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Plenty of gardeners consider shade to be more of a curse than a blessing, especially when it comes to growing vegetables and herbs. Your plant choices are slightly more limited than gardeners with full sun, but there are plenty of edible plants that tolerate – and even thrive – in the shade, including herbs. Though you may think all herbs are sun-loving plants, there are many herbs that grow in shade.
Shade vs sun
The shade-tolerant herbs I discuss in this article produce their tasty leaves even with limited sunlight. While they may grow more robust if they receive full sun, they’ll still provide your family with enough harvests to satisfy your herbal appetite with just a few hours of sun per day.
When it comes to herbs that grow in shade. you may wonder how much shade is too much. Ideally, these plants should receive at least 2 hours of full sun per day. If your garden doesn’t receive even 2 hours of sun, I still encourage you to experiment with these herbs. Many will grow just fine in complete shade, though they’ll probably be a bit leggy because they’re stretching for the sun. They may also be more susceptible to certain pests if they receive no direct sun at all.
The keys to growing herbs in shade
Aside from maximizing your sunlight as much as possible by placing your herbs in the sunniest spot you have, there are a few other things you can do to encourage success growing herbs in shade.
1. Don’t over-fertilize. Since herbs growing in the shade will be leggy to begin with, feeding them too much only encourages more weak and spindly growth. Take it easy on the fertilization. Use a liquid organic fertilizer no more often than once every 6 to 8 weeks.
2. Harvest regularly. When you harvest herbs that grow in shade, remove slightly more growth than you would in the sun. Snip off the outermost stems. Not only does this encourage branching and keep the plant more compact, continual harvests also keep the plant from producing flowers which can alter the flavor.
3. Keep an eye out for pests. Sap-sucking critters, such as aphids and spider mites, attack plants growing in less than ideal conditions. Though they aren’t common pests of herbs, closely monitor any herbs that grow in shade for these and other pest invaders. A spray of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap is necessary only if the pests continue to appear after knocking them off the plant with a sharp stream of water from the hose.
Whether you grow the following shade-tolerant herbs in the ground or in containers, enjoy both their decorative nature and their delicious flavor.
10 Herbs that grow in shade
Chervil: A salad herb for shade
Garden chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is an herb that true herb-lovers will never be without. A cool-season annual, chervil is easy to grow and has attractive, soft green, ferny foliage. Its delicate flavor tastes mildly of licorice. Chervil is best used in a fresh state because the flavor is so delicate. Don’t try to dry chervil; the results will be flavorless. Combine fresh chervil harvests with tarragon, chives, and parsley to make an herbal sauce or toss fresh leaves in your salad with other greens for a surprising flavor punch.
You have two options for starting a chervil crop, depending on the climate where you live. Gardeners in very northern areas should sow sees directly into the garden in spring, a few weeks before the danger of frost has passed, and again in the late summer for fall harvests. Southern growers will want to grow chervil during the cooler winter months. In my Pennsylvania garden, I start chervil seeds by directly sowing them into my garden in August or September. Because the plant is a cool-season annual, I can harvest the leaves through the winter and into the following spring. Once the following summer’s warm temperatures arrive, the plant goes to flower, drops seed, and dies.
Chervil is one of the best herbs that grow in shade. It’s self-sowing, so once you have a chervil planting established, it will come back on its own every year. The seeds grow very quickly and are ready to harvest within a few short weeks of planting.
Cilantro/Coriander: 2 herbs that grow in shade for the price of 1
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb. It also happens to be one of the fastest growing herbs that grow in shade. Cilantro is harvested and consumed in two different ways. Its fresh leaves are known as cilantro, while the dried seeds are known as coriander.
Cilantro doesn’t require much for a successful harvest. As a shade-tolerant herb, it grows well in average garden soil. The trick to growing a hearty crop of cilantro is proper timing. Cilantro is a cool-season crop that quickly bolts (goes to flower) when the weather warms and the days grow longer. Because of this, it’s essential that you start this plant from seed as soon as the soil can be worked in the early spring. In hot climates, grow cilantro in the winter.
