Can Vegetables Grow In Shade? Includes Vegetable List


I love growing my own food, but no matter what garden you have there are always structure and trees and bushes that create shade. Is this space dead? Its usually left to grass and patio’s. I was recently asked about growing vegetables in shade. I had never really considered that this would be a question some new gardeners would have, but I decided to answer it for those who are unsure.

Can Vegetables Grow In Shade? There are a surprising number of vegetables that will grow in either partial or light shade as long as they get a few hours of direct light per day. Vegetables such as leafy greens, brassicas, kohlrabi, radish, lettuce will all do well. There is no reason to leave shaded areas bare.

What Vegetables can be grown in shade?

The following list is not exhaustive but will give you an idea of what vegetables can be grown in various degrees of shade. It is important to note that sunlight is required for all plants, but a lot of these will do well in light shade or areas shaded for part of the day.

  • Cabbage
  • Leafy greens
  • Kohlrabi
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Leaf Salad
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Runner Beans
  • Fava Beans
  • Arugula
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Leek
  • Mustard
  • Potatoes
  • Swede / Rutabagas
  • Sorrel
  • Turnip
  • Bush Beans
  • Chives
  • Cress
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mint 
  • Rosemary
  • Asparagus
  • Rhubarb

As you can see from the list above, there is no reason not to grow something in these shaded areas. Judging how much shade is important and this will allow you to decide which vegetable would be best to grow in that particular spot.

What can cause shade in the vegetable garden?

There are so many structures in the garden that can cause shade. This starts from buildings, trees, bushes, trellis, walls and the resulting shade will depend on the time of year it is. In winter the sun is lower, so the shade will be cast longer as the sun goes behind buildings and objects that might not be in shade at all during the summer.

In summer the shaded areas are much less, the sun is higher in the sky so hit more areas of the garden and casts shorter shadows. It is important to watch your garden at varying times of the day and make a note of the timescales these areas are in shade. At this point, you will have an idea of how long and how much shade there is and if it would be possible to grow one of the above crops.

Degrees of shade in the Vegetable garden

  1. Full Sun
  2. Light Shade
  3. Partial Shade
  4. Dappled Shade
  5. Heavy Shade  

Full sun

This is any part of the garden that has more than six hours of full sunlight. You can grow any vegetable in this area. It may be wise to put more tropical fruits such as tomatoes in full sun to make the most of it.

Light Shade 

This is any part of the garden that the sunlight is blocked to temporarily, this includes nearby walls or buildings, The shade will go once the sun moves around them.

Partial Shade

Is when an area of the garden only gets between 3 and 6 hours of sunlight per day. This is usually because of large structures that block the sun for large portions of the day. With this much sunlight, you can still grow most crops above

Dappled Shade

This is shade caused by sunlight breaking through light canopies in trees. It casts shadows on the ground but a good amount of light still penetrates during the summer

Heavy Shade

These areas will be very hard to grow vegetables in. They are usually formed by space underneath large trees such as Leylandii trees that block out all but the strongest of light. Growing here would be a challenge and if possible should be avoided. Usually, a number of trees will be required to prevent a certain amount of light throughout the day though

Does shade affect vegetable growth?

Shade can affect the growth of vegetables. This is dependant on the vegetable. If we took tomatoes or cucumbers for instance. Both of these require high light levels and warmth from the sun in order to absorb energy from their leaves. It does this by photosynthesis. This is a process of where the plant uses Carbon dioxide, air and water to produce its own energy. It does this with a pigment called chlorophyll which is in its leaves. This is what produces the green colour.

The more shaded plants are the less it can complete the process of photosynthesis. This is not as important for leafy vegetables like kale. Vegetables that carry fruit like tomatoes, squash, cucumber, peppers will struggle without being given the appropriate amount of light levels in order to provide enough energy to produce its fruit.

Marrying the amount of shade with the correct Vegetable is the gardeners hardest task. Sometimes the space required is not enough for the given vegetable. When you take rotation into account this can be much harder to achieve.

Do Vegetables grown in shade grow slower?

Shaded plants will possibly grow slower than their counterparts grown in more direct light. However, there are many crops that prefer this shade as it stops their leaves from transpiring. If you are growing root vegetables then their growth will be hindered. So if the roots need to be grown in shade pick areas that are not in shade all day. The more sun you can provide for roots the better.

Are there any positive effects of shade on Vegetable growth?

A recent study by the British Ecological Society found that growth can actually be increased with specific plants. Although the tests were completed on grasses it showed a correlation that some plants do better being shaded that in full sun. (Source) The study went on to show that shading had a significant effect on plants at the seedling stage. 

It may worth be considering creating your seedling raising area in somewhere that had good light levels that can be shaded, this way you are in control of how much shade the plants are getting. 

Can growing vegetables in shade affect their taste?

It has long been thought that the sunlight makes vegetables taste sweeter. So can grow them in shade affect the taste? Again this is dependant on the vegetable. Fruiting vegetables require the sun energy to produce the sugars required for their flavour. With leafy vegetables like kale or cabbage, these will have no effect what so ever.

Things to consider when growing vegetables in the shade

When growing vegetables in the shade, the soil will take much longer to warm up. This means you may have to wait longer than other areas of the garden to plant out. It will take much longer for plants to establish and send down roots due to soil conditions being colder. Watering will be required less, and the amounts as the shaded areas do not get heated allowing for higher levels of evaporation. 

Shaded areas have a microclimate meaning they maybe a few degrees warmer in winter that the open ground. However, they can also be areas that wind eddies can occur so supporting tall plants is a must.

Conclusion

Although many gardeners worry about shaded areas, this post should give you the knowledge to know its not a lost cause. You can grow many vegetables in the shade. Just get to know your garden intimately and put the rules into practise that we have discussed here. As a vegetable gardener, there is no need to avoid these areas. Remember put it in and if it dies then try something else. Eventually, you will find the right balance to use those areas of the garden that most people avoid.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter and long term gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 45. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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