Vegetables and fruits that grow in shade – such plants are not a novelty for a professional gardener, but for many an amateur vegetable grower such an idea is not only new but also quite objectionable. Vegetables and fruits that grow in shade range from beans to tomatoes, banana and many others. The crops mentioned here can all be grown with partial shade and can be very profitable for you because many of them are relatively easy to plant and tend.
Fruits and Vegetables That Grow in the Shade
Though most vegetable plants require full sun (6+ hours a day) to produce the fresh foods we love, some vegetables and fruits can grow in partial shade. Many are plants grown for edible parts that don’t require sun to produce flowers and fruit, such as leafy greens and root crops. And nearly all prefer cool weather
Among vegetables, leafy greens are the most tolerant of shade, including kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula and chard. Related to both beets and spinach, Swiss chard tastes a little like both and is fairly easy to grow. Look for varieties in beautiful shades of red, yellow and pink, and pair this veggie with cool-season blooms like pansies in both beds and containers.
60+ Best Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits That Grow in Shade
Just because you don’t get a lot of light in your garden doesn’t mean you can’t grow good food. But what CAN you grow in areas that might only have 4 hours of sun each day? Here are my top picks for the best vegetables that grow in shade, perennial and annual herbs that thrive in low-light gardens, and the most reliable edible plants that don’t need a full 8 hours of sun to produce a decent harvest.
In a perfect world, we’d all have flat, wide open, south-facing gardens that get 10 to 12 hours of sun a day, and there would be no fences, tree canopies, or two-story homes to block that glorious light.
But let’s face it, most people have neighbors next to them, or the mature trees they usually love in summer become a curse as the shadows creep more and more over their garden beds each year.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of challenges over the years, and have found that with good planning and proper expectations, you can make a low-light garden be as productive as a full-sun garden
First, let’s define the various types of shade you might find in your yard, and what you can reasonably grow in these areas.
Different degrees of shade, explained
You usually get dappled shade under a large tree canopy, with certain times of day offering more light than others. Dappled shade typically provides 3 to 6 hours of filtered sun per day.
It’s your best bet for growing the greatest variety of vegetables if you don’t have a sunny spot available, and some fruiting vegetables can be grown in dappled light (though they won’t produce as much as they normally would in full sun).
A partial shade garden (also called half shade) gets around 2 to 4 hours of sunlight per day. This type of garden is usually sunny in the morning or sunny in the afternoon, but not both—the rest of the day sees very dappled light, if not full shade.
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Despite the limited light, a partial shade garden can easily grow leafy greens and smaller root crops (for example, spring radishes instead of winter radishes, or Tonda di Parigi carrots instead of Red Cored Chantenay carrots).
Described as a garden that gets little to no direct sunlight at all, a full shade garden makes it exceedingly difficult—if not impossible—to grow vegetables.
If all you have is a deeply shaded area for your garden, I recommend growing a forgiving plant like mint, which can be put directly in the ground.
Ordinarily I tell gardeners to grow mint in pots because it can become invasive, but in dense shade, it actually behaves and doesn’t grow so vigorously.
Mitsuba (Japanese parsley) is another plant that prefers shady gardens. It’s one of the few culinary herbs that actually flourishes in full to partial shade, so it’s worth tucking into low-light nooks in your garden where other plants might not grow.
The 3 rules of shade gardening
As a general rule of thumb, these are the three most important things to consider when growing vegetables and other edible plants in your shade garden:
1. Think leafy greens
Leafy crops like salad greens and herbs do exceptionally well with only 2 to 4 hours of sun a day. Since many of them are cool-weather plants, they actually prefer some shade in warmer or sunnier climates when growing in spring through mid-summer.
2. No fruiting vegetables
Popular summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers need at least 8 to 10 hours a day to set fruit and mature. Planting them in even dappled shade will significantly slow their growth and decrease your yield, if not eliminate it entirely.
3. Feed the soil
Don’t let your plants struggle more than they have to. Make sure your soil is well amended with the nutrients it needs to support your crops. I’m not shy with compost—I lay it on thick and heavy, at least 3 to 4 inches, on top of my soil before I plant every season.
But, some rules are made to be broken
I know I said most fruit-setting crops need ample sunshine to be productive. Buuuut…
The exceptions to this rule are bush beans (from my own personal experience, which I detail below) and certain determinate tomato varieties that are adapted to cooler conditions and grow with as little as 5 to 6 hours of light.
These early-season tomatoes will usually have names that suggest the cool climates they do well in: Oregon Spring, Anna Russian, Red Siberian, San Francisco Fog, Glacier, Northern Lights, and Polar Beauty.
(Side note: Oregon Spring and Red Siberian are two varieties that I’ve grown very successfully in my Central Oregon microclimate, zones 4 to 6, without a greenhouse. Check out my proven method for growing tomatoes in pots and my favorite way to protect them from frost.)
