Wouldn't it be wonderful, if everyone who wanted one had a perfect plot for vegetable growing? However - as with many things in life - perfection is usually out of reach, and unfortunately gardening is no different.
Most people’s image of a vegetable garden is one that will receive direct sunlight all day long, and that’s fantastic for growing old favourites such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons.

But what are you supposed to do if you have no other choice than to grow in the shade? Of course, if your shade is caused by overhanging trees then you can try and improve the growing conditions - ambient light levels can easily be increased by careful pruning. Unfortunately that may not be the end of it as you will probably need to improve the soil too - established tree roots will not only remove a large percentage of the available nutrients they will also be taking out a good proportion of the soil water.
A good rule to remember is that if you are growing crops for the fruit or edible roots, then you are best suited with a sunny position. If you are growing crops for the leaves, stems, or buds, then a certain amount of shade will actually improve the crop.
Luckily there are plenty of herbs and salad varieties around that will not only tolerate these lower light levels, they will in fact prefer them, and positively thrive.

There are of course some benefits to growing in the shade because you won't need to water as often and crops that are quick to bolt in hot weather - such as lettuce and baby leaf spinach - will have a sweeter flavour and a far longer harvesting period. This is especially true for crops within the mustard family - cruciferae - such as radish, lettuce and herb rocket.
When growing crops from the cruciferae family you should find them reasonably productive during the early part of the year. However if they are grown in full sun during the beginning and height of the summer the quality of their flavour can drop enormously - often to a point where they become unpalatable. This is due to the production of bitter tasting compounds known as Glucosinolates, and these are produced in significantly increased amounts when the plants become stressed. These stresses can include high temperatures, high light levels and reduced moisture content within the root environment. Supplying these plants with a certain amount of shade will reduce environmental stress and in turn prolong the productivity of the crop.
Below is a list of the best salad crops and herbs for growing in the shade:

Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce - cruciferae
Herb rocket - cruciferae
Radish - cruciferae
Baby Spinach
Wild garlic

If your shade is caused by overhanging trees then you can try and improve the growing conditions. Light levels can be increased by careful pruning, and the soil will probably also need to be improved as tree roots will remove a lot of the available nutrients and water.

Take advantage of warmer and hopefully brighter conditions at home by germinating seeds earlier on in the year using modules. This will get them off to a far quicker start and will also help to establish their root systems before they are planted into the ground.

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joene said...

Great list. During the heat of southern New England summers, salad greens often appreciate a touch of shade, particularly during mid-day. I've also found garlic chives grow well in shadier areas, but they should be deadheaded before they go to seed since they can be invasive.

Marion said...

I'm loving your informative posts. I'm in the process of propagating some of my bushes and herbs before Winter and your site has been extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge. Blessings.

Deborah Elliott said...

Your posts are always helpful and informative. I liked the helpful hint about sun for fruit and root and shade for stems and leaves. Easy to remember. Thanks!

janie said...

Good post. I am always looking for ways to expand my vegetable gardening!

Sylvana said...

I have been thinking about growing some of my cool-loving plants in the shade, but thought that they may not do well. I am definitely going to try this next year!

Sunita said...

Perfect! This is exactly the kind of information I needed right now. I've been wondering what I can grow in parts of my garden which are too shaded for anything else. (Well, anthuriums are an option but I thought I should give the edibles a chance too.)

Nell Jean said...

We tend to think of vegetables and herbs as being sun lovers; this is good information to have.

I've noticed that parsley as larval hosts for butterflies grows lush and green in part shade.

Randy Emmitt said...


Good article, I did not know most of this. Thanks! Our garden gets 5-6 hours of sun but manages well with several of the plants you listed below. Our arugula seems to bolt way too soon though.

Jean said...

Simon, you have so many interesting posts! Winter is the time that I grow salad greens. Once the weather warms up in the April/May timeframe, they bolt.