Just because you don’t have the perfect location for your garden with sunlight doesn’t mean you cannot grow vegetables. Your dreams of a full, luscious edible garden can still come true by growing shade-tolerant vegetable plants that will thrive in low-light gardens.
While most crops are sun lovers and need at least 8+ hours of sun each day, there are some that tolerate partial shade and a few that actually prefer to grow in full shade.
The most important part of choosing vegetables that grow well in the shade is to map your garden’s sunlight conditions to determine which shade-loving crops will do well and actually THRIVE under the conditions in your garden.
Here, we take a look at the top 25 shade-tolerant vegetables for your shady garden that receives little sunlight each day, along few simple tips you can use for growing a productive shade vegetable garden.
6 Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Shade
When you grow vegetables and herbs in the shade, you’re working with a microclimate on your property. It’s different than the areas in your garden that receive full sunlight.
You might think that having some partially shaded areas is a curse, but really – it’s a blessing. These areas allow you to extend your cool-season crops that grow from spring into summer.
Having shade stops your greens from turning bitter and bolting when the temperatures get too high.
These areas also give you a chance to start your fall garden a bit earlier in summer, helping them establish themselves before fall.
Here are some ways to embrace your shady areas in your garden and make the most of them!
1: Make Sure You’re Working With Good Quality Soil
One of your challenges will be to ensure the plants receive all of the nutrients that they need to reach optimal growth.
Be sure that you amend your soil with plenty of compost to add nutrients as well as increase drainage. When your crops are in the shade, the last thing you want is standing water causing mold or rot.
If you’re dealing with tree roots being a problem in your shady spot, you might want to try growing your plants in a raised bed.
2: Adapt the Moisture Needs
Typically, the watering needs listed for each plant assumes that you’re growing your garden in full sunlight.
Shady gardening means that the moisture won’t evaporate as quickly as they will in full sunlight. So, that means you don’t need to water as often.
However, if your garden is near trees, you might need to water more frequently because your plants will be competing with the trees for moisture.
Also, a leaf canopy can stop rain from reaching your plants. Ensure you check the soil to see if it’s dry and lay down mulch to conserve moisture.
3: Keep An Eye Out For Pests
These areas that are shady and cool tend to invite slugs and snails. You might want to try adding crushed eggshells to deter slugs or find other organic methods to prevent pests from visiting.
4: Understand The Maturation Time Will Be Slower
If you’re growing vegetables that prefer sunlight but will tolerate partial shade, you should expect their growth rate to be slower.
If the seed package tells you 60 days in full sunlight, it won’t be the same in partial shade. Be patient with your plants.
5: Start Seedlings Indoors
While you can direct sow some seeds in your partially shady garden, starting seedlings indoors can be a better choice. It gives your plants a headstart when you plant them in your garden.
6: Try Succession Planting
Succession planting can be used to grow more plants in an area of your garden. It’s a simple technique. You plant a row or 2 of a vegetable that you can harvest soon.
Continue to plant more of these rows, and then you collect when they come to maturity. You can plant more in the area that you just harvested.
Vegetables That Need Full Sunlight
Let’s take a look at the plants in your vegetable garden that need full sun before we look at the plants that can live in the shade.
What does full sunlight mean?
When you see a label on the plant that lists “full sunlight” as a requirement, it means that your plant needs a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight each day. Ideally, the plant will thrive and grow even better with 8-10 hours of direct sunlight.
Here are a few full sun veggies.
Keep in mind that full sunlight doesn’t mean your plants don’t like any shade. Some of these plants, such as tomatoes, enjoy a bit of afternoon shade to help with the hottest heat of the day.
Vegetables You Can Grow in Partially Shaded Areas
So, when you see this on the label for your plants, you can either think of it as partial shade or partial sunlight.
What does partial shade mean? It means that these plants need 4-6 hours of direct sunlight each day. If some of your garden beds fit this requirement, you still have plenty of things that are worth growing.
Here are 18 shade-loving vegetables that can handle partial shade.
Don’t be hesitant to try homegrown beets. They taste better than the canned versions, and they grow well if you have partial shade available.
You can expect the roots to be slightly smaller with more shade, but the flavor will be everything that you hoped – mellow, earthy, and somewhat sweet. The beet greens grow great in the shade, and the greens are just as edible as the roots.
Radishes aren’t a big fan of the summer heat, which is why they’re considered a spring or fall crop. So, naturally, that means they can handle a bit of shade as well.
Radishes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re a favorite for gardeners because they mature quickly so that you can plant more rounds of them. You can plant other crops in their place as well.
Carrots are a fantastic cool-season crop that handles a bit of shade well. Not only do the roots grow well without a ton of sunlight, but the greens do as well. Carrot greens are delicious, especially when added to stews and soups.
Carrots do well in cold weather. It’s one of the few crops that you can leave in the garden over the winter and harvest as you need.
You might not know that carrots come in a variety of colors, shapes, and maturity timing. You can grow purple, dark, red, orange, or light yellow carrots.
Unfortunately, parsnips are often disregarded as gardeners select their veggies to grow for the year. Parsnips are surprisingly sweet, especially if they receive shade throughout the day.
In the right conditions, the seeds take 2-4 weeks to germinate.
Despite taking longer to germinate, parsnips are worth the wait. They can sit in the ground for several months, especially if you leave them covered with mulch throughout the winter. Parsnips get even sweeter when the cold temperatures hit.
Most people associate growing potatoes with long rows in the field with full sunlight, but that’s not the only way to grow potatoes at home. You don’t need to have 8-10 hours of sun each day hitting your potatoes.
Remember that potatoes grow underground, so you just need enough sunlight to give the flowers a chance to bloom. They can appreciate a bit of a break from the intense sunlight.
Here is another forgotten veggie that not too many people grow nowadays. Rutabaga seeds germinate fast, typically 4-7 days, but they can be picky.
It’s best to make sure the temperatures don’t exceed 85℉; remember, this is a cool-season crop.
Not only do rutabagas grow well in partial shade, but you can plant them in the midsummer after you harvest the radishes in your garden.
Some people believe that they are just cover crops or animal fed, but when cooked the right way, rutabagas are incredibly delicious.
If you’re looking for a new vegetable to add to your shady garden space, turnips might be the best choice for you.
While they do have a bit of an acquired taste, they were once considered a staple crop because they tend to do well in all gardens even when other plants fail to grow.
Turnips don’t take up a lot of room in your garden, so it’s easy to plant a row or two.
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable grown for its tender spears that pop out of the soil in late spring and early summer.
A well-established plant can produce a harvest for 20 years. While the plant does have higher yields in full sunlight locations, but the plants will tolerate partial shade.
9. Bok Choi
Sometimes called Pak choy, bok choi is a type of Chinese cabbage that is a cool-season crop. You can quickly grow bok choy in partial shade; doing so helps to stop the plant from bolting or going to seed when the temperatures warm up.
If you have some shade in your yard or patio, growing peas is a great idea. Peas grow well in containers or the garden. They fit perfectly behind taller sun-loving crops like tomatoes eggplants.
Another option is to grow peas next to other vegetables that like partial shade such as potatoes, turnips, parsnips, or lettuce.
Who doesn’t love homegrown broccoli? It can handle partial shade and still grow prolifically. Broccoli can grow on the edge of your garden, filling in places that might be empty.
It’s most important to keep your broccoli watered and free of weeds from your beds.
You can grow broccoli in full sunlight, but the plants do appreciate a few hours of shade each day, especially in the hot summer months.
Too much sunlight leads to looser heads and quicker flowering. Shade also increases the flavor of the broccoli.
Cauliflower grows well in full sunlight, but during hot summer, it appreciates some shade because it is a cool-season crop.
This isn’t an easy vegetable to grow because it has particular growing requirements and will need to be blanched to whiten the heads.
White might be the most common color for cauliflower heads, but it’s sold in a range of colors, including green, purple, and orange.
You should know that cauliflower grown in partial shade might lead to smaller heads, but it does prevent the heads from flowering prematurely.
When cabbage receives too much sunlight, you’ll find that the outer leaves of the cabbage heads will dry out, which can also lead to smaller heads.
So, when you plant cabbages in partial shade with 6 hours of sunlight each day, you’ll find that the heads flourish and grow even larger.
Remember that cabbages are cool-season crops, and they tend to bolt when the temperatures increase over 80℉.
Celery can be a harder vegetable to grow because it has plenty of needs and requirements that new gardeners might find tricky.
However, if you understand the needs of the celery, you can grow plenty in the partial shade.