Top tips for growing vegetables in the shade
Having a shady site doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy vegetable garden.
Partially shaded gardens can help extend your cool-weather crops from spring into early summer. Lettuce, for example, benefits from a little shade in late spring to delay bolting (and bitterness) as the weather warms up.
In late summer, you can plant your fall garden under the dappled shade of deciduous trees. Once the leaves drop in autumn, the extra sunshine and cooler temperatures will catapult the growth of your cool-season vegetables.
Here are a few tips to help your edible plants thrive in the shade:
- Start seeds indoors. This way, germination and seedling growth can begin under optimal conditions before transplanting to the shady site.
- Plant vegetables near white walls to get more light to bounce into the garden. (You can also hang a white sheet on a fence for the same effect.)
- Grow vegetables in containers that can be moved into sunnier spots as the season shifts. (I like using these rolling saucers for my potted plants.)
- Remember that shady sites require less water (and clay soils will hold moisture even longer), so plan your irrigation accordingly. In a shade garden, it’s best to water at the root zone using drip irrigation or soaker hoses; overhead sprinklers could promote diseases or pests as leaves won’t be able to dry out before evening.
- Speaking of pests, slugs and snails thrive in damp, shady conditions and your leafy greens will look like an all-you-can-eat buffet to them. Monitor your garden and dial back the watering as needed to discourage them.
- Keep expectations in check: vegetables and herbs grown in shade tend to develop more slowly and have smaller yields than those grown in full sun.
30 FRUITS, VEGETABLES, AND HERBS YOU CAN GROW IN PART SHADE
You want to grow a vegetable garden, but unfortunately, all you have is partial shade, or even worse, full shade. Don’t despair. While you can’t grow everything you might want to, there are lots of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that do well in shade. In this blog post, I give you just that: a list with pictures of 30 edible plants that grow in the shade!
Interested in growing even more plants in part-shade? Check out the video below to see which cut flowers are best for these conditions:
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR GROWING EDIBLE PLANTS IN SHADE
Just because a fruit or vegetable is shade tolerant, doesn’t mean that it will grow exactly the same as it would in full sun. Expect your plants to grow slower and produce less of a harvest.
If possible, you can get a bit more sun by trimming trees or removing them altogether. If the area is by a fence, you could always paint it white to help reflect the light, or even set up a mirror if you have a large one.
That said, here are some options for shade-tolerant fruit, vegetables, and herbs!
FRUITS THAT GROW IN SHADE
There are a surprising amount of fruits that will grow well in the shade. In fact, there are at least 10 that I didn’t list, because I garden in Zone 3 in Canada, and I don’t like listing plants that I have no hope of growing. Wherever you are, I recommend buying any fruit bushes or trees at a local greenhouse and asking the staff if the variety you want to buy can be grown in partial shade.
Don’t try and ask the staff at a big box store. Chances are very high that they will not know.
1. LOWBUSH BLUEBERRIES
Blueberries fall into two categories: high bush and low bush. Choose the low bush varieties for partial shade and make sure that your soil is on the acidic side.
Chokecherries are very hardy and can even be grown in Zone 1. If you’ve never tried one before, they are very astringent and don’t taste good raw. They are delicious in jams, jellies, and juices when you add a lot of sugar.
Raspberry canes have a spreading habit once established. Be a kind neighbour and offer to pull out any canes that stray over the fence line. Fruit does not grow on first-year canes, so you will not get any fruit the very first year.
Rhubarb is a very hardy fruit. The stalks are delicious, but the leaves are poisonous.
7. SASKATOON BERRIES
Canadians know these berries as Saskatoon berries, but Americans will likely know them as Serviceberries or Juneberries. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious!
Quickly Learn to Harvest & Preserve Your Favourite Vegetables.
VEGETABLES THAT GROW IN PARTIAL SHADE
What vegetables do well in shade? The ones that like cool weather and tend to be quick growing. In general, most leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are able to tolerate partial shade. Partial shade, with about 4-5 hours a day of light, or even a full day of dappled shade underneath a deciduous tree is your best bet for growing shade-loving vegetables.
CAN YOU GROW VEGETABLES IN FULL SHADE?
If you have an area that receives no sunlight whatsoever all day (e.g. the front of a North facing house or a walkway between houses that is constantly shaded) you most likely won’t be able to grow any vegetables. Many of the leafy green vegetables can be grown with as little as 2-3 hours of light a day, but the growth will be slow.
Arugula is one of the quickest growing crops you can grow, with only 20 days to maturity!
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, and you can’t harvest anything until the third year. Once the plant is established, it will provide you with fresh produce every spring without any effort.
Beans prefer full sun, but if you’re okay with slower growth and a smaller harvest, you can grow delicious bush beans.
