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In a perfect world, we’d all have an ideal spot for our veggie gardens with deep, rich soil, protection from strong winds, and at least 8 to 10 hours of sunlight per day. I don’t know about you, but that certainly doesn’t describe my own garden, and each year, nearby trees cast more and more shade over several of my veggie beds. Yet, with a little planning and proper crop selection, I’ve learned that there are plenty of vegetables for shade and that a low light site can produce as generously as one with full sun.
How much shade?
Before you start sowing seeds, take a good look at your space and figure out how much sun you can realistically expect. There are different degrees of shade, with the deepest having the fewest options for food crops.
– Dappled shade. Typically situated under the filtered shade of tall, deciduous trees, dappled shade offers 3 to 5 hours of sunlight a day.
– Partial shade. Also called ‘half shade’, a garden in partial shade will receive 2 to 3 hours of sun per day.
– Full shade. As its name suggests, full shade means little to no direct sunlight, making vegetable gardening difficult, if not impossible. In such deep shade, you’ll want to stick to indestructible edibles like rhubarb or mint. Normally, I would advise planting mint in pots, not directly in the soil, but in full shade, it tends to be better behaved.
The rules of shady vegetable gardening:
Now that you’ve considered which type of shade your site receives, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Rule #1 – Think GREEN! Some of my favourite vegetables for shade are salad and cooking greens which grow incredibly well with only 2 to 4 hours of sun per day.
Rule #2 – No fruits! Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash that need plenty of sunshine in order to mature their fruits. In low light, these plants will struggle and yield will be significantly decreased, if not non-existent.
Rule #3 – Pay extra attention to soil health to ensure your veggies aren’t struggling for nutrients, as well as sunlight. Incorporate plenty of compost or aged manure, as well as some organic fertilizer before planting.
Best vegetables for shade:
1) Lettuce – 2 to 3 hours of light
Lettuce is extremely shade tolerant, but for best results, stick to looseleaf types like ‘Red Salad Bowl’ and ‘Simpson’s Elite’. Avoid heading lettuces, which will take more time to mature and yield smaller heads.
2) Asian greens (Bok choy, mizuna, mustard, tatsoi, komatsuna) – 2 to 3 hours of light
Offering a range of leaf shapes, textures, colours, and flavours (mild to spicy), even the fussiest eater is sure to find a favourite Asian green. These thrive in my shady veggie beds, and continue to produce fresh foliage all summer long.
3) Beets – 3 to 4 hours of light
When grown in partial shade, beets will produce a generous harvest of leafy greens, but the roots will be smaller. That’s okay by me, as I love baby beets, which have a sweeter flavour than mature roots.
4) Bush beans – 4 to 5 hours of light
Since beans are a fruiting crop, I’m kind of breaking one of my own rules, but experience has shown me that bush beans can produce a decent crop in low light conditions. Compared to beans grown in full sun, the harvest will be reduced, but for bean-lovers (like me!), a modest harvest is better than nothing.
5) Spinach – 2 to 3 hours of light
As a cold season veggie, spinach quickly bolts as spring morphs into summer. However, I’ve found that by seeding spinach in my shaded veggie beds, we can harvest tender spinach all summer long.
Don’t forget the flavourings! Certain herbs will also grow well in partial shade – cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, and mint (Bonus tip – plant mint in a container as it is a garden thug!)
What are your favourite edibles for shade?