If you are in the suburbs or in the city somewhere in your growing area probably has more shade than you would like. In our garden, we have areas that get very limited sun due to an extremely tall wall, the neighbour’s mango tree and our grapevine. It is what it is, in most urban and residential settings the space you have to grow can be limiting. And while those shady areas shouldn’t be your first option for growing most vegetables you probably need to find ways to maximize whatever space is available. All is not lost, while you may not be able to grow everything there are still some shade tolerant vegetables and herbs you can grow in those shady areas. Life is all about perspective, consider the shady part of your garden your personal microclimate to grow the things that wouldn’t do as well under full sun.
What do I mean by shade?
In garden speak when someone says full sun, partial shade and full shade he/she means the following:
- full sun refers to an area that gets over 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
- partial shade refers to those areas that only get 3-6 hours of full direct sunlight per day
- full shade are those areas than get less than 3 hours of full direct sunlight per day
Shade-loving vs. shade-tolerant plants
Some plants do thrive in the shade. A good way to think about it is to imagine what you would see in nature if you went on a hike in the forest (if you’ve never been in a forest think about what you might see in a forest scene on Netflix). All the plants that grow well on the forest floor (e.g. ferns) thrive in full shade.
Most root vegetables, such as beets and carrots will tolerate a certain amount of shade. Leafy vegetables such as chard, spinach and a few lettuce varieties will do well in shaded areas. The key here is variety. Be sure to check your seed packs or do some research online to ensure the variety you are choosing for the shaded areas in your garden is at least shade tolerant. A word of caution though, this isn’t a reason to leave your plants in complete darkness. Try to ensure your plants get at least some sunlight at some part of the day.
Plants you should avoid growing in the shade
In our planning your garden blog post we explained that most plants require at least 6 hours of full sun per day. This is especially true of plants that go through the flowering cycle followed by a fruiting cycle (like tomatoes). Anything you are thinking of growing in the shady part of your garden that fits this description probably won’t do well. These plants should always be planted in an area where they can have access to full sun.
Things to consider when growing in the shade
1. Use good quality soil
Starting with the right soil for what you are growing is the most important step in ensuring success. Inspect your soil before you start, dig down a few inches, is it loose enough for roots to penetrate easily? What colour is the soil when dry? Soils that are higher in organic matter tend to be darker than nutrient-deficient soils. If the shady area is under a tree this may be a benefit because the leaves and decomposed fruit from past seasons may have improved the soil quality in this area.
2. Water less often
Plants in the shade will have less water evaporating from the soil. If you are mulching your soil, even more so. Keep this in mind and water the shaded plants less often than the areas that are getting full sun. Overwatering your plants can lead to other problems such as the growth of unwanted fungus and bacteria as well as the plants drowning due to the lack of oxygen in the plant’s root system.
Also, be mindful that if you have very large trees nearby your small plants may be competing with larger rood systems for water. If you find this area is dry this may be the reason and you should adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
3. Soil temperatures
Because the shaded areas aren’t exposed to the full sun every day the soil temperature tends to be more stable. Wet soils also take a bit longer to warm up. This is perfect for plants like lettuce and parsley, as many varieties are likely to bolt if the soil temperature goes above 24 degrees Celsius.
4. Slower Maturation Times
Most of the vegetable plants you can grow in a shady area of your garden are shade tolerant, not necessarily shade loving. Because of the lack of sunlight these plants will grow slower than if they were growing in full sun. Be patient with your plants, it’s going to take a little longer for the plants to mature than the suggested growth period.
5. Garden Pests and Disease
For us in the tropics, our rainy season is our pest season. Many pests like snails and slugs love hiding out in the cooler areas of the garden so keep an eye out for these two in your shade garden. If you have a snail or slug problem reduce the amount of mulch you are using in the garden or get rid of it entirely. The fewer places these animals can hide, the better. Reducing the frequency of watering will also help. If further controls are needed we have a have some suggestions in our article on common garden pests.
Reduced sunlight leads to decreased carbohydrate and sugar production, resulting in plants that are more susceptible to disease. The plants in your shade garden need to be monitored carefully. If something goes wrong you will need to act quickly to rectify the situation and minimize the damage to your plants.
