When most of us think of a backyard garden, we picture sun beating down on it for several hours a day. But, you don’t have to have tons of sun to grow a garden. There are plenty of shade loving vegetables and herbs you can grow without endless amounts of sun.
We aren’t all blessed with a full-sun spot to grow a garden. While we have a lot of full sun areas throughout our property, we do have some pretty heavily shaded areas that I would love to utilize to grow food.
As we slowly but surely transition most of our acre into a productive homestead that can provide us with plenty of food, figuring out how to use these shaded spots with something edible was actually on the top of my priority list. These particular spots aren’t well suited for livestock, but they can grow produce….
Thankfully there are plenty of veggies and herbs that can grow and even thrive in as little as 3 hours of sunlight a day.
Is there such a thing as too much shade?
There is. Full shaded areas that receive very little, if any, sunlight at all should be left to grow hostas (which are edible) or maybe some moss.
However, dappled shade, which is generally cast by nearby trees can still provide plenty of light provided the tree canopy is high enough and the lower branches are trimmed.
Partial shade produced by buildings, however, can be very variable from providing only 2 or three hours of sunlight a day, to almost full sun. It can make it challenging to grow things when you have such a limited amount of sunlight, but not impossible.
Growing crops in partially shaded areas will generally produce smaller, slower growing crops, but it’s absolutely possible to make due with what you have and grow your own food.
20+ Vegetables and Herbs that Grow In the Shade
Of course heat loving plants like eggplant and tomatoes thrive in the full-sun. Others like lettuce can’t handle the super hot sun beating down on them all day.
All plants require some light to grow (so full shade that gets no sun at all won’t really grow much) but many plants will survive and even thrive in dappled sun or limited sun of 3 or more hours a day.
These vegetables and herbs all do well in a shaded garden, so you can try them out.
This salad green will do very well in cooler conditions so shade can really help it flourish.
Like most greens, arugula will bolt in the hot summer sun, but if you have a nice shaded area that provides roughly 3 hours of sun a day, you can extend the growing season of this yummy green.
Asparagus beds thrive in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade meaning it should receive about 6 hours or more of sunlight a day.
This is especially true in areas where the summers get exceptionally hot. Putting your asparagus bed in a partially shaded spot or an area that receives dappled sunlight will be just fine.
Want to lengthen your growing season for beans? Grow them in a shady spot.
Beans can tolerate as little as 4 hours of sunlight a day, which can help the hot, mid-day sun from shortening their growing season.
Root veggies like beets don’t need a ton of sun to produce. Beets will grow in as little as 4 hours of sun a day.
The less sun, the longer it will take the beets to mature to full size, but they will eventually reach a larger size. Of course, you can harvest the greens before the root and they will still produce even in the shade.
Bok choy actually prefers shade to full sun. While it can produce in full sun, it would much rather have a little relief to produce the best crop.
This is a fast producing green and only requires 3 hours of sun to produce and some well-draining soil.
Broccoli does not like it hot, it will bolt which can prove difficult when trying to grow a crop of broccoli. But broccoli can be grown in partial shade even if you don’t get your crop in early enough to mature before the hot summer days.
Broccoli can actually produce with as little as 2 hours of sun a day, but I would err on the side of a bit more sun and give it 3 to 4. The shade will mean smaller heads and slower producing plants, but it will produce and find much needed relief from the blazing sun when planted in the shade.
Cabbage will grow best in full sun during the spring as the cool days can produce loose heads, if they produce at all.
But, once the weather begins to warm up, like broccoli, you can plant it in partial shade and it will still produce as well as give you a little extra leeway for the growing season by keeping it cool longer. Cabbage needs at least 4 hours of sun a day during the warmer months to produce while it requires full sun in the cooler early spring months.
Carrots… we had fun planting these in the wind the other day. They prefer full sun during the day and partial shade later in the day to produce well.
Like most root veggies, though, they can tolerate less sun than some others. The carrots may be more the “baby” variety when harvested, but they can grow in less than sunny locations.
Growing chives in partial shade can actually be beneficial since it will not produce as many flower heads. Fewer flowers means less self seeding, which can definitely be a benefit since this herb can overtake a space pretty quickly.
These will tolerate partial shade (around 4-6 hours of sunlight a day) and still grow fairly well. Snip off the few flowers that develop to keep it from invading.
Like most leafy greens, endive lettuce will tolerate some shade and still grow. The plants may be slower to produce in partial shade or heavily shaded areas, but will produce with as little as 3 hours of sunlight a day.
Planting in shade, like with most greens, can also prolong the growing season by keeping it protected from the hot sun which can cause it to bolt prematurely.
Garlic produces best in full sun, but it will grow in as little as 4 hours of sunlight a day.
“Green garlic” can even be grown and harvested in fewer than 4 hours of sun, but the more the merrier. That doesn’t mean that you can’t grow beautiful, full heads of garlic in a shadier spot.
Ginger actually prefers partial shade to grow well. Providing it with a spot that only receives morning sun is the best spot to plant it.
