I realize very few of us have a perfect garden. We have sunny spots and shady spots. This article is to help you with herbs and vegetables that grow in the shade.
- Importance of Sunlight for Vegetable Gardens
- Vegetables to grow in the shade
- Herbs to grow in the shade
- Vegetables you should Never Plant in the shade
- How to help shade-tolerant Vegetables to grow better?
- What happens to vegetables when grown in the shade?
The Importance of Sunlight in Vegetable Gardening
Before we jump right into talking about vegetables that grow in the shade let’s start out with a quick discussion of the importance of sunshine for our vegetable garden. In a perfect world, all veggies would prefer to grow in an area that has full sun.
In gardening we traditionally define the amount of sunlight in an area using one of 4 classifications:
- Full Sun – This means 6 or more (and preferably more) hours of sunlight a day. These are the areas most veggies would prefer to grow in.
- Partial Sun – This means 4 to 6 hours per day including some afternoon sunshine. Many vegetables can do well in these areas.
- Partial Shade – This is very similar to part sun with 4 to 6 hours per day, the difference with part shade is that most of the sunlight would be received during the morning when the sun is less intense. Many vegetables will also do well in this area.
- Full Shade – This means less than 4 hours of sun per day, but it doesn’t mean dark! These areas will still receive some dappled sunshine every day. Most vegetable plants WILL NOT do well growing in full shade areas.
Full sun is defined as an area with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. And for a really productive vegetable garden, I really like to see 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. All vegetable and fruit plants will do their best growing in 6-8 hours of sun (or even more).
If you would like to read a more in-depth discussion on sunlight in the garden you can read my article on why you should be planting in full sun here.
Just know that more sun is always better than less.
But I also realize that few of us have a perfect garden that receives 8 hours of sun every day and in every spot. Instead, we have imperfect gardens with spots that receive less sun and other spots that get more. So how do we deal with those shady spots? What vegetables grow in the shade?
Vegetables to grow in the shade
A good rule of thumb that I always follow is this. If you are growing the plant for its fruit or its root then it needs full sun. If you are growing it for its leaves or immature flowers then you can usually get away with a little shade. For a quick list of vegetables, you shouldn’t plant in the shade see below or click here.
So let’s talk about the different types of common shade-tolerant vegetables that will still be productive in the shady areas of your garden. Keep in mind that we are not talking about complete shade! Even shade-loving vegetables need some sun, usually about 4-6 hours of sun per day.
Salad greens are those crops that we traditionally use for making our salads. They are all considered cool-season vegetables, but when grown in the shady spots of your garden they are able to tolerate more heat and can be grown a little longer into the summer months. But traditionally these will be grown mostly in the spring and fall.
Salad Greens that can grow in the shade
I’m giving this group of plants their own category because they are a little different than salad greens. These are the shade-loving vegetables that we often cook. Of course, they can still be used in salads, but they are also great as cooked greens and added to a stir fry.
Leafy Greens that can grow in the shade
- Swiss Chard
- Mustard Greens
- Bok Choi
- Other Asian Greens
Brassica Family Crops
Unlike greens where we are growing the vegetables for the leaf. The Brassica Family (Cabbage Family) is grown for its immature flowers. These plants require less energy from the sun to develop those flower buds and can do better in shady conditions.
Cabbage family crops to grow in the shade
- Broccoli rabe
- Brussel Sprouts
Other Vegetables that grow in the Shade
There are some other vegetables that will do okay in the shade. You are not going to get your best crops in shady areas but you will still get a decent harvest that can help you make use of those shady spots in the garden.
- Green Onion
- Potatoes(Please recognize that shade-grown potatoes will be small)
Herbs that you can grow in the shade
Many of the leafy herbs will also do well in shade. And shade can help to keep some of these herbs from going to seed quite as quickly. Many of the herbs on this list are annual herbs, but there are also a few perennial herbs that will also do well in the shade.
Vegetables that you should never plant in the shade
As mentioned earlier vegetables that are being grown for the fruit or the root should be grown in full sun and you should avoid the shade. Plants that shouldn’t be grown in the shade include:
- Bulbing Onions
What can you do to help these shade-loving vegetables grow better?
Plants that are growing with less than ideal sunlight conditions will need a little extra help to keep them growing strong. Here are a few items to pay special attention to when you are dealing with vegetables that grow in the shade.
Soil Quality for shade-loving vegetables
Taking care of your soil in shady areas is going to help your plants grow well despite the challenges of shade.
Be sure to add compost to the soil in your shady spots every year! My preference is to add compost in the fall. This gives you the winter months for that compost to continue to break down and add its goodness to your soil! Adding good well-rotted compost that either you have made yourself or bought commercially is going to help vegetables that grow in the shade.
You can also use a method called trench composting to improve the soil in your shady gardens. Trench composting is easy to do by simply burying organic plant material in your soil. But trench composting is best done in the fall, you can learn more about trench composting here.
Moisture and Watering Needs
Keep in mind that shade will reduce the need for water. Evaporation will be less in areas that are shady so watering needs for vegetables that grow in the shade will be less. If you have automatic watering systems be sure to adjust them in your shady areas so that you are not overwatering.
Your soil in shady spots will stay wetter longer so be sure you are not watering too often. Overwatering can cause just as much damage to your shade-loving vegetables as underwatering.
What happens to Vegetables when grown in the shade?
The cooler and wetter environments in shady spots can attract more pests. Also, your vegetables that grow in shade will also struggle more than the plants you are growing in full sun. This can make for slightly weaker plants that then become targets for pests.
Pests like whiteflies, aphids, slugs, and snails will be more prevalent in shady areas. So be prepared with some homemade insecticidal soap (learn to make it here) and some strategies for dealing with slugs and snails.
Longer Maturity Dates
One other thing to keep in mind when thinking about what vegetables grow in the shade is the fact that they will take longer to mature in the shade. Because of the reduced sunshine in a shade garden, your plants will grow a little slower in the shade.
There is just less overall energy for the plants to absorb so it will take a little longer for them to reach their final size. This isn’t a real problem, but it is something to keep in mind as you are planning succession planting in those shady spots.
Smaller Plants with Lower Harvest
Keep in mind that anything grown in the shade is going to produce less. Plants with less than 4 hours of sunlight will end up being smaller and less productive. Your harvest from a shady spot will be less. I’m telling you this, not to discourage you, but just to help you manage your expectations.
Final thoughts on vegetables that grow in the shade
Most plants prefer 6-8 hours of direct sun, so even though all of the vegetables I listed above will grow in shady gardens they won’t do as well as they would in more sun. It is great that you will be able to utilize those shady spots in your yard and the plants will grow.
But you will have slower growth and lower harvest size because of the lack of sun. Also, recognize that most of the plants listed are normally grown in cooler weather. Having them in the shade will help them to last longer as the summer gets hotter but they still won’t do as well as they would if grown in cooler temperatures.