How to Grow Vegetables in a Shady Garden

Looseleaf lettuce is one of the vegetables that will grow well in shady conditions.

Do you think you can't garden because your yard (or patio or balcony) is in the shade? Take heart, there are ways to work around a shady yard and successfully grow vegetables in the shade.

How to garden in the shade

I learned about shade gardening by experience. 

We once rented a house with a well-established garden plot behind the garage. Unfortunately it was in deep shade most of the day, but it still produced carrots, parsley, lettuce and other vegetables.

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Even here in Oklahoma, where I purposefully chose my garden location, the east end of my garden is shaded during the morning hours, but has full sun later in the day. 

I like the location of my garden for the most part. The morning shade allows me to spend more time in the garden during the hottest part of the summer, although the mosquitoes tend to congregate there. 

The shade on the eastern-most raised bed also allows me to grow cool-weather vegetables for a longer period of time than if they were in full sun in our very-hot climate all day long.

Cabbage and onions growing in a raised bed in a partly-shady corner of the garden.

Evaluate your shady spaces

Your space might not be as shady as you think. Buildings, fences, sheds, and trees all create shade and can block the sunlight your garden needs. 

However, the sun moves throughout the year which means the sunlight moves too, not just from morning to afternoon but also from spring to fall.

Mapping your yard's sunlight patterns is a long-term project, and I know you might not have the time to do this for a year or even for several months before you decide where your garden should go, but perhaps you can plant in containers this year while you map the sun and shade throughout the growing season.

To map your yard's sunlight and shadows, notice every week or so where the shadows are. 

You can do this in a very in-depth manner with sketches and measurements every Saturday at 9:00 am, 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, or you can do this more casually. 

The smaller your yard is the more important it is to find any pockets of light that might exist. If your available planting space is a balcony or a small patio area, finding these spots that have a bit of sunlight is even more important.

After observing for a few months, you might find some less-shady areas that you can use to your advantage. 

Deeply shaded spaces are often damp too. Take this into account when you decide what to grow there. Don't expect a plant that likes well-drained soil to thrive in a soggy place. 

If you're limited to damp places, using containers will allow you to provide the soil your plants prefer.

Choose the right plant varieties

Choose plants that prefer to grow in shade. 

Leafy greens and root vegetables are the easiest to grow in low light. Brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage and kale are tolerant of shady areas.

Plants grown for their fruit such as tomatoes, squash and peppers need the most hours of sunlight, so locate them in the brightest, sunniest areas of your garden space.

Many herbs grow well in light shade including parsley, mint, cilantro and chives.

Boost the available light

To boost the light in your garden, place mirrors or shiny sheets of metal to reflect light towards your plants. 

Remember that deep-shade garden at our rented house? The previous gardener had covered plywood with aluminum foil for this purpose.

Placed against the back side of the garage, the shiny surfaces reflect the light (not the sun, but the light) back onto the plants, eliminating the deep shade against the garage wall. 

Mirrored surfaces along the north edge of the garden can sunlight back into the garden.

Here are a few more ways to boost the available light:

  • If there is a wall or a fence nearby you can paint it bright white to reflect light.
  • Prune low-hanging tree branches or large bushes to maximize the sunlight.
  • Space plants a little farther apart to allow more light to reach them.

Onions growing in a container that can be moved around as the sun moves during the day.

Follow the light

Plant in containers so you can move your plants around as summer progresses and the shade moves. 

If necessary, you can even move the containers around several times a day so they are in the sun. 

Add artificial light

If your shady garden is a balcony or covered patio, hang some plant lights in strategic places to boost the light. 

The long florescent-type tubes aren't the only grow lights available. Look for individual grow-light bulbs too such as these. These single bulbs fit well into heat-lamp type fixtures with reflective hoods.

Use shade to your advantage

I've even used shade intentionally by planting lettuce and spinach in the shadow of my tomato plants. 

Our hot dry summers make it hard to grow cool-weather vegetables, but shade helps to prolong their favorite conditions. 

You can take advantage of the shade to grow peas, leafy greens and other spring vegetables.

Careful planning and a little creativity are all you need to grow vegetables in a shady garden.

How to Grow Vegetables and Herbs in a Shady Garden

For even more information about gardening in the shade, check out my ebook, How to Grow Vegetables and Herbs in a Shady Garden. 

You'll learn how to choose the right varieties of plants, how to battle snails and slugs, and more tips and tricks to boost the light. 

For more gardening and simple living ideas and inspiration, subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter, and join me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

You can grow vegetables in a shady garden with a little creativity, and using light to your advantage.

Related Post:
What to Grow in a Small Garden
How to Start a Container Garden

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