North American wild ginger actually does well even in full shade! The more tropical versions that most of us grow annually in the United States like warmer temps and some sun, but it doesn’t need a ton, just warm soil, to grow.
Horseradish loves the sun, but it will tolerate some light shade. It’s not particularly temperamental and fairly easy to grow, but can take over.
Grow this anywhere that gets at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day and you’re good to go.
Another wonderful leafy green, kale can thrive in just 3 hours of sunlight a day. It actually likes the shade more than the sun!
Dappled sunlight or a shaded area will do this plant just fine, if it’s something you like to eat, anyway.
Too much light will generally make lettuce bolt, especially as the temperatures rise. It is actually best to make sure that lettuce has some shade provided to it, whether it’s where the bed is or it’s provided by surrounding plants from companion planting.
Especially if you’re growing to produce some baby greens, give it some shade. Lettuce will produce in as little as 3 hours of sunlight a day.
Mint, I always joke, that it is one of the few things I think will grow virtually anywhere. We actually had a huge mint bed growing at our old property right against the north side of our house where very little sun shined.
Mint has a tendency to take over, so many people grow it in containers. Regardless, growing it in the shade can make it just slightly leggy, so keeping it pruned will keep it looking good. It can grow in just a few hours of light a day.
Onions like full sun, but can produce in partial shade of 4-6 hours or of light a day.
However, growing onions in the shade will produce smaller onions and make them more susceptible to disease and pests, so be wary.
Parsnips can be a little difficult to get going, but they can go in partial shade, like most root veggies.
Planting these in an area that receives 4-6 hours of sunlight a day can still produce roots to eat. Of course, this will make them slower to grow and a bit smaller than their full sun grown counterparts, but productive, none the less. This is, of course, assuming you can get them to grow at all.
Growing peas in a bit of shade can help them produce longer, just like beans since they prefer cooler temps.
Grow peas in 4 to 6 hours of sun a day so that they have the light energy required to produce flowers and pods. They won’t produce as many the less light they receive, but they will produce longer when shaded from the hot sun.
Potatoes will grow well in dappled shade areas, like within trees, as long as they receive that dappled sun all day. Alternatively, they will grow in partial shade of 4 to 6 hours a day.
Less sun than that can stunt growth, but a little bit of shade can be a welcome respite from the hot, summer sun.
Spinach is a favorite of ours. And, truth be told, I used to hate it! But, I’ve grown to love it over the years and we grow quite a bit of it to eat fresh and preserve for later.
Spinach, like all leafy greens can be grown in partial shade, as little as 4 hours a day, in fact. This can keep it from bolting in the summer heat and extend its growing season.
Chard can be grown for its thick stalks, which require at least 5 hours of sun a day. It can also be grown for its tender leaves (my personal favorite) which only need 3 hours of sun a day to produce.
Grown in partial shade, the leaves will be smaller (more of a “baby” variety) but still delicious fresh in salads or sauteed in some butter to eat.
Thyme makes a wonderful ground cover around trees that dapple the area with shade.
Thyme can be grown in dappled shade very well or 4 to 6 hours of light a day. It will do well in full sun, but welcomes the respite from the hot sun in particularly hot areas (climate or garden wise).
Tips for Growing Vegetables and Herbs in The Shade
Start Them Indoors
Typically, young seedlings need quite a bit of light to really grow. By starting your seeds indoors, you are able to make sure they get the light they need before transplanting an older, more established seedling into the shady garden spot.
If you do direct sow plants, try to do so in an area that will be covered in dappled shade before the leaves bloom on the trees.
A garden in the full sun has very different water requirements than a garden in the shade. It’s always best to mulch to conserve moisture and water when the soil is dried out.
Generally, a shade garden will need less frequent watering than a sunny garden. However, if your shade is provided by trees, the leaves can stop rain from reaching your plants and the plants will be competing for moisture with the trees. So, every situation is going to be a bit different.
Making sure you have healthy, good quality soil is paramount to allowing your plants to yield good crops when they’re grown in the shade.
Whether you improve your soil or use raised beds or containers filled with high quality top soil and compost, make sure that you aren’t giving your plants too many challenges by providing them with shady conditions and poor soil, too.
Expect a Slower Crop and a Lower Yield
Plants like light, that’s how they grow. And while many plants will produce, even in the shade, that production will be slower and smaller due to lack of light.
Your lettuce may look a little more leggy, things may not have as high of a yield as they would in full sun conditions, but you’ve got to work with what you have available and that’s ok!
While we are blessed with lots of full sun areas for our garden, we do have some areas I would love to grow things that don’t receive any sunlight at all. The solution? Container gardening. By utilizing containers I can move the plants out into the sun to make sure they get enough sunlight and put them back into their respective spots after they get their daily dose of UV light.
Growing vegetables and herbs in the shade can be challenging, but not altogether impossible. In homesteading and gardening, we have to learn to make do and work with the resources we have and if we’re blessed with plenty of shade, that’s what we have to do.
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