As a general rule of thumb, vegetable crops prefer a sunny location. If your growing area is more shade garden than sunshine, your options will be limited, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow some of your own food.
While popular summer crops like tomatoes and zucchini thrive in hot sunshine, crops that produce fruit just won’t grow well in a shade garden. Instead, focus your energies on growing greens and roots.
Increasing sunlight in your shade garden
Even vegetables that grow well in a shade garden need some sunshine and light.
There are some tactics you can use to increase sunlight. In a really shady situation, every little bit helps.
- Prune trees that are casting shade. Thinning the branches of trees that cast shade will allow a little bit more dappled light through.
- If you’re growing near a wall, paint it a light color. Ditto with your raised boxes.
- Keep your eyes open at garage sales for those reflective sunshades that people put in their cars. Place them in your garden, facing the sun, to brighten the area.
- Consider planting some productive crops in rolling containers like these to allow you to capture as much sunshine as possible.
Common vegetables that grow in shade
With a few exceptions, which I’ve noted, the crops below can thrive in three to four hours of sunlight. Shade-grown crops have a tendency to be smaller and take a little bit longer to mature than those grown in sunny gardens.
Salad greens like lettuce, arugula, and mesclun actually like a bit of protection from the sun, so they do well in a shade garden. You’ll have better luck with loose leaf lettuce than head lettuce in a shade garden.
Hearty greens like Swiss chard, spinach, collards, cabbage, and kale are highly nutritious and versatile. If you can eke out five hours of sunlight, chard will produce thick stems, giving you two ways to enjoy it.
Peas and beans can tolerate partial shade, but try to give them four to five hours of sunlight.
Green onions will keep producing all summer long in partial shade if you cut just what you need and leave the root in place.
Root crops like beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips will produce well in a shade garden. Even potatoes can handle partial shade. For these crops, aim for four to five hours of sunlight and be aware that they might take longer to mature in these conditions. And remember: the greens of beets, radishes, and turnips are all edible, giving you a bonus crop.
Celery will tolerate partial shade, and once it’s established in your garden, will produce stems all summer long. In warmer climates, it will winter over and produce for a second year.
Brussels sprouts and cauliflower appreciate a little reprieve from the sun and will do well
Herbs might not quite qualify as a vegetable, but crops like basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, and parsley are a great addition to a shady vegetable garden.
Troubleshooting in the garden
Growing a garden can be tremendously satisfying, even if your conditions aren’t ideal. In The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People, author Amy Stross walks readers through the food growing potential of the space that’s available to them. That means growing food right where you live.
At the very beginning of the book, Amy talks about what she calls “the suburban problem” and dispels myths about growing food in suburbia. And she discusses the suburban micro-farm as a solution to increasing food production. But she doesn’t just discuss the idea. She equips readers with the knowledge to start transforming their space into a productive mini-farm.
In addition to addressing challenges like growing vegetables in a shade garden, Amy offers tips for utilizing limited space, advice on dealing with pests, and life hacks for busy people. There are detailed instructions for improving soil, extending the season, and raised bed gardening. The book is divided into three sections: Getting to know the micro-farm; becoming a micro-farmer; and advanced micro-farming techniques. It’s an excellent guide for transforming your space – large or small – into a productive one. You can read more about the book here.