Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shade(ier) Tolerant Food Crops

I have a lot of shade and part-shade conditions in my garden, but I also want to grow food crops to the fullest extent possible. I just added raised beds in an area that offers part-shade conditions: morning shade and afternoon sun. I thought if I grew in a shadier location the leafy vegetables that typically bolt in a warmer spot, I could extend the growing season. The raised beds—in this case painted stock tanks—are also an opportunity to use an area of the garden that is plagued by roots from a very old, very tall plum tree that no longer bears fruit.

Arugula, various lettuce varieties, chard, bush peas, endive, and carrot seeds have been planted, as well as four varieties of strawberries. Now it’s time to keep my fingers crossed and wait to see how successful my efforts will be. In a nearby bed, I will be planting fruit-bearing currents (one red, one black) and a tea plant (Camellia sinensis). I’ll also move my above ground potato “planters” to the area with more shade in an effort to make way for a few more sun-loving fruiting plants. The woodland-like areas around the garden are planted with evergreen huckleberries.

Mother Earth News offers this advice: When considering which crops to grow in shady areas, think of them in terms of leaves and roots. Crops we grow for their leaves (kale, lettuce, spinach) and those we grow for their roots (beets, carrots, turnips) will do fairly well in partially shady conditions.

According to The Gardening Channel, there are even more varieties I should be able to grow in the shadier location, including some herbs such as mint, chervil, coriander or parsley. Here’s their list of crops that will produce with three to six hours per day of sun, or fairly constant dappled shade:

  1. Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, and cress.
  2. Broccoli
  3. Cauliflower
  4. Peas
  5. Beets
  6. Brussels Sprouts
  7. Radishes
  8. Swiss Chard
  9. Leafy Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale
  10. Beans
GrowVeg.com offers some good tips and advice to improve the quality of partial shade crops:
  • Whenever possible, work with seedlings grown in bright light. The worst time for a veggie to be deprived of light is during its juvenile period. If you have only a little full sun, use it for a cold frame or nursery bed where you can grow leafy greens to transplant size. [Editor’s note: I planted seeds; perhaps for fall crops I’ll see if transplants make a difference.]
  • Shade tolerant vegetables cannot be crowded. Wide spacing promotes good air circulation and light penetration, which in turn reduces problems with diseases.
  • Anticipate that slugs and snails will be a problem, because they are naturally attracted to moist shade. Plan to trap them often (even when plants are not present) using beer-baited traps. To reduce mollusk habitat, limit mulching until the weather becomes warm and dry in summer. [Editor’s note: I have gravel around the raised beds so I’m hoping slugs won’t be too much of a problem.]
  • You can also use human ingenuity to maximize available light. Paint the sides of nearby buildings white, or erect white panels in summer to reflect light back onto plants. Metallic surfaces also can be used, for example small boards wrapped in aluminum foil, placed between plants or on nearby walls. Inexpensive mirror tiles mounted on boards can have similar light-boosting effects.
Have you attempted to grow food crops in less than full sun locations? Tell us what worked for you.


  1. The greens should be very successful - as they just bolt anyways in full sun. I have also had some luck with partially shaded strawberries.

  2. I'm so glad to hear you were successfully with partially shaded strawberries! I planted four different varieties in the partial shade area and can't wait for them to start bearing. Some have started flowering already.