Want to grow vegetables, but don’t have a sunny garden? Fortunately, there are several vegetables and herbs that tolerate less sunlight. Here are some of the best shade-tolerant vegetables to consider for your gardens.
Lettuces by Teresa O'Connor
When I recently moved into a home with less garden space in full sun – which is at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily – I started to focus more on edibles that grow in shade. My prime growing spots were now reserved for select sun-loving foods like heirloom tomatoes. Luckily, I also had several outdoor areas with 3 to 5 hours of morning sun, or bright dappled shade most of the day. Dark, dense shade is no place for productive kitchen gardens.
What are you eating?
The best shade-tolerant vegetables are the foods you eat for the leaves, such as the above lettuces from my garden. Many root vegetables tolerate slightly less direct sun or fairly constant dappled shade. But foods like tomatoes, melons, and squashes really do need at least 6 hours of direct sun to thrive, because we’re actually eating the “fruit” of these plants.
Edibles that will grow in shade
Bolting Lettuces by Teresa O'Connor
Lettuce, spinach, arugula, sorrel, endive, cress and other salad greens are in this group. These cool-season greens will grow in 3 to 4 hours of sun, and tolerate dappled, indirect light. In fact, when temperatures rise and these vegetables get too much hot sun, they start to bolt and turn bitter, such as the red lettuces above. That’s why a little shade can keep lettuces growing longer. Some gardeners use taller plants, such as corn or bean teepees, to shade these leafy greens later in the growing season. See some of my favorites here .
Mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale, and collards are some cooking greens that grow in 3 to 4 hours of sun per day, although they won’t grow very large.
Carrots, radishes, and beets will put up with 4 to 5 hours of sun. I often plant carrots and radishes together, so the faster-ripening radishes help me see where I’ve planted the slower-germinating carrots.
"Bulls Blood" Beet Leaves by Teresa O'Connor
While I’m waiting for the beet roots to ripen, I’ll harvest some of the leaves and use them as cooking greens. Beet greens (a relative of Swiss chard) are delicious in quiches , soups and scrambled eggs .
Incidentally, beets and other root vegetables won’t grow as quickly as they would in full sun. But I find they taste sweeter when they’re smaller anyway.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are some brassica family members, which will tolerate a half day of sun. These veggies prefer cooler growing conditions, although I’ve had great luck with "Packman" broccoli growing all summer long.
Spring Peas by Teresa O'Connor
Peas and bush beans
Cool-season peas (shown above) and bush beans will grow with 4 to 5 hours of sun. Pole beans need full sun to grow well, but bush beans ripen faster and can tolerate a bit more shade.
Chocolate Mint by Teresa O'Connor
Cilantro, parsley, oregano and mint (like this chocolate mint in my garden) are some herbs that will grow with as little as 3 to 4 hours of sun. In fact, I’ve found mint can really bake in the hot afternoon sun, especially in warm climates. Sweet woodruff also grows well in partial shade, as do other edible flowering herbs like calendula, pansies and violas.
With the right plant choices, you’ll be amazed how many edibles grow in shade. There’s no need to let a little shade stop you from enjoying garden-fresh foods.
For more information, Mother Earth News offers excellent tips for growing edibles in shady locations, and explains the different types of shade.