Yes, there are vegetables that grow in shade. Great news for the gardener with less than full sun!
Do you have a shady garden? If you gave up on growing food because you think you have too much shade, you’ll be pleased to know that as little as 3 hours of sunlight can yield you some tasty garden veggies. More sun is better, but it’s worth experimenting with these 40+ vegetables that grow in shade. (Some fruits, too!)
Many plants actually do better with some shade, as full sun and too much heat can cause the soil to dry out and the plants to bolt.
As the trees on my lot have matured, more of my garden is shaded for part of the day, which is nice for keeping cooler while I garden. I reserve the sunniest parts of the yard for sun-loving crops like tomatoes and cucumbers but grow plenty of other food in much less than full sun, especially early in the season, before my CSA has opened and I need some greens. These early spring crops also benefit from the fact that the trees haven’t leafed out yet.
Greens are your best bet for shadier parts of the yard, tending to be the most shade-tolerant. Many roots will grow pretty well in partial shade, though they will likely be smaller and take longer to mature than when grown in full sun.
Fruiting plants like winter squash, eggplant, peppers, cucumber, and tomatoes need full sun and should be somewhere where they soak in sunshine a minimum of 6 hours per day.
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Here’s a rundown of what’s considered shade and sun:
Full shade: Full shade areas have no direct sun at all. Veggies won’t do well here, so stick with groundcovers and plants that can handle full shade.
Partial shade/partial sun: 2-6 hours of sun. Note that dappled shade rather than complete blocking of the sun by something like a building at certain parts of the day means that more light reaches your plants. Reflected light will also help. (See tips for bringing in more light below.)
Full sun: 6 or more hours of sun (8 may be needed in the north where the sun isn’t as strong, but you can certainly give some full sun crops a try. Cherry tomatoes — which can deal with shade better than slicers, though some tomato varieties are more shade tolerant than others — do pretty well in my garden, but I gave up on sweet potatoes and melons. I plant my sun-loving crops in garden boxes like these, which let you control the quality of the soil more easily than in-ground gardens.)
Other ways to handle shadier areas where you want to grow vegetables:
Positioning your part-shade vegetable garden near a reflective surface like a light-colored wall can help, as reflected sunlight can be used by the plants. If you don’t mind some quizzical looks from neighbors, you could put some of those reflectors people use in their cars around your garden to bring in more light.
Reflective mulches may also be worth considering, though many of us are wary about bringing plastic into the garden, both because we’re trying to cut down on plastic pollution and because of the chemicals it may release into the soil. You could also try aluminum foil.
Consider planting in pots or a planter with wheels to allow you to move crops around to catch more sun.
Have your trees pruned to let in more light if you desire.
Since you’re not giving plants all the light they might like, make sure they’re getting just what they need in other regards, like regular watering and nutrient-rich soil. Note that shadier gardens may need less water since they’re not being battered by summer sun, but if you’re planting beneath a tree, the leaf canopy may prevent rain from reaching your plants. Check your soil moisture regularly!
So now that you know you can grow some veggies in partial shade, here are more than 45 crops to choose from this season!
Vegetables that Grow in Shade: Greens
Mesclun mixes and Asian greens like mizuna and tatsoi are some of the most of the most shade-tolerant greens, requiring as little as two hours of sun per day.
Arugula — My favorite spring green, arugula has a pleasantly bitter taste that adds interest to salads and makes a delicious pizza topping. In addition to their fabulous flavor, bitter greens are thought to aid in digestion.
Leaf lettuce — Salad greens can’t handle hot summer sun and benefit from shading. Try out different kinds to find your favorites, or use a mix to get a variety for your salad bowl.
Spinach — This super-nutritious green likes it cool, so a little shade will help prevent it from bolting. (Growing instructions for spinach here.)
Chard or silverbeet — This beautiful green can be tucked into an ornamental landscape, its colors are so lovely. You can eat the greens as a side dish or as a sub for spinach in many recipes. The stems are likely to be smaller than when chard is grown in full sun.
Collards — Those giant leaves can make tasty side dishes, additions to soups, or even used as wraps in place of tortillas.
Vegetables that Grow in Shade: Herbs
Many perennial herbs can handle a fair amount of shade and need only 3 hours of daily sun. Try:
Mint — A versatile herb for tea or cooking, mint is very aggressive. Plant where you don’t mind it taking over, or in a pot.
Oregano — Wonderful for Italian dishes, oregano is full of potent polyphenols that make it an especially healthy choice. A nice low growing groundcover plant.
Lemon balm — My absolute favorite for homemade sleep tea. Also good for soothing headaches, tummy troubles, and anxiety. Read more about lemon balm here.
Chives — Their onion-y shoots are some of the first home-grown edibles ready each spring, and their beautiful purple flowers can be eaten as well.
Rosemary — I prefer the creeping kind (also called prostrate rosemary), which has a brighter green color and flavor than its silvery cousin. If you live somewhere warmer than I do, you may be one of the lucky ones who can grow this fragrant herb year-round.
Annual herbs that can grow in part shade:
Cilantro — What would salsa be without it? It’s also a powerhouse of polyphenols with a number of medicinal properties. And of course, it’s delicious!
