Preview: When people think of gardening, most people think of growing in full sun. However, there are vegetables to grow in the shade.
If you don’t have a sunny yard, you may think you are out of luck growing a garden. While there aren’t many vegetables that can be grown in total shade, there are some that tolerate a fair amount. Many of the vegetables that don’t produce a “fruit” will grow decently with fewer hours of sunlight. These include most crops grown for their leaves and for their roots.
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Determine What Kind of Shade You Have
When looking at your planting area, look to see what kind of shade you have. Do you have full shade, partial shade, or dappled shade?
Areas that are shaded by a building most of the day and receive less than 2 or 3 hours of sunlight is considered full shade. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to be able to grow much in full shade.
Partial shade is an area that receives at least 4-5 hours of sun a day, but then is shaded the remainder of the day. With partial shade, you can usually grow quite a few vegetables.
Growing a Garden Under Trees
Dappled shade is shade under a tree. This type of shade usually lets in a fair amount of light, unless the tree canopy is very dense. Dappled shade is much preferable to full shade. If the tree canopy is high or not extremely full, you may be able to successfully grow quite a bit of food here.
However, gardening under trees brings up a whole ‘nother problem. Tree roots will tend to steal a lot of the water from your garden area, so be prepared to water it regularly. Before locating your garden under a tree, you want to look at the ground beneath it.
If you see lots of roots at the surface, you will have a difficult time growing anything directly in the ground. Your garden will compete with the tree for nutrients and moisture, and the dirt is likely to be very compact. You will also disturb tree roots as you try to plant your garden. If the only suitable area you have to grow a garden is under a tree, you may want to consider installing raised beds.
Other Considerations for Growing Vegetables in the Shade
One thing to remember when growing vegetables in the shade is that they will grow slower. For some vegetables this can be a good thing. For others, it can cause challenges.
Radishes, for instance, usually taste better if they grow quickly. They are less woody and have less bite to them. However, in the heat of summer, you may have better luck with growing radishes in partial or dappled shade.
Also, you need to be sure the area doesn’t remain too damp. If your garden area remains wet or has poor drainage, you won’t be able to grow anything no matter the amount of sunlight. Your veggies will rot without proper drainage.
Some Shade Can Be Beneficial
And in some situations, shade can actually be beneficial. When spring turns to summer and the temperatures start to rise, growing some vegetables in the shade will allow you a longer harvest time. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and kale appreciate late afternoon shade. As an added benefit, the cooler temperatures in the shade will help them from bolting (going to seed) as quick.
Ways to Overcome Too Much Shade
If you have too much shade, and want to try to let in some more light, there a few things you can do. First, if your area is under a tree, trim any low hanging branches. This will help allow some more light to get to your plants.
Secondly, if your garden is near a wall or fence that can be painted, paint it white. The white will reflect light back onto your plants and will help them produce more.
Finally, you can try reflective film around your plants. This can help provide more light to shaded areas. Just be sure to watch throughout the day so that the film isn’t reflecting bright sunlight back into places it shouldn’t. (Your neighbor’s house for instance.)
If you want to “hack” the reflective film to test it, cover a board with some heavy duty aluminum foil. Move it around until it reflects the light back onto your plants and see if it improves their growth.
Vegetables to Grow in the Shade
Obviously, this list is not all-inclusive, but these are some of the best vegetables to grow in the shade.
Leafy Vegetables to Grow in the Shade
- bok choy
- mustard greens
- Swiss chard
Root Vegetables to Grow in the Shade
- Brussels sprouts
Herbs That Can Tolerate Some Shade
- lemon balm
- mint (But only plant in a pot. – It’s very invasive!)
What About Growing Peas & Beans?
You can try growing peas and beans in some shade. Keep in mind, your harvest probably won’t be as large as one grown in full sun. However, you may get to harvest over a longer period in the summer as the shade will help keep the peas and beans from getting too hot and stopping production.
Peas are a cool season crop, and definitely will appreciate some late afternoon shade as summer approaches. And when it gets too hot, the blossoms tend to fall off green beans. If you want to grow peas and beans in the shade, look for bush bean varieties, and shorter varieties of peas that don’t need to be trellised.
But I Really Want to Grow a Tomato
If you really want to grow a vegetable garden, and all you have is shade, give it a try. Be prepared for the possibility that your vegetables won’t produce as well. If all you have is partial or dappled shade, and you really want to grow a tomato, grow a tomato.
Remember, growing a garden is an experiment, whether you’ve grown 1 garden or 101. And everyone’s yard is unique. You’ll never know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t try!