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Best Vegetables to Grow In Shade to Increase Beautiful Harvests

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I love growing my own food, but no matter what garden you have, there are always structures and trees and bushes that create shade. Is this space dead? It’s usually left to grass and patios. I was recently asked about growing vegetables in the 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? A surprising number of vegetables will grow in either partial or light shade if they get a few hours of direct light per day. Vegetables like leafy greens, brassicas, kohlrabi, radish, and lettuce will all do well. There is no reason to leave shaded areas bare.

Edible Plant 1
Edible Plant 1

What Vegetables can be grown in the 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 many of these will do well in light shade or areas shaded for part of the day.

lady harvesting kale
  • 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 important shade is will allow you to decide which vegetable would be best to grow in that 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. 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 the shade during summer.

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

man planting beetroot

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 where the sunlight is blocked temporarily, this includes nearby walls or buildings, The shade will go once the sun moves around them.

Partial Shade

It 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, several 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 dependent on the vegetable. If we took tomatoes or cucumbers, for instance. Both of these require high light levels and warmth from the sun to absorb energy from their leaves. It does this through photosynthesis.

This is a process 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 color.

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

Marrying the amount of shade with the correct Vegetable is the gardener’s hardest task. Sometimes the space required is not enough for the given vegetable. When you consider rotation, this can be much harder to achieve.

Do Vegetables grow in the shade grow slower?

Shaded plants may grow slower than their counterparts in more direct light. However, many crops 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 the shade, pick areas that are not in the 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 than in the full sun. (Source) The study went on to show that shading significantly affected plants at the seedling stage. 

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

man taking notes in the garden

Can growing vegetables in the shade affect their taste?

It has long been thought that sunlight makes vegetables taste sweeter. So can growing them in the shade affect the taste? Again this is dependent on the vegetable. Fruiting vegetables require the sun’s energy to produce the sugars for flavor. Leafy vegetables like kale or cabbage will have no effect whatsoever.

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 in other garden areas to plant out. Due to colder soil conditions, plants will take much longer to establish and send down roots. Watering will be required less, and the amounts as the shaded areas do not get heated, allowing for higher evaporation levels. 

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

Conclusion

Although many gardeners worry about shaded areas, this post should give you the knowledge that it’s not a lost cause. You can grow many vegetables in the shade. Get to know your garden intimately and put the rules we have discussed here into practice.

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 garden areas most people avoid.

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