Growing Vegetables in a Shade Garden

One of the first things to consider when planting an edible garden is where do you want your garden to grow, and how much sunlight does the area receive?

Start your observation close to the time of sunrise, and observe how the sunlight moves over your proposed garden area throughout the day, checking every hour. Draw a sketch to help you visualize. Determine how long the sun is directly shining on the area, then get to know what vegetables and herbs will grow well with that amount of sun exposure.

How to Determine Sun Exposure?

Sunlight in the garden is categorized in a few different ways. Determine which one best describes your space:

Most plant tags will say the amount of sun exposure that the plant prefers.

Full sun areas receive at least 6 hours of sunlight in a day. Tomatoes, squash, melons, peppers, and strawberries – plants that fruit heavily – grow best in full sun.

Partially sunny or shaded areas receive direct sun for 2 to 6 hours either in the first part of the day or second half, but never both; one half of the day the area will be shaded. This light availability is conducive for growing many kinds of leafy and root crops.

Lightly shaded spaces receive an hour or two of sunlight or receives indirect light for a good portion of the day from reflected light off a building or dappled through a high canopied tree. To allow even more light in, consider trimming lower branches of surrounding shrubs or trees if possible.

Deep shaded spaces receive no direct sunlight at any part of the day. This site is unfortunately not a good site to grow any vegetables, or fruiting plants.

What Can I Grow in My Partially Shaded Garden?

Once you’ve determined your available sunlight, decide which crops to grow based on what makes the most value per square foot. A long-lasting supply of lettuce or numerous heads of broccoli – you decide!

Vegetables that will grow well in a part sun to lightly shaded garden:

Brussels sprouts
Carrots – best in full sun to partial shade
Chinese cabbage
Garlic – will produce smaller bulbs with less sunlight
Potatoes – best in full sun to partial shade

Herbs for partially shaded gardens:

Lemon balm

Growing Considerations

  • Keep in mind that when vegetable plants are grown in shade their growth rate is slow, so expect slower maturation of these crops, the plants will be smaller and the yields will be less.
  • Intensive gardening is not the strategy to take. Plant your crops at least a foot apart in-ground and/or in containers so they can grow to their full potential without having to spend energy on competing for the little light there already is.
  • Growing plants in shade means less watering, so be mindful not to overwater your plants. If growing in containers, make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the pots. It is also helpful to set the containers on stands, or known as “pot feet”, to lift a pot off the ground to ensure the water drains adequately. Pot stands also help to prevent mildew build up on your containers and deters insects from hiding in dark and damp spaces around your plants.

Ultimately, shade in the garden is ever-changing through the seasons. You’ll never know what you can grow unless you try, so have fun with it, learn what grows best in your shade garden and enjoy!