You can have a successful and plentiful garden even if you have a lot of shade. In this post, I’m sharing my best tips about vegetables that grow in the shade. I’ll cover advice on figuring out your garden’s sunlight conditions, edible plants that can grow in part-shade or full-shade, the advantages to shade gardens, and what you need to look out for in order to have a happy and healthy vegetable shade garden.
As many of you know, my garden adventures have been anything but smooth.
Before we put in our raised garden beds, we had a more traditional garden layout and in the center of that garden plot was a big, beautiful tree. For a long time, I hated the idea of getting rid of the tree. Of course, having a tree in the middle of a garden does mean one thing: there was plenty of shade.
Depending on your homestead layout, you may or may not have a choice on where to put your garden (by the way, if you’re a newbie gardener, you might wanna check out these beginner gardening tips). Trees, buildings, or other objects on your property might make it difficult to get that “perfect” garden spot with full sun.
Fortunately, it is totally possible to grow vegetables in the shaded areas in your garden. As long as your gardening site has at least two hours of sunlight, there are at least a few vegetables you can grow.
To figure out the best vegetables to grow in shade, keep this simple gardening rule in mind:
If the vegetable is grown for their leaves or roots (including lettuces, beets, and potatoes), they can grow in at least partial shade. If a vegetable is grown for their fruit (including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants), they need to be grown in full sun.
Understanding Your Garden’s Sunlight Conditions
Before you start thinking about what varieties of vegetables to grow in your shady garden spot, it’s really important to know more about your garden’s sunlight conditions. Because shade in your garden is a bit complicated that you might think at first glance.
- Shade and sunlight conditions can change depending on the season (that tree might be bare in the winter, while you’re planning your garden, but it might give you shade in the summer with it’s full leaves).
- The way the sun hits your land at a different angles in the summer and winter can change how much sun your garden gets, depending on the season.
- You may also have a certain bush/tree/plant that gives your garden dappled shade, but only for a short amount of time in your growing season.
- A plant might only shade your garden spot for a few hours each day, and depending on when it shades your garden, it can change what you can grow. For example, that tree might only give afternoon shade, which is actually perfect for lettuces and salad greens, since they can bolt in hot weather.
The best way to figure out your garden’s sunlight conditions is by carefully observing your garden throughout an entire year and rate your garden according to the following types of shade:
- Full Shade: This garden area receives no direct sun and very little dappled or reflected sunlight. A full shade garden spot is not a good site for growing vegetables because they need at least some sunlight to grow.
- Light Shade: A lightly shaded garden spot receives 1-2 hours of sunlight each day as well as a good amount of dappled or reflected sunlight. Some varieties of vegetables (mentioned below) will grow in light shade garden areas.
- Partial Shade: A partially shaded garden receives 2-6 hours of sunlight and has dappled or reflected sunlight for the remainder of the day. A partial shade garden is usually either very sunny in the morning or in the afternoon, and is then full shade or light shade for the rest of the day. There are many leafy vegetables and root crops that can be grown in partial shade gardens.
- Full Sun: Fully sun garden spots receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Most full sun vegetables need at least 8 hours of full sun, though this depends on your gardening climate.
Vegetables That Grow in the Shade
To make life a bit easier for you, we’ve put together this list of shade tolerant vegetables.
And just because these vegetables should grow in the shade in theory doesn’t mean that the particular variety you are using will thrive. Gardening is all about experimenting, so try some of these vegetables that can grow in the shade, but also watch over those plants and make your own notes about how successful it goes.
Arugula can grow in Light Shade and Partial Shade areas of your garden. It’s a very fast growing, peppery salad green, and it’s one of the first plants you can direct sow in your garden. If you cut the leaves but leave the root, you can usually get a few harvests from the same plant. The downside to arugula is that it is quick to bolt in the hot summer sun, so giving it light to partial shade can keep it going longer.
Bush beans can grow in Partial Shade because they need at least 4 or 5 hours of sun to be productive. The less sunlight they get, the less beans will be available at harvest time. But if you really want to grow beans and you only have a shady garden for them, it’s better than nothing!
Here are my tips on freezing beans if you end up with an awesome green bean harvest.
Beets can grow in Partial Shade because they need about 3-4 hours of sunlight in order to be productive. The less sunlight they receive, the smaller the beets will be, but you can still eat the beet tops/greens no matter what. Fortunately, smaller beets are sweeter and tend to be less woody or tough, so it’s not a bad deal to try growing beets in the shade.
Check out this recipe for canning pickled beets if you want to preserve your beet harvest.
