Best Vegetables to Grow in the Shade

Even in shaded conditions, you can bask in great garden harvests if you choose the right crops and make a few easy adjustments.

  • Certain vegetables such as bok choy and lettuce grow well with only a few hours of sun a day.
    Photo by Getty Images/wuviveka
  • Reflective mulches, such as the red plastic mulch often used for growing tomatoes, can help increase produce yield and quality in shady areas.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/onepony
  • Use raised beds to keep your produce away from roots of nearby shade trees.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Peredniankina
  • Low light levels attract certain pests such as slugs and snails. Keep an eye out for them in your shaded garden areas.
    Photo by Getty Images/snurge1
  • shade gardening
    For successful growing in the shade, remove low-hanging branches from nearby trees.
    Illustration by Frank Fretz
  • shade gardening small
    When gardening without full sun, paint any nearby walls white to create as bright an area as possible.
    Illustration by Frank Fretz

  • shade gardening
  • shade gardening small

For many gardeners, the optimum conditions most vegetables prefer — eight to 10 hours of full sun — just aren’t possible. Whether it’s from trees or shadows from nearby buildings, shade is commonly a fact of gardening life. Luckily, shade doesn’t have to prohibit gardeners from growing their own food. If you start with the most shade-tolerant crops, take extra care to provide fertile soil and ample water, and consider using a reflective plastic mulch, you can establish a productive shade garden and harvest a respectable variety of veggies.

How Much Shade Is Too Much?

All shade is not equal. Some shady conditions will yield much more produce than others will, while some areas are better left for hostas and moss. Gardeners should be familiar with the different types of shade, but should also keep in mind that measuring how much shade your garden gets isn’t always easy.

For instance, nearby trees may cast dappled shade on your garden for some or all of the day. If the tree canopy is high enough and the branches aren’t too dense, the conditions nearby can be shady but still fairly bright. Trimming any low-hanging branches can help let in more sunlight.

More challenging than dappled shade is partial shade, which can be quite variable, ranging from only a couple of sunny hours and many hours of shade to the opposite. Shade from buildings is more difficult to deal with than shade from trees, as it often plunges the garden into total shade for large parts of the day. As a general rule, if you have a few hours of full sun but dark shade for the rest of the day, you can grow some crops, but the yields won’t be as high as if you had bright or dappled shade during the rest of the day. Maybe your garden has a little of everything: some areas that get a couple of hours of sun, some that get dappled shade and some areas that are in complete shade. In addition, the amounts of shade will change seasonally! It can be difficult to add up the exact amount of sun your crops get in such a scenario. Keep an open mind about what you may be able to grow in your conditions, and use our chart of the best shade-tolerant vegetables as a guide for where to start.

Reflective Mulches and Surfaces

Reflective mulches, including metallic mulches, are a great tool for gardeners growing in shady conditions, and for some crops in some regions, the benefits can be huge. University studies have shown increased yields in crops such as peppers, tomatoes and strawberries.

Reflective mulches — such as the red plastic mulch some tomato growers have become fond of — reflect light up onto the leaves of plants. Mathieu Ngouajio, Associate Professor of Vegetable Crops in Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture, says that under partial shading, reflective mulches have been shown to provide the following advantages: increased amount of light in the plant canopy, increased air temperature in the plant canopy, increased photosynthesis, reduced incidence of certain insects (particularly aphids and thrips), and increased produce yield and quality. Ngouajio recommends metallized reflective mulches (which look like aluminum foil) because they reflect the entire light spectrum and will have the greatest impact on increasing photosynthesis and, therefore, growth.

9/15/2017 8:43:20 PM

HAHAHAHA!! I was going to say I couldn't remember when I originally read this article, but then I read the comments.....So probably in 2011.....Anyway....I remember that the first year I tried this it was with some industrial foil glued to some luan wood and held in place behind my seedlings in my non-heated "sun room" that is actually just a porch with plexiglass sheets in the winter. Between Mr. Sunshine and the foil almost all of the seedling made it that year. I also put foil around my tree that year and got a decent crop in dappled shade. Now I use sheet metal stands and if it gets really cold I will use a heater on a timer. I now have 7 reflective gazing balls and all my elf houses have mirrors for windows under the tree in that bed. I love Mother Earth and Grit. You have given me so much wisdom since I started this journey back in 1989. I can't thank you enough.

9/15/2017 8:41:22 PM

I can't remember when I first read this article, but I have been using sheet metal for reflecting heat in my non heated sun room for about 5 years now. I started out with some foil glued to wood and it worked great. I start all my seeds indoors or in cold frames and use sheet metal or foil to get that extra heat. I have reflective gazing balls in my shaded areas and lots of mirrors for windows in my elf houses.

10/21/2015 1:23:58 AM

Arugula At least three to four hours of sun per day. Arugula welcomes shade, as this crop is prone to bolting as soon as the weather turns warm if in full sun. Asian greens At least two hours of sun per day. Asian greens such as bok choi (also spelled “pac choi” and “pak choi”), komatsuna and tatsoi will grow wonderfully with a couple hours of sun plus some bright shade or ambient light. Chard If you grow chard mainly for its crisp stalks, you will need at least five hours of sun per day; if you grow it mainly for the tender baby leaves, three to four hours of sun per day will be enough. Expect chard grown in partial sade to be quite a bit smaller than that grown in full sun. Baby chard leaves are excellent cooked or served raw in salads. Culinary herbs At least three hours of sun per day. While many culinary herbs need full sun, chives, cilantro, garlic chives, golden marjoram, lemon balm, mint, oregano and parsley will usually perform well in shadier gardens. Kale At least three to four hours of sun per day. You'll notice only a small reduction in growth if comparing kale grown in partial shade with kale grown in full sun. Lettuce At least three to four hours of sun per day. Lettuce is perfect for shadier gardens because the shade protects it from the sun’s heat, preventing it from bolting as quickly. Often, the shade can buy a few more weeks of harvesting time that you’d get from lettuce grown in full sun. Mesclun One of the best crops for shady gardens. Grows in as little as two hours of sun per day and handles dappled shade well. The delicate leaves of this salad mix can be harvested in about four weeks, and as long as you leave the roots intact, you should be able to get at least three good harvests before you have to replant. Mustard greens At least three hours of sun per day for baby mustard greens. Mustard grown for baby greens is best-suited for shady gardens. Peas and beans At least four to five hours of sun. If growing these crops in partial shade, getting a good harvest wil take longer. Try bush and dwarf varieties rather than pole varieties. Root vegetables At least four to five hours of sun per day for decent production. Beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips will do OK in partial shade, but you'll have to wait longer for a full crop. The more light you have, the faster they'll mature. Alternatively, you can harvest baby carrots or small new potatoes for a gourment treat that would cost an arm and a leg at a grocery store. Scallions At least three hours of sun per day. This crop does well in partial shade throughout the growing season. Spinach At least three to four hours of sun per day. Spinach welcomes shade, as it bolts easliy if in full sun. If you grow it specifically to harvest as baby spinach, you'll be able to harvest for quite a while as long as you continue to harvest the outmost leaves of each plant.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters