⛅️ can i grow veggies in the shade?! ⛅️
and what's the difference between partial sun and partial shade?
👩🏻🌾🌻🥬 GROWING VEGETABLES IN THE SHADE 👩🏻🌾🌻🥬
Everyone wants to know what they can grow in the shade! Including me. 🙃
I live in a beautiful older neighborhood with 100 year old homes and trees equally as old and lovely. Two of our trees fell a week after we bought the home; it initially was a tragedy, but it gave me the gift of SUN — something that made my garden possible. I still have entire beds that are predominantly in shady areas, and I am always trying to figure out what else I could slip in.
I have to admit — the question becomes a little funnier when we ask, “what plants can grow without the sun?” The sun enables photosynthesis, the process of creating energy (sugar). Find me a person that can grow without eating, and a plant that can grow without sun. 😎 But in all seriousness, there are several that grow with very little sun!
If you think about plants that require a lot of sugars or starches to create a fruit or root (carrots, beets, radishes, tomatoes, squashes, etc) that will give you a pretty quick clue as to which plants won’t grow well in the shade.
Generally speaking, the plants that can grow with the least sun are the ones that are leafier and less starchy.
A NOTE ON “WILL” OR “WON’T” ✌🏼
If you have an area that is mixed sun/shade, I say try everything once and be prepared for failure. You may be pleasantly surprised with what enjoys the location.
Putting a “shade” plant in a full-sun area can distress it by burning it’s leaves. Shade plants usually have thinner leaves and broad leaf areas [this is another good clue]. Big leaves = absorb more light. This is why most tropical plants have such enormous leaves; they grow under the canopy of trees and are constantly reaching to absorb as much indirect light as possible. Putting them into full direct sun cause the plant to absorb too much - which can do true damage.
Putting a “sun” plant into shade is less damaging — it usually just immediately slows its growth and the plant’s natural functions become compromised. Plants that can’t create enough energy can have weaker “immune systems” and develop diseases or viruses more easily, but usually they just grow veeeeeeery slowly above and below ground. (Full sun plants have thicker, narrow leaves - like tomatoes.)
If you’re experimenting with growing in a shady area, expect the maturation periods to take longer. A 30 day radish might take 45-60 days, or a 45 day lettuce may take 60-75. The question isn’t always “will it or won’t it grow” — it might just be “how quickly and how well?”
LOOK FOR SPECIFIC VARIETIES 🧬
Many of our common vegetables, like tomatoes, have undergone extensive breeding by large nurseries and home gardeners to try to create cultivars/varieties that will grow in specific environments, such as high temps or low sun. While there are some plants like peppers that always want lots of sun and lots of heat, it’s worth searching around for “shade tolerant tomatoes” and “shade tolerant lettuce.”
WHAT QUALIFIES AS “SHADE?” ☁️
There are four primary and distinct categories (full sun, partial sun, partial shade, full shade) but many nurseries interchange partial sun with partial shade, so ask questions when purchasing if you can.
Note: There is also “dense shade” which is truly zero direct sunlight, and I do not recommend planting any vegetable in full or dense shade.
MORNING SUN VS AFTERNOON SUN 🍹
Temperature really matters for some plants. Sometimes plants marked “partial sun/shade” could actually handle 6+ hours of sun, but they need cooler temps and so they get marked for shade. For landscaping/shrubs/perennial flowers, you can push some shady plants into areas with more sun so long as it’s morning sun (like hydrangeas) when it’s still cooler. It’s the afternoon sun in the summer that will get ‘em.
This is also helpful to think about when trying to stretch the growing window for cool season plants. Many of the full sun cool season plants thrive in 6-8 hours of sun but struggle in heat, so if you’re straddling the warm season, plant them in the spots that get sun in the first half of the day, not the last half.
YOUR HOMEWORK 📝
This weekend, try to go look at your “shady” area every hour until it gets sun, and then again until it’s back in the shade. Count the hours — it might be sunnier than you think, or it could be full, dense shade.
See when your sunlight hours will change. Use the SunSurveyor app to help! You can change the date to see exactly where the sun will be in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Your full sun areas in the summer could become full shade by late fall (or vice versa), and this is important to know. SunCalc.org is another you can try but less exact.
PARTIAL SHADE VEGGIES + HERBS 🌥 [2-4 hours]
Loose-leaf greens: Spinach, Arugula, Sorrel, loose-leaf Lettuces (no head lettuce)
Asian greens: Mizuna, Bok Choy, Tatsoi, Chijimisai
Certain brassicas: Kale, Collards, Mustard greens
Potatoes (*Expect lower yields; mine grow pretty ok in the shade)
Herbs: Mint, Lovage, Comfrey
PARTIAL SUN VEGGIES + HERBS ⛅️ [4-6 hours]
Anything in the above list, plus…
Broccoli [a lot of people say this will work, but please note, I am skeptical]
Pole beans [some people say this, I am also skeptical]
Herbs: Cilantro, Parsley, Chervil, Oregano, Lemon Thyme, Chamomile
Root veggies: Beets, Carrots, Tokinashi/Salad Turnips, Radishes [plan to harvest these young/small, as roots won’t get full size]
👆🏼 Note: Try to research the plant you want to grow to find a variety that is more shade tolerant than others.
🥰 GARDEN CLIENTS THIS WEEK 🥰
Despite the heat, I’ve been hard at work getting some new beautiful beds installed for another client in the neighborhood:
The surrounding area is being filled with some lovely pea gravel and I can’t wait to see plants go in. These are tall (22”) so squashes, melons, and some sprawling plants can easily be planted in the corners and grow out/down which will lessen the need for some trellising.
I also have been having a lot of fun creating planting plans [and can do this virtually] that outputs a shopping list and ideal companion plants in existing beds.
I have been working on my design, consulting & installation offerings — let me know if you need support in your growing and learning journey. 🙌🏼 There is more information about each of these here.
RANDOM LAWN TIP 💁🏻♀️
“The homeowner’s version of preserving residues is leaving grass clippings to decay on the lawn, rather than removing them. They decay readily and do not contribute to thatch, contrary to popular thought. As a bonus, these clippings substitute for one lawn fertilization each year.” - my soil science textbook
📸 SOME GARDEN PHOTOS 📸
Well, Substack is telling me that I’ve written yet another post too long for email; apologies to your email client and thank you as always for reading and for taking more steps toward your dream garden, your dream food, your dream surroundings. 🥰