Stuck with a shady garden space? Opting for vegetables that grow in shade — or at least vegetables that will tolerate shade — will increase your garden success.
Succession planting is another way to improve your garden harvest.
As a general rule of thumb, vegetable crops prefer a sunny location. During the hottest days of summer, they might appreciate an hour or two of shade as a reprieve from the heat, but if your growing area is more shade garden than sunshine, your options will be limited. However, 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 vegetables that grow well in shady conditions, like those you harvest for their greens and roots.
What’s your exposure?
Knowing just how much sunshine your garden area receives will determine what you can grow. While most garden vegetables prefer full sun, many will produce a crop in some shade. You can check this during the summer months when sun is most intense. How much shade does your growing area receive between the hours of 10am and 6pm?
Light shade (or filtered shade) – 2-3 hours during which the area receives no direct sunshine OR light patterns of shade (as in under open-canopy trees) the entire 8 hours.
Partial shade – 4-5 hours without direct sunlight OR equal sun and shade all day in a dappled pattern.
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Full shade – The area does not receive any direct sunlight. This poses the most difficulty when it comes to growing vegetables.
Increasing sunlight for your shade grown vegetables
There are tactics you can use to increase brightness, and in a shady situation, every little bit helps these vegetables get as much light as possible.
- 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. Surfaces that reflect the sunlight can warm and brighten your garden area.
- 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. (Bonus: It will keep your neighbors guessing!)
- Consider planting some productive crops in rolling containers to allow you to capture as much sunshine as possible by moving the container.
Vegetables that grow in partial shade
With a few exceptions, which I’ve noted, the crops below can thrive in just three to four hours of sunlight. Shade grown vegetables have a tendency to be smaller, though. They can also 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. Greens are not only vegetables that grow in partial shade, but they’ll thrive there. You’ll have better luck with loose leaf lettuce; head lettuce doesn’t form well in a shade garden.
- Hearty greens like Swiss chard, spinach, collards, cabbage, and kale are highly nutritious and versatile shade grown vegetables. If you can eke out five hours of sunlight, chard will produce thick stems, giving you two ways to enjoy it.
Vegetables that grow in light shade
The plants listed above will grow in light shade as well, but add the following to the list if you’re dealing with only light shade. For these root 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.
- Root crops like beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips are partial sun vegetables that will produce in low-light situations.
- Potatoes are another partial shade vegetable.
- Asparagus prefers cooler temperatures, so it’s no surprise that it will do okay with light shade, especially in hotter regions.
Vegetables that tolerate some shade
Some vegetables don’t really love shade, but they’ll do a pretty good job of tolerating low-light situations. These options are best to choose if you have light shade.
- Peas and beans can tolerate light shade. They won’t produce as abundantly as crops grown in full sun, though.
- Green onions will keep producing all summer long in light shade if you cut just what you need and leave the root in place.
- Celery tolerates light shade. Once it’s established in your garden, it 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 are a good option for partial sun vegetables, as does broccoli and Romanesco.
Growing herbs in the shade
- Herbs might not quite qualify as a vegetable, but crops like basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, and parsley will appreciate some shade, especially if the weather is quite warm.
Other edibles that grow in full shade
Shade grown vegetables — the commonly cultivated options — aren’t the only way to grow food in the less sunny parts of your yard.
- Consider planting ferns for their edible fiddleheads or hosta. Yes, that hosta. The young shoots are edible.
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.
UPDATE: Amy’s book has just been re-released in a full-color version! All the same great information, but with full color photos.
Harvesting in the suburbs
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 vegetables that grow in shade, 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.
Originally published in March 2017; this post has been updated.