Bok Choy (and other Asian Greens)
Bok Choy and other Asian Greens can grow in Light Shade and Partial Shade areas of your garden. Depending on the variety, they need about 2-3 hours of sunlight to be super productive. Giving these greens some shade is actually beneficial if you want to extend their growing season into the hot summer months.
Broccoli can grow in Partial Shade because they require about 5-6 hours of sunlight. Broccoli can bolt in the hot summer sun, so it’s a great idea to give them afternoon shade if you can, especially if you live in a warmer climate. Broccoli is also a great choice for a fall garden.
Brussels Sprouts can grow in Partial Shade because they need about 5-6 hours of sunlight in order to be productive. They are a cool-season crop, so your partial shaded spots could be perfect for them, especially if it helps keep the soil cooler for longer.
If you love brussels sprouts as much as I do, make sure to try my Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe. It’s fantastic.
Carrots can technicallybe a Partial Shade plant because they require at least 6 hours of sunlight. The trick with growing carrots in a shady spot in your garden is timing it correctly. If you’re growing your carrots in a fall/winter garden, you need to give them all the sunlight you can, so then they are a full sun plant. However, if you’re starting carrots for a summer crop, some afternoon shade can be helpful. You might have to experiment with growing carrots in the shade.
Cauliflower can be grown in Partial Shade and they need about 5-6 hours of sunlight. They are a cool-season crop, meaning they love a cooler soil, so you might have the perfect partial shade spot in your garden to try growing cauliflower.
Collard Greens are a Partial Shade plant and require 4-5 hours of sunlight to stay healthy and happy. They love a cooler soil and bolt in the summer heat, so give them a good partially shady spot to really let them shine.
Celery is perfect as a Partial Shade plant because while it needs about 6 hours of sunlight each day, it also prefers shade from the afternoon sun and heat. If you find the perfect partially shaded spot in your garden for celery, you can have some fantastic harvests. Cut off the stems and leave the root in the ground, and you can get a few harvests from the same plant.
Garlic can be a Partial Shade plant because, while it needs at least 6 hours of sunlight to give you a great harvest, it’s such an easy going plant to grow, you can squeeze them in your garden spots that get some shade and you’ll probably still have success.
Here are my tips on how to braid garlic for storing it and giving your kitchen the perfect rustic look.
Kale is the perfect Partial Shade plant because it requires 4-6 hours of sunlight in order to thrive. Kale loves cooler soil and cooler temperatures and can even handle light frosts, so you can plant kale throughout the growing season in the partial shade for an almost year-long harvest.
Lettuce can be grown in both Light Shade and Partial Shade. Lettuce is the perfect vegetable to grow in the shade because it does not like direct sunlight. In fact, many gardeners will cover lettuce with shade cloth to keep it from bolting early. It only needs about 2 hours of sunlight to be happy, so plant these in your shadiest garden spots and see how much you get at harvest time.
Mustard Greens are a Partial Shade vegetable that prefers at least 3-4 hours of sunlight. You can grow mustard greens in the full-sun, however, they don’t like heat, so plant your summer garden mustard greens somewhere where they can get some shade from the afternoon sun.
Parsnips are a Partial Shade root vegetable that needs at least 4 hours of sunlight to be healthy. Parsnips can be a challenging vegetable to grow and they have a long growing season. Have fun trying to grow them in some of your partially shade garden areas and see what happens.
Peas are a Partial Shade vegetable that requires about 6 hours of sunlight. Growing peas in the shade is a bit tricky, and it kinda depends on your growing season. They will grow slower in the shade, but peas bolt quickly in full sun and warm-hot temperatures. So if your springs are almost non-existent but then you quickly go onto full-summer heat, you might find it a good idea to experiment with growing peas in the shade.
Potatoes are good with Partial Shade because they need at least 6 hours of sunlight. Growing potatoes with too much shade can make them sickly, but if you live in a warmer climate, you might find some shade from the afternoon sun a good thing for keeping your potatoes healthy.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Growing Potatoes for more information.
Radishes are Partial Shade tolerant vegetables that need at least 6 hours of sunlight. They are a cool weather crop and bolt quickly in the summer sun, so giving them some shade from the afternoon sun will keep them growing longer into the summer. You can also start them in a shady gardening spot in late summer for some fall crops, too.
Rutabagas can be a Partial Shade plant because they require at least 6 hours of sunlight. They love cooler soil, so giving them some shade, especially in warmer climates, can help make them super happy and healthy. Keep in mind though that the more shade you give them, the smaller the rutabaga root crop will be.
Spinach is the perfect Light Shade and Partial Shade vegetable. It only requires 2-3 hours of sunlight to be happy. Spinach loves cooler temps, and is the perfect early spring and fall crop. So planting it in the shade can help it stay happy and healthy for a longer part of the growing season.