Tipping the scale in your favour
There are a few things you should do to improve your chances of success.
- Transplant in rather than direct sow. Transplanting your seedlings rather than sowing them directly allows you to put strong healthy seedlings into the ground. Also, you will have an easier time germinating in a more controlled environment. Low soil temperatures will inhibit germination. Plants generally need a soil temperature between 20 and 30 degrees C (or between 68F and 86F) for good germination.
- Get as much sunlight in as possible. If you have plants in containers you may be able to move them to get a few hours of sun every day. Failing that, pruning trees that are blocking sunlight will also help. Also, If you are planting next to a wall painting it white or a light colour will help reflect some of the sunlight to the shaded area of the garden. Generally, the more light you can get into that area, the better.
7 Vegetables you can grow in the shade
Now that you have all the information you need to grow successfully in the shade let’s consider 7 vegetables of varying difficulties that you can grow in the shady area of your garden.
Arugula is among the fastest-growing leafy greens. Arugula tolerates some shade but also does well in full sun. For planting in your shade garden start the seeds and then transplant your healthiest seedlings.
Beets are grown for both greens and roots. While the shade may impact the size of your beetroots, the greens will thrive in partial shade. Beets require loose loamy soil so that it can develop easily below ground. Also, the area should be kept clear of weeds so there isn’t too much competition with other root systems in the soil. Try to keep the moisture in the soil as consistent as possible. If the soil is too dry, the outer leaves start to turn yellow. If the soil is too wet the leaves will start turning red.
Celery is one of the most challenging plants to grow in a home garden. It grows best in full sun, but part shade is acceptable. Too much heat will cause the stalks to become hollow. Although growing in partial shade may produce shorter and thinner stalks, celery prefers cooler weather and will grow healthier out of the heat.
Celery requires a lot of water and cannot tolerate drought. Keep the soil moist at all times. If the ground isn’t kept consistently moist, it will negatively affect the taste of the celery, the stems may become stringy and the plant is more likely to bolt. For fertilization, you can use manure teas, fish emulsion or liquid fertilizer to give them a boost.
It takes three to four and a half months for celery to mature, depending on the variety. But the good news is you can start picking the stalks whenever you want.
While kale will grow best in full sun it can be grown in partial shade. Keep in mind though, Kale grown in a shady area will not be as stocky and will produce fewer leaves. Ideally, the soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8 but most kale varieties can tolerate a pH of up to 7.5. Soil should be well-drained and the plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart.
Broccoli is a slow-growing, cool-season plant that will appreciate some shade as the growing season heats up. Broccoli is grown for its edible flower buds. Once the plant blooms, the flavour turns bitter. Growing broccoli in partial shade will slow the plant from blooming.
Of all the leafy greens spinach is one of the most shade tolerant. While you may be able to get away with direct sowing my preference would still be to start seeds indoors or where they can get full sun and transplant into the shade garden. Soil for growing spinach should be well-drained. Spinach is a heavy nitrogen feeder and won’t do well in nutrient-deficient soil. Before transplanting prepare the area by adding 2 to 4 inches of aged compost to ensure your plant has what it needs to thrive, even in the shade.
The typical temperature range for growing spinach is between 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 C) and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 C). While we do have more heat-tolerant varieties in the Caribbean, if you are trying to grow in a warmer climate growing in the shade may be your best option. Spinach is a cool-season leafy green that will bolt, or go to seed once it gets too warm.
How well your lettuce will grow in the shade primarily depends on the variety and soil temperature. Several varieties will grow in the shade in the Caribbean. While the buttercrunch lettuce varieties may grow well in the Caribbean this same variety may require full sun in most parts of North America. If the temperature gets too warm the lettuce will bolt. Growing lettuce in partial shade will help keep the roots cooler allowing you a longer harvesting period. Lettuce can be planted under a shady tree. All lettuce varieties can be harvested as baby greens or left to mature fully.
When starting a garden it’s rare that someone has the perfect situation to start. I heard somewhere that the strongest force in the universe is friction. Even in a theoretical sense, the first step is almost always the hardest. But, if growing your own food is important to you, don’t let anything stop you from achieving that goal, not even the shade. I hope this information was helpful and if you have any questions, please let us know in the comments section below.
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