It is true that most vegetable plants require six or more hours of sunshine to grow their best. But many gardeners face situations where trees, buildings, walls, and fences create shade and shadows that dramatically reduce the amount of time an area receives direct sunlight and so they would need vegetables that grow in shade. Fortunately, there are quite a few vegetable varieties that don’t mind relaxing in the shade for much of the day.
How Much Sun do Vegetables Need to Grow?
If you have an area that receives 3-4 hours of direct sunlight, or a combination of direct sunlight and dappled shade through the day, try some of the vegetables on this list. They may not grow as large as a plant in full sun, but they should be productive enough to satisfy your taste for home-grown produce. Bonus: vegetables growing in shade require less water to stay moist; conserving resources and your maintenance time.
If your vegetable garden is near a fence, wall, tall hedge, or tree line that shades a portion of your garden during the day, use leafy greens, root vegetables, or herbs in the areas that get some shade. Reserve the sunniest spots in your garden for fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes, squash, eggplants, and peppers.
Leafy Green Vegetables for Shade
Leafy green vegetables grow well with a minimum of 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. Many of these grow best in the cool temperatures of spring and fall so the protection shade provides can actually extend the growing season for spring plantings into summer. Most leafy greens can be harvested when the leaves are just 2-5” (5-12cm) long for tender baby greens:
Experiment with green and red leaf lettuce varieties mixed with some smooth buttercrunch or oak leaf types. Pick leaves as needed through the growing season. Leaf lettuce is easy to start from seed so you can stagger plantings and always have lettuce to harvest.
While mustard greens prefer up to six hours of sun a day, they’re adaptable to some shade since they’re grown just for their leaves. Mustard greens prefer cooler temperatures, so some shade extends the growing season by protecting plants from the sun as summer heats up.
Like other leafy vegetables, Swiss chard is more tolerant to shade than many other types of vegetables. It’s unlikely plants will produce very large leaves when grown in shade, but the young leaves can be harvested when just 3” (8 cm) long for baby greens.
Spinach is easy to grow and super-nutritious. Spinach leaves can be enjoyed at the “baby” leaf stage or allowed to mature. That means you can harvest leaves right up to the point when growth ceases due to freezing weather.
Kale thrives in cool temperatures and can typically be harvested right into early winter. It tolerates full sun in the spring or late summer into fall, otherwise plants need protection from the heat and sun of summer. A touch of frost actually makes kale leaves sweeter.
Arugula’s spicy peppery flavor is a great way to add a kick to a basic leafy green salad. Harvest arugula leaves in the “baby” stage for milder flavor.
Root Vegetables to Grow in Shade
Any of these root vegetables are just as delicious harvested in a young, petite stage as they are when grown to full maturity. This means that even though the vegetables may be smaller-sized as a result of growing in partial sun, you can still expect great flavor and texture. In fact, root vegetables can be especially tender when harvested small:
Harvesting carrots young, before they reach full maturity, is a preference for some gardeners. In fact, many hybrid varieties of carrots have been developed specifically for their small size. Small carrots are easy for pickling, canning, or snacking.
Tiny potatoes are always a treat! Potato plants grown in partial shade will naturally produce potatoes that are smaller in size than plants grown in full sun. However, the love of small potatoes has many gardeners intentionally growing potato plants in the limited space of large pots or grow bags. Container growing is perfect for anyone with limited space to garden and harvesting couldn’t be simpler.
Scallions, also known as green onions, prefer full sun but because they grow quickly, they can usually tolerate some shade long enough to reach a harvestable size.
Radishes have a relatively short growing season and don’t require a lot of space, so this is a good vegetable to experiment with growing in your shaded location. If you are successful with radishes, then you can start to introduce other types of vegetables in your shaded location.
Baby beet leaves have exploded in popularity among microgreens enthusiasts. Not only are they flavorful, but their red stems and veined leaves add beautiful color to the garden or tossed in a fresh salad. If it turns out that your garden space is too low in light for good beet root development, you might still be able to grow and harvest mini greens all season long.
Turnips can be a little particular about their growing situation. They are sensitive to heat (which can make the roots woody) and they prefer cool temperatures, but not frosts. If you find that turnip plants don’t develop substantial roots in your location, you can still make use of the nutrient-rich greens.
Turnip greens are safe to eat raw, but the texture can be a bit tough, so they’re most often prepared by boiling, steaming, or sautéing. Greens are also good for using in soups, stir-fry, and casseroles.
Herbs to Grow in Shade
Expand your garden with a few herb plants to use for flavoring your vegetables. All of these herbs grow well in lightly shaded conditions whether in the garden or potted for growing on a porch or balcony. Harvesting herbs periodically will help prevent the plants from becoming stretched or leggy when grown in lower light situations.
This is an easy-to-grow herb that can be planted in the garden or grown in a pot on a deck, patio or balcony. Oregano really prefers full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade in regions with especially hot summers. Adapts very well to growing in pots.
Mint can be an aggressive grower when planted in ideal, sunny conditions. Planting in partial shade can help slow its overall growth rate and spread. There are many different flavored mints available including spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and pineapple mint, just to name a few. Mint grows happily in the garden or in pots.
Technically parsley prefers at least six hours of sun for optimal growth, but plants can still produce a reasonable amount of foliage with as little as three hours of direct sun each day. Varieties are available with smooth leaves or tightly curled foliage.
Cilantro (also known as Coriander) grows quickly from seed so you can sow seeds every few weeks to enjoy continual harvests throughout the season (this process is called succession planting). Cilantro leaves should be harvested before flowers appear as the foliage tends to turn bitter once flowering begins. Alternatively, you can allow a few plants go into flower so you can collect coriander seeds for seasoning. The seeds have a similar, yet slightly different flavor, than cilantro leaves & stems.
Chives prefer cooler temperatures, so they enjoy some shade during the hottest part of summer. The leaves can be snipped off as needed throughout the growing season.
Basil can tolerate as little as an hour of sunlight a day, but for best growth and larger leaf development it prefers 3-6 hours of sunlight. In regions with exceptionally hot summers, some protection from direct afternoon sun is beneficial, and can help protect the leaves from getting scorched by the hot sun.
Plants that Grow in Shade
Very few plants grow well in dense shade where they receive six or more hours of complete shade each day. That’s especially true of vegetables. If that’s your situation you may not have much luck growing food crops, but there are beautiful annual or perennial plants that can handle that level of shade and brighten up dim spaces with colorful flowers or variegated foliage. To learn more about how to gauge the amount of light your space receives see our tips for Measuring Sunlight in Your Landscape.