Do you have areas in your garden that get a decent amount of shade? Struggling to find a totally sunny spot for your garden? Never fear–there are plenty of vegetables that grow in shade and some even do better when they aren’t in constant intense sun.
Trying to plan a garden can be hard work, especially when you’re trying to navigate around homes and trees, especially as the sun’s path changes throughout the growing season.
Yes, your plants need sun, but while it’s easy to think of shade as a bad thing, it really can be just what your plants need.
In fact, partial shade vegetables are a great way to take advantage of a spot in your garden that doesn’t get the traditional all-day full-sun that you typically would be looking for.
If you have a plot with an area that doesn’t get a ton of sun, don’t let it go to waste. Rather, use this list of partial shade vegetables to make the most of every part of your garden.
Different Levels of Sun Exposure
Before talking about what grows best in partial shade, let’s talk about the various levels of sun exposure. The names themselves seem self-explanatory, but following are the details about just what each term means.
Full sun is defined as at least 6 or more hours of sunlight per day. In northern climates, full sun-loving plants need more like 8 hours per day because the sun is weaker than in more southern zones.
Partial shade is defined as between 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day (preferably in the earlier hours of the day, when the sun is the strongest) but is then shaded the rest of the day. Partial shade can also be an area that receives dappled or filtered sunlight all day, such as being filtered through trees or structures that allow some light to pass through.
Either of these scenarios is perfect for growing partial shade vegetables.
Note that shade doesn’t typically mean total shade–more plants will tolerate dappled shade than will tolerate total “black out” shaded times.
Full shade is defined as any area that doesn’t receive direct sun or filtered sun during the day. While many flowering and ornamental plants do well in full shade, there really are no vegetables that will grow well in this kind of situation.
The Beauty of Gardening in Partial Shade
When gardening with partial shade vegetables, you can take advantage of areas you didn’t realize are viable gardening spots. Many spots on your property that felt didn’t have enough sunlight suddenly become an option.
Partially shaded areas of your garden give you an opportunity to both take advantage of unused space and up your gardening game. For example, these cooler shaded spaces allow you to plant cool-season veggies earlier in the summer when it’s typically too hot, giving you a head start on the growing season.
In addition, partial shade vegetables love dappled sunlight. The diffusion of light gives them enough light to thrive but not so much that they turn bitter or bolt with higher temperatures. They may grow slower than when there’s more sunlight but since they stay cooler they’ll have a longer production time.
Choosing Partial Shade Vegetables
There are very specific vegetables that do well in partial shade. Some plants just love lots of hot sun. However, others tend to struggle when the weather gets hot and the sun beats down on them. Let’s look at some of the do’s and don’ts for partial shade gardening.
FRUITING VEGETABLES – NO SHADE
Fruiting vegetables – those that produce their crop from a blossom – do not like shade. They need as much full sun as they can get every day, and they don’t mind the heat one bit as long as they have plenty of water.
ROOT VEGETABLES – SOME SHADE
These are the middle-of-the-road partial shade vegetables. Root vegetables prefer full sun, but they love a bit of a break once the weather gets really hot. In general, these vegetables need at least a good half a day of full sun and can then have partial shade for the remainder of the day.
Keep in mind, they will not grow as well with only 4-5 hours of sunlight and will take longer to mature than if they had been in full sun. However, if you live in an area that gets hot fast in spring the extra shade might be worth the wait since root crops get too hot many will become bitter, spicy and tough and woody.
LEAFY GREENS–EVEN MORE SHADE
Leafy greens do incredibly well in areas that receive shade for part of the day or filtered or dappled sunlight all day long. This shady environment helps keep them growing longer, tasting better, and generally thriving as the sun gets hotter and more vicious throughout the summer.
These plants can get away with 5 or less hours. Most only need 3-4 hours and some can even do well with just 2 hours of sunshine.
35+ Partial Shade Vegetables
The list of vegetables that love partial shade isn’t limited to root vegetables and leafy greens. The following list is made up mostly of root vegetables and leafy greens, but you’ll also find surprises here like peas and beans which do well in partial shade, believe it or not.
Bush varieties will tolerate less light better than pole varieties–we found that to be true in our garden that had less sun than expected. We still got quite a few beans despite a LOT less than optimal sun.
Here’s a pretty complete list of Partial Shade Vegetables.
- Asparagus (can handle a little shade)
- Beans (we grew this lovely Purple Heirloom variety in our garden last year and loved them)
- Bok Choi
- Brussels Sprouts
- Chinese Cabbage
- Collard Greens
- Culinary Herbs (many can handle as little as 3 hours of light)
- Green Onions
- Mesclun (2+ hours)
- Mustard Greens
- Swiss Chard (5+ hours of light for crunchy stalks or 3-4 hours for baby greens)
Partial Shade Vegetable Gardening Tips
While the above plants do well in partial shade, they need some sun and plenty of nutrients. You can’t just plop them in any old shady spot. These tips will help you maximize your shady gardening.
All vegetables need good soil, no matter how much light they do or don’t get. Prepare your bed with lots of nice compost so they have plenty of food to eat.
If your shady area has tree roots, consider trying raised bed gardening, since tree roots make it harder to work the soil and will compete with your plants for water and nutrients.
Watering your partial shade vegetables is a different beast than full sun watering. In full sun, the ground can bake. The heat and sunlight will dry out the soil quickly in many cases. However, in a partial shade garden, your soil will retain moisture much more easily, unless it is near trees since the roots can suck up a lot of water.
While a full-sun garden bed can handle all the water you can throw, er, pour at it, a partial shade plot should only be watered when the soil feeds dry. If your shady garden is near a tree canopy, you may need to water more as the leaves can prevent adequate watering from rain.
Harvest times vary when gardening in the shade. Although partial shade vegetables do well in shady environments, they will produce more slowly. These vegetables will produce faster in full sun, but they might struggle too. Bear in mind that when you plant in partial shade, your harvest time will be pushed back to one degree or another – even when using shade-loving vegetables.
Plant size might be smaller as well, depending on the amount of shade.
Start seeds for shady gardens indoors to speed up the harvest date. You can get the seeds germinated and get strong seedlin
Get More Sun
Prune or thin tree branches to allow more light on your garden. Also, painting nearby fences, walls, or even ground surfaces white, will reflect sunlight on the plants.
Growing your plants in containers allows for easy moving to more sunny or shady spots, as needed.
Give Partial Shade Vegetable Gardening a Try
Partial shade vegetable gardening is a great way take advantage of space on your property and open up all kinds of new gardening opportunities. You can try new vegetables, or make room in your current bed by moving things like greens, root vegetables, and even peas to other partially shaded areas, freeing up space for sun-loving plants.
You’ll also reap the benefits of the shade when it comes to weeds since sun means fewer weeds! A great bonus indeed.