I usually sow my first cilantro crop in late March. Unlike some other herbs that grow in shade, cilantro can handle spring frosts without issue. Waiting too long to sow the seeds results in the plant going to flower too quickly, which is great for coriander production but limits your yield of cilantro.
Cilantro seeds need darkness to germinate. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil to ensure no light reaches them. Sow new seeds every two to three weeks for a continual harvest. Pick just a few leaves at a time and allow the crown of the plant to remain intact and grow again.
To harvest coriander, once the plants go to flower, stop harvesting the leaves. After pollination, the seeds form and then dry. Harvest them by shaking the dry stems in a brown paper bag.
Because cilantro is a cool-weather crop, you can sow more seeds in early September, when the weather cools. This fall harvest will often provide you with even more tender leaves as the plant is in no hurry to generate flowers.
Watch this video to learn more about growing and harvesting coriander.
Lemon balm: Flavorful herbs that grow in shade
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is easy to grow, even in the shade. It makes a delicious herbal tea when the leaves are fresh or dried.
Most often grown as an annual, lemon balm readily self-sows. This is a good thing if you love lemon balm and want lots of it. But, if you don’t want it to take over your shade garden, deadheading is a must. Simply snip the flower stalks off before the seeds mature and drop.
The leaves, stems, and small yellow flowers can all be used to make teas, but the leaves are the most flavorful. To harvest, remove fresh, young foliage with a pair of clean, sharp scissors. For stronger tea, dry the leaves first.
Sow lemon balm seeds outdoors in the spring, just after the danger of frost has passed. Alternatively, you can sow the seeds indoors under grow lights in late winter and put the transplants out into the garden when the weather warms. Depending on your climate, some of your plants may overwinter.
Chives: Easiest of all the herbs that grow in shade
One of the earliest herbs you can harvest, chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a hardy perennial herb that’s grown mostly for its leaves, though the flowers are edible, too. Chives have a delicate onion flavor and can be harvested and used in the kitchen throughout the growing season simply by snipping a handful of stems off at their base. New stems continually grow from the crown of the plant all season long.
Chives are very easy to grow from seed. Start chive seeds indoors under grow lights in late winter. The young plants can be moved out into the garden or into containers 8 to 12 weeks later. If you allow the flowers to mature on the plant, the seeds will ripen, dry, and drop to the ground. New plants will pop up the following spring. Chive plants are also easy to find in the nursery trade if you don’t want to start yours from seed.
Chives are very winter hardy and tolerant of frosts and freezes, even in the shade. While chives are one of the top herbs that grow in shade, they will not flower as heavily as they do in full sun. The ball-like clusters of pink-purple flowers appear on the tops of green stalks in late spring. Try sprinkling some of the flowers on salads, sandwiches, and soups for a mild oniony flavor.
Aside from regular harvests, the most maintenance chives need is a division every three to four years. Other than that, they’re as low maintenance as you can get.
Lemon verbena: A sun- or shade-loving herb
Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is perennial in very mild climates. But in my Pennsylvania garden, I grow it as an annual. Lemon verbena is a native of South America that bears airy sprays of tiny white or pale purple flowers. It is a warm-climate, woody herb that does not tolerate frosts.
Lemon verbena is best grown from cuttings or nursery-grown transplants as growing from seed can take quite some time. Plant it in the springtime after the danger of frost has passed and during a single growing season it can reach as large as four feet in height. The foliage of lemon verbena is highly fragrant and lemon-flavored.
If you’d like to keep your lemon verbena plant from year to year, grow it in a container. When fall temperatures drop into the 50s, move the pot indoors and continue to grow this shade-tolerant herb as a houseplant. When warm weather returns and the danger of frost has passed, move the pot back outdoors.
Dill: A dual-use herb for shade
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb that does best in full sun but will tolerate shade, though it won’t produce as many flowers. The ferny, distinctively flavored foliage of dill is best used fresh, and the seeds are often used to flavor dill pickles.