If celery is exposed to too much heat, it can cause the stalks to become hollow. When you grow in partial shade, the stems will be shorter and thinner.
Life without garlic would just be sad. Dishes made with garlic are full of flavor and deliciousness, and if you have some shade in your house, try planting some garlic there. Garlic can also be planted in the fall, which is another reason to love it more than before.
16. Green Onions
It’s hard to grow onions without full sunlight, but you can grow green onions without all those hours of sunlight. You can plug green onions along the side of your garden if you have partial shade.
It’s an option to plant green onions or bunching onion in areas with partial sun, leaving plenty of space for sun-loving plants.
Leeks are a bit confusing – are they like garlic or onions? In reality, leeks are in the same Allium family, but they have a mild flavor and a unique texture that makes them a favorite among chefs.
Typically, you can harvest leeks from late summer into the early spring. They can even survive the winter if you have a more mild climate.
You might think of horseradish as an herb, but some consider it a vegetable. It does take up room in your garden regardless of whether you call it an herb or veggie. There is so much that you can do with horseradish.
What you might not know is that horseradish plants are perennial and can grow anywhere that has some partial shade. So long as the soil doesn’t get too soggy, then your plants will be good to go.
Vegetables That You Can Grow in Shade
Shade is different than partial shade. When we talk about growing in shady areas, that means your garden will only receive 2-4 hours of sunlight each day. That’s not very much!
Not many vegetables can grow in somewhat shady conditions. Leafy greens can survive with just a few hours of sun each day, but most other veggies won’t grow well with such a few hours of sun.
These 7 low-light vegetables are suitable for planting in your garden that receives as little as two hours of direct sun a day.
Arugula is a green that can survive in little sunlight. The peppery taste gets too strong when exposed to too much sunlight, but shade helps create the perfect balance of flavor. Arugula does well next to mint, spinach, carrots, and dill.
2. Swiss Chard
Do you want to grow a vegetable in the shade that is beautiful as well as easy to grow and requires little maintenance? If that’s you, then swiss chard is an excellent pick for you.
Swiss chard is vibrantly colored, so adding it to your garden increases the color in your garden. It also adds vitamins to your plate. It’s full of antioxidants and even magnesium.
3. Brussels Sprouts
Did you know that brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family? This cool-weather crop thrives in the shade. Lining the stem, you’ll find dozens of tiny cabbages that taste wonderful, whether steamed or fried.
Not only do brussels grow well in the shade, but they also can be harvested throughout the winter, It’s best if brussel sprouts go through a frost or two before you collect them it makes them sweeter.
Kale is a delicious and healthy green to add to your shade garden. Right now, people are loving kale, creating all kinds of new recipes to showcase its unique flavor profile. It’s a great time to grow kale!
Now only is kale delicious to eat, but it works in the shady areas of your garden. You’ll find that its growth rate increases when it has regular shade, especially during warm periods throughout the day.
Not only does kale tolerate shade, it also can grow in the winter and cold temperatures in general.
Do you want to have freshly grown lettuce in your garden? You can grow lettuce, even in a shady area of your garden.
Lettuce is a cool-season crop, planting it in some shade stops lettuce from bolting or going to seed in hot temperatures. It also keeps the plant roots cooler, which lets you harvest longer as the summer heats up.
You can pick from the dozens of lettuce varieties on the market; you might be surprised by how many there are! All types can be harvested as baby greens or let mature fully.
6. Mustard Greens
While mustard and collard greens can survive in the hot sun, it can cause the edges to curl and turn brown. When you add stress onto mustard greens, it can even increase their risk for diseases.
All mustard greens need is around 4 hours of sunlight each day. You can add these plants to spruce up your garden or fill in some areas with more greenery.
Who doesn’t love adding some spinach to their salad? Spinach is a cool-weather crop that does well with as little as 2-3 hours of sunlight.
Since too much hot weather can cause spinach to go to bolt, it’s a great idea to plant spinach where you know you have more shade than sun.
Spinach struggles to grow in the summer, but you don’t have to give up fresh spinach salads in the summer.
Try adding some spinach plants to your garden along the side of your house. A salad garden grows well with little sun.
Just because you have shady areas doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. There are plenty of vegetables and herbs that grow in the shade. Give these a try and make sure to prepare the area thoroughly to reach optimal growth.
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.