in dry soils without soil amendment or irrigation. Many low growing plants do best on dry soils. They maintain a shorter stature due to reduced availability of moisture and nutrients on dry soils.
Medium soils are loamy and clay-based soils with good drainage that do not experience standing water. A wide variety of both short and tall native plants thrive in medium soils.
Moist soils tend to be regularly damp and may experience brief periods of standing water for a few days in spring or fall. The surface soil will usually dry out by late spring or early summer, but the subsoil will be moist at a depth of one to two feet. Rain gardens are designed to grow in moist soil conditions, where rainwater is captured in shallow depressions to encourage on-site infiltration and groundwater recharge.
Wet soils stay damp nearly year round, and moisture is generally available within one foot of the soil surface, even in mid-summer. Wet soils are often flooded in spring. They can experience standing water for a week or longer in early spring, and for a few days after a summer downpour. Only the most moisture tolerant plants will thrive in wet soils.
Clay soils are typically very fertile. They absorb water slowly and then retain it for a long time. When dry, clay soil becomes very hard and solid. The roots systems of plants that thrive in clay are strong enough to break through heavy soils and handle the compaction that can occur. Plants that thrive in clay are extremely hardy and versatile. They do well in other soil types as noted in each description.
Loam soils are also very fertile but instead of high clay content, they have roughly equal proportions of sand, silt, and clay. Loamy soil is ideal because it holds plenty of moisture but also drains well so that sufficient air can reach the roots. Most plants will grow in loam if given the opportunity.
Sandy soils are made of larger particles and so they tend to be very well aerated; they do not hold much water or nutrients. Many gorgeous native plants have evolved to grow in these conditions, so if you live in a sandy soil region, do not despair!
A 'full sun' setting receives full, direct sunlight for 6 or more hours a day. In nature, full sun is analogous to meadows, prairies and other open country.
Partial Sun or Partial Shade
Partial sun and partial shade are fairly inter-changeable. Areas that receive between 4 and 6 hours of sunlight per day are 'partial shade'. Oak Savanna and woodland edges are the natural home of native plants that prefer partial sun/shade. Spring ephemerals prefer partial sunlight because in early spring the forest trees are not fully leafed-out and sun easily penetrates to the forest floor.
In terms of native plants, shade = woodland plant. Full shade plants prefer to get very little direct sun. They like less than 4 hours of direct sun a day and prefer morning and evening sun to mid-day sun. Full shade plants should also do well in dappled shade conditions.