If you’d love a vegetable garden but your space has too much shade, don’t despair! There are plenty of shade tolerant vegetables to choose from that may be perfect for your space.
Whether you’re overshadowed by neighbouring buildings or trees, or your growing space faces the wrong aspect, there are still options. You may not be able to increase the sunlight, but you may be able to work with the shade you have. You may also try using your vertical space wisely.
Sometimes thinking creatively opens up opportunities to grow where you may not have thought possible. One of my clients has a heavily shaded small urban garden. LOTS of tall trees surround the two-storey house as a cool oasis in our warm climate. More like a rainforest!
How did Jenny grow a vegetable garden with such limited sun? I recommended pruning selected trees to let in more sunlight and growing vegetables and herbs that can tolerate low light conditions in this shady area. We also utilised vertical space by planting pots on the decks and growing climbers up trees or trellises to reach the sun. A mobile wheelbarrow garden also enables Jenny to move it where the sun is during the day. So don’t give up! The solutions to a shady garden may just require seeing your space through a new lens.
Sun and Shade Exposure
How much sun do vegetables really need and what can you get away with? The answer to this really depends on your climate and specific microclimates within your garden.
To make it simple, this is a guide I’ve put together to explain sunlight hours. We’re talking about DIRECT sun on the plants here.
Many vegetables will grow with limited direct sunlight (i.e. less than what is recommended) IF their other needs are met. Some will tolerate partial or filtered sunlight such as under a tree canopy or shade cloth. This is often the case in hot and sunny tropical and subtropical climates with intense sunlight.
Here in subtropical Queensland, Australia we have particularly strong UV sunlight, so many plants grow with just 2-3 hours direct sunlight and filtered natural light for the rest of the day. Morning sun is often more gentle than strong afternoon sun so working out where your most exposed and protected spots is important. Then you can match up to plants that do best in those conditions.
Trees and building shadows are perfect shaded microclimates to protect crops from harsh summer sun. I actually WANT more shade in my garden! As you’ll soon see, there are many benefits.
Colder and more temperate climates may have less options, but it’s worth experimenting to see what you can get away with. Don’t assume you can’t grow anything. At least try and give your plants the best chance possible with healthy soil, adequate watering and warmth if you can.
Pros and Cons of Growing Vegetables in a Shady Garden
Choosing suitable vegetable varieties to grow in the shade, will enable you to eat more edibles from your garden than just growing in full sun. So it’s worth exploring your options to fit in as many as you can.
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Advantages of a Shaded Vegetable Garden
- Vegetables grown in semi-shaded conditions commonly require less water and fertiliser. They may tolerate longer periods between watering. Save money!
- A shaded microclimate reduces moisture loss, so plants are less inclined to wilt and suffer heat stress.
- Soil is less likely to dry out as quickly, particularly if you protect it with mulch.
- You can often extend the harvest, as many varieties won’t bolt to seed as quickly with relief from hot sun. Shade relief may buy you time.
- By utilising your shady microclimate zones more efficiently to grow food, rather than wasting these spaces, your garden can become more productive. Try sowing in between larger plants, amongst ornamentals or in hanging baskets under trees.
Disadvantages of Growing Vegetables in Shade
Vegetables that grow in shade will:
- Often grow more slowly as they photosynthesize at a lower rate and may have smaller leaves as a result.
- Take longer to mature, so you may have to wait longer to harvest. Learn to be patient!
- Be growing in slightly cooler temperatures than in full sun. This may be a factor in growth.
- Usually have lower yields than sun-grown plants. You may have to compromise on your harvest size.
- Need to be supported with optimum soil and moisture requirements.
40+ Best Shade Tolerant Vegetables
Before we get to what you CAN grow successfully in partial sun, partial shade or shade, let’s have a quick reality check.
Fruiting crops (those that produce a flower and fruit) e.g. eggplant, zucchini, cucumber and melons usually grow best in FULL sun. They can handle partial shade during the day in some climates, so long as they get enough sunlight as well. Cauliflower is a good example. One research study in Sri Lanka found cauliflower was grown very successfully under 50% shade cloth. Another study in Africa found “chilli pepper yields increased by up to 150% when grown under the tree canopy.” So experiment!
Root crops can tolerate partial sun or partial shade, with about half the time in direct sun. You are likely to still get a reasonable harvest. Leaf growth above ground will be an indicator of growth in the soil and root zone.
Leafy greens are the best shade tolerant vegetables to try. Many of my leafy green vegetables are in partial shade or dappled light under tree canopies, or on the shaded side of my garden, for most of the day! I still get a good harvest, but my soil is healthy and I live in a warm climate. One study indicates that lettuce can actually have higher yields when grown in the shade rather than full sun.
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If you want to grow food in shaded conditions, remember you need to:
- Prepare your garden soil or moisture/nutrient-rich potting mix before planting.
- Pay extra attention to watering in pots or your shady garden.
- Keep up the nutrients so your plants have the ‘soil pantry’ they need for healthy growth.
So here’s your list!
8 Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Shade
1. Plants that don’t get enough sun, may end up weak and spindly, so you need to consider your unique growing environment carefully. Consider rotating their position if in pots.
2. Test the waters with a few seedlings first and see how you go, before planting too many. Keep a record of what you plant where, and how they grow in a Garden Journal. These observations will help you make informed choices.
3. Choose bush or dwarf varieties of beans and peas so you can harvest faster than climbing cultivars.
4. Vegetable growth may benefit from positioning your plants to take advantage of warm, bright microclimates. For example, plant vegetables near pale-coloured or reflective surfaces such as brick walls, light coloured pots and glass doors or windows. These can help reflect the sunlight and heat to encourage plant growth. Use what you’ve got efficiently!
5. Try growing shade loving vegetables in portable pots and move them around to take advantage of seasonal shady zones.
6. Check soil moisture if you are interplanting vegetables in garden beds under taller shrubs or trees. The root systems of these plants may soak up water faster, leaving little for your vegetables.
7. Trim tree branches and prune shrubs if you can, to let in more sunlight. Even opening up a small patch of sun can make a BIG difference to what you can grow.
8. Damp shady conditions may encourage slugs and snails, so keep an eye on your crops for slimy visitors!
I hope this list and tips for shady gardens has encouraged and inspired you.
Even if you can only squeeze in a few more shade tolerant vegetables in some shady spots, these foods are a BONUS. I encourage you to experiment to find what works for you, so you can maximise both your sunny and shady microclimates to grow more vegetables.
- Design Tips for a Productive Kitchen Garden
- Summer Heatwaves in My Garden
- 12 Reasons Why You Should Garden Vertically
- Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather
- Appreciating Your Garden’s Assets
- Effect of Different Shade Levels on Growth and Yield Performances of Cauliflower
- Productivity Under Shade in Hawaii of Five Crops Grown as Vegetables in the Tropics
- Testing the shade tolerance of selected crops under Parkia biglobosa (Jacq.) Benth. in an agroforestry parkland in Burkina Faso, West Africa
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