Parsley — Another potent green, parsley is wonderful in grain salads and sauces, like this chimichurri.
Basil — Who ever has enough basil? Grow plenty for pesto, caprese salad, or try this absurdly easy summer dinner of tomatoes, feta and basil over pasta.
Vegetables that Grow in Shade: Peas, Beans, Brassicas
Beans — Choose bush varieties rather than vining ones, and aim for 5+ hours of sun if you can get it.
Kohlrabi — Kohlrabi may be a bit of an acquired taste, but it adds variety and interest to your shady veggie garden.
Bok choy — Terrific in stir fries and soups, this early-maturing veggie
Peas — Snap peas are such a great snack, and their season can be kind of short. Take advantage of shade to stretch the season out, and try a fall crop as well as an early spring on. Snow peas are also a delicious addition to stirfries. Choose early-maturing and bush varieties.
Brussels sprouts — Roasted brussels sprouts are one my favorite fall side dishes. The sprouts also store quite well. Plant plenty to enjoy through the fall.
Cabbage — A great storage vegetable, cabbages are perfect for homemade sauerkraut or stirfries. More info on how to grow cabbages here.
Cauliflower — Whether you choose the standard white, or a cool-looking purple or even romanesco variety (pictured above), cauliflower has so many uses (roasted, used in pizza crusts and tortillas, in stews or as a sub for potatoes), you’ll want plenty of cauliflower.
Broccoli — Broccoli is a “cut and come agan” crop, so you can take off the central head and leave the plant to send out additional florets for you to enjoy. Harvest the leaves as well and add them to your kale chips or stir fries.
Scallions — These fast-growing members of the onion family give great flavor to Asian soups and stirfries, or as garnish on all kinds of dishes. They’re also one of the plants that will regrow from the roots, so try leaving roots in place whe you harvest.
Leeks — Leeks take their time growing, but they’re worth waiting for. Potato-leek soup, anyone?
Vegetables that Grow in Shade: Roots
Though they might not grow as quickly or as big as they will with more sun, roots are worth trying in shadier locations. And don’t forget you can eat the greens! (Here are 40+ root-to-stalk recipes for inspiration.)
Carrots — Go with early maturing, smaller varieties if you’re working with less sun.
Radishes — One of the first crops to be ready in spring. Enjoy their spicy crunch in salads or on sandwiches.
Turnips — Small white salad turnips are similar to radishes, though with a less radish-y taste for those of us who aren’t fans. They grow quickly in spring, which is nice when we’re waiting impatiently for the garden to get going. Larger turnips for cooking are also an option if you like them.
Beets — Even if the beets are on the smaller side, you can enjoy those super-nutritious greens as well. Roasted beet salad — mmm!
Parsnips — One of my favorite fall veggies, I will eat these roasted everyday if I have the chance.
Potatoes — Digging for potatoes is like a garden treasure hunt. You can also grow them in a bag or container if you’re short on space. Instructions here.
Garlic — Spring garlic is a great choice for a shadier location, as much of its growth will happen before leaves reappear on the trees. Bulb garlic is worth a try, though the bulbs will likely be smaller than if grown in full sun. (Info on how to grow garlic here.)
Celery — Keep yourself in crudites with these tasty plants. You can also try leaf celery if what you’re after is seasoning for soups and stews.
Vegetables that Grow in Shade: Perennials (Some Fruits, too!)
If you’ve read around this blog a bit, you know that busy gardeners like me lean heavily on food plants that don’t take much work. So make the most of perennials that you can plant once and eat for decades! Here are some that can handle shade:
Rhubarb: For a striking accent plant in your perennial bed, try rhubarb, that amazing spring beauty you can turn into dessert! My plants tend to do better with more sun, but the plants in shadier locations still produce. I squeeze them wherever I can so we have plenty around for homemade fruit leather made from rhubarb.
Asparagus is another perennial vegetable that can handle partial shade, though yields will be lower.
Though this post is titled vegetables that grow in shade, you won’t mind if I tell you about some fruits for shadier spots, too, right? Perennial fruits are a wonderful way to expand what your garden produces for you. Read more about perennial fruit here.
Honeyberries produce bountiful early fruit and don’t need full sun.
Alpine strawberry plants make tiny but unbelievably flavorful strawberries throughout the season.
Blackberries do better with some shade and can produce with only a few hours of sun.
Juneberries are gorgeous as trees or shrubs and produce loads of fruit even in shadier conditions.
Currants and gooseberries are delicious fresh and make wonderful jam. Growing instructions here.
Cranberries are a nice choice for groundcovers and can handle low light conditions.
Elderberries will produce in partial shade, and then you can harvest your own berries for elderberry syrup to keep you healthy all winter! Read more about immune boosting elderberries here.
If you have full shade, there aren’t a lot of food crops you can grow. BUT you can make friends with shade-tolerant plants that most people don’t realize are edible like violets and hostas.
Are you dealing with shade in your garden? What vegetables for shade have you tried to grow?
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Photo credits: crwages, anandasandra, boria, Pashi, klimkin, Conger Design, kaboompics