Gardening in the Shade

Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Lawn & GardenPlants

This spring I thought it would be fun to start a vegetable garden for the first time. As I was daydreaming about the perfect location in my yard, I imagined the area basking in sun all day long. I pictured planting rows of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and maybe even some melons. Off to the side I envisioned an herb garden where I could grow a variety of fresh herbs for cooking. Then I looked around and reality set in…my yard is nothing but SHADE! The neighbor’s tree was shading my perfect “imaginary” vegetable garden. I wanted to go out there and remove that tree immediately; however, I don’t think my neighbors would think too highly of that idea. Rather than throw in the trowel, I decided to do a little research. I found out there are several vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the shade.

Traditionally, vegetables and herbs do their best when they are planted in full direct sun for at least 6-8 hours. A good rule of thumb to go by is that plants that are grown for their stems, leaves, or buds, like lettuce and broccoli, can generally tolerate light shade to partial shade. Those grown for their fruit, like tomatoes or peppers, need more sun. There are several vegetables and herbs that can be grown in an area that only receives 3 to 6 hours of sun per day or even in constant dappled shade. While the size and yield of your crops could be affected, the taste will be the same. (Keep in mind that no vegetable or herb will fair well planted in full dense shade.)

Here are a few vegetables and herbs to try out in your shady areas:


(3-4 hours of sun per day).

• Salad greens and leafy greens: Lettuce, Endive, Arugula, Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach or Asian Greens

(4-6 hours of partial sun)

• Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Beets, Radishes, Beans


(Light to partial shade)

• Mint, Lemon Balm, Parsley, Cilantro, Coriander, Thyme, Chives

There are some benefits and drawbacks to having a shady vegetable and herb garden. One of the benefits is that you are able to extend cool weather crops, like lettuce and spinach, which are quick to bolt in the hot weather. Providing afternoon shade will allow them to grow a bit longer than if they were planted in full sun. Another benefit is that they typically don’t require as much water as a sun garden; however, watch plants planted near competing tree roots) Some of the drawbacks are that the harvests are typically smaller and slower to grow. Also, tree branches or walls can limit the air flow not allowing the ground to dry out as fast, which can promote plant disease. By leaving extra space between plantings it will allow more sun to reach the plants, and provide better air circulation to minimize this problem.

Who knew that so many vegetables and herbs can tolerate being planted in light to partial shade? My re-imagined new garden in the shade isn’t sounding so bad after all!

Becky Jones | Green Goods Manager