Annual herbs like dill perform best when started from seed directly sown into the garden. Start your dill plants by tossing down some seed in late April. Add a little compost to the planting area first and cover the seeds very lightly. Dill definitely does better when you don’t coddle it. It seems to thrive on neglect. Once you have a colony of dill established, it will enthusiastically return every year, as long as you don’t over-harvest the foliage and allow a few of the plants to drop seed.
Dill reaches 2 to 3 feet at maturity in the full sun. However, when growing dill in the shade, know that it won’t grow as tall. Harvest the foliage at any time throughout the growing season. The edible flower heads are a fun addition to fresh salads. Plus, the blooms support many different species of beneficial insects and pollinators.
Parsley: 2 types for shade growing
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a staple herb in many gardens, but did you know it’s also one of the easiest herbs to grow in shade? This herb fits into one of two categories: flat-leaved (Italian) parsley and curled parsley. Both types have a fresh, unmistakable flavor.
A true biennial, parsley produces only foliage its first growing season. Most common parsley varieties survive the winter in all but the coldest climates. Flowering occurs the second year, after which the plant sets seed and dies. The flavor of the foliage is altered once the flowering process begins.
Parsley can be planted from nursery-grown transplants or by starting seeds indoors under lights about 8 to 10 weeks before the last expected spring frost.
Bay: A perennial herb for the shade
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is a large evergreen shrub or tree with fragrant, dark green, glossy leaves. In full sun gardens, the plant’s growth reaches several feet in height, but in its native Mediterranean climate, bay grows much larger. With limited sunlight and in containers it will stay shorter.
Bay laurel is hardy in climates where frosts don’t occur, but it does quite well in colder areas when grown as an annual in a container. The plants thrive in containers as they are fairly drought-tolerant and require little maintenance. During the winter months, bring the pot indoors to protect it from freezing temperatures.
Bay leaves are very flavorful, and they are most often dried before use. The leaves are very tough, especially when dried, and are removed from the dish before it’s served.
To grow your own homegrown bay, start with a plant from a local nursery in the spring. Plant your bay laurel in a glazed ceramic pot or terra cotta container with a drainage hole in the bottom. Use a high-quality potting soil. Water it regularly throughout the summer, but do not overwater.
Enjoy your bay throughout the summer but move it indoors as soon as the nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s.
Mint: Perfect for shady containers
There are dozens of different mints (Mentha spp.) for shady areas. Mint is one of those herbs that grow in shade or sun. Old-fashioned peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a personal favorite. Apple and pineapple mints (Mentha suaveolens and Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ respectively) are also terrific.
Mint plants are very aggressive. They spread via underground stems and can quickly grow out of bounds, even in the shade. Because of mint’s tendency to run amok in the garden, consider growing it in a container without a drainage hole so the creeping roots can’t escape.
Mint is easiest to start from a nursery-grown plant. An alternative is to get a division or root piece from a friend who grows it. These divisions are easy to transplant, as long as you keep them well watered for the first few months after planting.
Tarragon: A must-have herb for shade
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a great addition to shade gardens. The mild licorice-like flavor is essential for flavoring poultry and fish. This is a great perennial herb for the shade. It returns to the garden year after year, bigger and better. When it comes to herbs that grow in shade, it’s one of my favorites.
Tarragon is a beautiful plant, albeit a little floppy, especially in the shade. Regular harvests help keep the plant more compact. Snip off stems using a sharp pair of shears. The plant will bounce back quickly by producing new branches. Fresh tarragon is best, but dried is another option, though the flavor will be less intense. Here’s one of my favorite tarragon recipes: Tarragon pickled beets!
Start your tarragon crop from nursery-grown transplants. You can also start new tarragon plants from stem cuttings if you have a friend that grows this herb.
As you can see, these 10 herbs that grow in shade offer an excellent opportunity to expand your culinary horizons. Each has its own distinct flavor and appearance, and has so much to offer both your garden and your kitchen.
For more on growing in the shade, please visit these additional articles:
Do you grow herbs in the shade? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below.