Swiss Chard is a great Partial Shade plant that needs at least 5-6 hours of sunlight. They are super easy to grow and look so beautiful, so you should totally think about growing chards in any shady spot in your yard, even mixed in with a partially shaded flower bed. If you cut off the leaves but leave the roots, you can get a few harvests from the plants.
Turnips, like their cousin-family Rutabagas, can be a Partial Shade plant because they need at least 6 hours of sunlight. They love cool soil so if you give them some shade, especially in warmer gardening climates, it can really help them be productive longer. Of course, just like rutabaga, the more shade, the smaller the turnip roots will be. However, you will still be able to enjoy eating some turnip greens.
Herbs That Grow in the Shade
I thought I’d add some bonus material here about herbs that can grow in the shade. If you’re really stumped about what to grow in certain parts of your shady yard, these herbs could be great options for you. A lot of them are not only great culinary herbs for your cooking, but they are also really pretty.
Herbs that grow in the shade include:
- Lemon Balm
Advantages of Growing Vegetables in the Shade
It’s tempting to think that growing vegetables in the shade is only a last-resort for empty garden spots, but there are actually some advantages to purposely growing vegetables in the shade.
You can end up with less bitter salad greens.
It can be hard to grow arugula, spinach, romaine, and other lettuces and salad greens in the garden. Even here in Wyoming, with our super short growing season, we can’t start planting seeds until mid-May, and we still hit 100 degrees sometimes in July and August. Those temperatures make our salad greens get bitter and bolt really quick.
However, by intentionally planting salad greens in partial shade (preferably where they get shade during the afternoon heat), it can keep the plants from bolting and from tasting bitter.
You can extend your gardening season for cool-season crops.
I’ve talked about how to extend your gardening season before, but I didn’t mention using shade to extend your garden. A shaded garden spot can potentially have cooler soil, which is just what those cool-season crops (see my list of fall vegetables here) need to get a head start in your fall garden.
Because, yeah, did you know you usually have to start fall crops by August? However, those fall garden crops don’t like the heat of summer, so it can be a bit tricky to get a fall garden started off right. Fortunately, those shady garden spots can protect your cold-crops from the brunt of the summer heat.
My Best Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Shade
It is totally possible to grow vegetables in the shade. However, it can be a bit more challenging. You need to be very observant of your garden’s ever-changing sunlight conditions and you will need to have patience and be willing to experiement with various crops that might fail (and frankly, I’m all about learning from failing…).
Here are my best tips for successfully growing vegetables in shade:
- Start your shade tolerant vegetable seeds indoors. Direct sowing seeds in shady gardens can be challenging, so consider starting the seeds indoors to speed up their growth stage and give them a good healthy start to life. (I start a bunch of my veggies indoors anyway, so this isn’t much of a stretch.)
- Make sure your shade garden vegetables have good soil. Healthy soil is so important for a healthy garden, and it is especially true for your shady garden spots. If you give them some good compost and soil, that health boost can counter the fact that they will be getting less sunlight. (If you’re not sure about the quality of your soil, do a simple soil test so you can be armed with data.)
- Watch carefully for pest invasions. Shaded gardens can be more vulnerable to pests. Slugs and snails especially love shady, cool, damp gardening areas, so be viligant for the first signs of pests and have a plan for how to deal with them (my organic pest control spray recipe might help).
- Watering in the shaded areas might be different than the rest of your garden. Moisture doesn’t evaporate as quickly in the shade, so you may need to water less often than your full sun garden. On the flip side, a tree that provides shade to your plants might also keep those plants from getting a lot of rainwater.
- Expect slower maturation rates for the vegetables that you grow in the shade. Less sunlight will slow down the growth speed of your plants. Be patient and realize that you will probably have to increase the amount of time needed to get a mature harvest.
- Be willing to adapt to the shade situation of your personal garden area. If you have a shaded spot with lots of tree roots, be willing to grow your vegetables in containers or in raised beds (here’s how we built our raised beds). If you can, consider pruning tree branches to get more sunlight to your garden spot. If you need to, think about painting nearby walls or fences white to reflect more sunlight into your garden. Figure out how to make your shady garden area work best for your needs.
My Final Thoughts…
With a little bit of research, creativity, and elbow grease, it is entirely possible to have a vegetable garden in any area of your yard. Even if you just have a small balcony or patio, you can try to grow vegetables in containers and move them around to stay in the sun.
Gardening, man. It ain’t for the faint of heart. But it’ll grow you and stretch you, and teach you all sorts of life lessons while it (hopefully) gives you homegrown veggies, so I’d have to say it’s worth doing.