Most root crops are also good candidates for growing in partial shade. Get your seeds in the garden as early as possible, as they will need the whole season to get as large as possible.
5. BOK CHOY (AND SIMILAR LEAFY GREENS)
Vegetables to Grow in Shade
Which Vegetables Grow Well Without a Lot of Sun?
If you’re not blessed with a sunny garden space, see our list of vegetables (and fruit) that will grow in partial shade—and vegetables that will NOT grow in shade. Plus, see our tips and design ideas for a partial-shade vegetable garden.
Although fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash need at least 6 hours of full sun daily to give you a good harvest, most crops can “get by” with part sun or part shade (3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight).
Assessing Your Garden’s Light Levels
Before you even think about what to plant, make note of just how much sun your site actually receives; you might be surprised! There are different levels of shade and it will often change with the seasons. Here are the common terms associated with light levels in the garden:
- Full sun is considered to be 6–8 hours (or more) of direct sunlight per day. Peak sunlight hours are between 10 am and 2 pm.
- Partial sun is 3–6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Partial shade is about 3 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Full shade is less than 3 hours of sun and dappled light for the rest of the day.
- Light shade or dappled shade is bright sun filtered through the leaves of trees overhead.
- Deep shade gets no sun at all. You won’t be growing any vegetables here.
Once you have figured out how much sun you have to work with, you can get planning! Morning sun with afternoon shade is the best situation for many plants whether they are vegetables, annual flowers or perennials.
Which Types of Vegetables Do Well in Shade?
- Cole crops are tolerant of partial sun or partial shade. Broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, kale, and rutabagas will grow well with less than a full day of sun, but may take longer to mature. Cabbage will also grow in shade, but they may not form tight heads.
- Root crops such as radishes, carrots, potatoes, and beets can grow in as little as 3-4 hours of direct sun with light or dappled shade for the rest of the day.
- Leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy, and chard are happy with just a few hours of sunshine each day. In fact, keeping them out of midday sun can prevent their tender leaves from wilting.
- Climbing vegetables do well in areas that are shaded in the morning but sunny by afternoon. Cucumbers and pole beans will clamber up supports into the sunshine.
- Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes can be grown in partial sun or partial shade.
- Vegetables that are susceptible to bolting, like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, can benefit from being grown in partial sun, particularly in hotter climates.
- For areas that receive morning sun then afternoon shade, try vegetables such as celery, carrots, and bush beans.
Vegetable Growing Guides for Shade
Here is the list of our Growing Guides for shade-tolerant vegetables and herbs:
Fruit to Grow in Shade
- Sour (acid) cherries actually fare better in shady plots, as they don’t need the sun to sweeten them. Plus, they look very pretty when trained on a north-facing wall.
- Currants and gooseberries also grow and crop quite well in partial shade. Train them as cordons or as fans against a wall to ensure the branches are well spaced and that light can reach all parts of the plant.
- Cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries can also cope with some shade, but will fruit better in more sun.
- Rhubarb is another great crop for a shady spot.
- In terms of fruit trees, pears and plums are your best bet. Pears do need a few hours of sun, preferably in the afternoon. Plums are a great choice for a landscape that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Just remember, many varieties of pear and plum trees need a cross-pollinator to fruit, so you may need more than one tree.
- Wondering about strawberries? Alpine strawberries are much tougher than normal strawberries. Try a variety called ‘Alexandria’ for shade.
What NOT to Grow in Shade
Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and melons simply won’t grow without full sun. They need hot, sunny days in order to produce bountiful fruit.
Most fruit trees need LOTS of sun. Citrus, peach, nectarine, apple, and apricot trees all need direct sun and won’t thrive in shade.
6 Tips for Growing in Shade
- In all but the hottest climates, use the sunniest parts of the garden to start seeds in a seedbed or in pots or modules, then transplant them to another bed once they are larger and more able to cope with shade. Using grow lights indoors can give early-sown seedlings a boost.
- Reflect any available light into shadier parts of the garden by painting walls and fences white, or use mirrors and other reflective surfaces such as shiny metal or foil.
- Shadier corners are slower to warm up in spring and quicker to cool down in fall, so use cold frames or row covers to warm up the soil earlier and extend the growing season later on.
- Slugs and snails often lurk in shady areas, so use beer traps and delay laying mulches until the weather warms up.
- Leave plenty of space between plants to help maximize light penetration.
- You may not need to water as often when gardening in the shade, since less moisture evaporates. Do take care when gardening directly under trees, however. Their roots tend to compete for available water and nutrients and their leafy canopy will block some rainfall from reaching the ground.
3 Garden Plans for Partial Shade
The garden plans below are “partial shade,” so they will also have sun-loving plants in them. For example, the first plan has shade on the left where the leafy greens are, but the squash and tomatoes on the right will need full sun. Likewise, the third plan has shade at the top, but full sun elsewhere because corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes all like full sun.