14 Shade Tolerant Vegetables – Backyard Food Growing


Gardening without a lot of sun can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. There are some veggies that are more tolerant to shady conditions than others. Generally the plants with larger wider leaves are the more tolerant ones, such as lettuce. spinach, kale, arugula and chard. There are more listed below and there are even more beyond that.

Generally the way to figure out what will grow in a shadier area or not is to ask: do we grow them for their leaves? or their roots? or their fruit? If we grow them for leaves and/or roots, then they’ll do reasonably well in the shadier areas. If we grow them for their fruit ie: peppers, tomatoes, berries, cherries, apples, avocado and the like, they will need a full sun environment with 6+ hours of sun per day to produce lots of sweet fruit..

Shade is (a bit) Different 

There are a few different things to know about growing food in the shade because the environment is somewhat different than the garden bed that is out in the full or partial sun. The shade garden can be referred to as a ‘micro-climate’ within the rest of your garden. A micro-climate is an area of different growing conditions within your main garden. The shade garden will likely need less watering and have more issues with slugs and snails.

There are actually different levels of shade: full shade, partial shade and dappled shade. I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one of these before but what do they really mean? Full shade means no direct sun at all at any point in the day but it’s still bright. Partial shade means that there are fewer hours of sun (around 4 – 6 a day). Dappled shade means that you’ve got sun for a good number of hours but it’s filtered out by nearby trees. Full sun means, well, full sun for 6 – 8+ hours everyday.

Here is a great reference to help figure out what are the better vegetable choices to grow in the shade. Source LiveLoveFruit.com

Full Shade is suitable for things like lettuce, radishes, leafy vegetables, spinach and many more in shadier conditions, it just takes a bit of adaptation in method. The plants will be a bit smaller and they’ll grow a little slower but they will still produce.

The biggest challenge with growing food plants in a full shade environment is that it’s also the perfect environment for slugs and snails to thrive. They will love to eat your lettuce and spinach all night long before you can get to it in the morning.

Partial Shade can mean a lot of different things, it’s usually 4-6 hours of sun a day but it could be cold morning sun or it might be split with a few hours of evening sun, it is a broad term. Shade vegetables are also suitable for a partial shade environment as well. It’s bit of a sliding scale because of factors like the time of year, meaning how close the sun is to the Earth and the sun’s trajectory will change it’s strength of it etc. Even if you have tall buildings nearby, that can be a major influence on what conditions you have to work with. Buildings can also change the direction of the wind when it comes to how it blows through your garden and in some cases they will speed up the wind depending on how things are laid out.

Dappled Shade/Sun is pretty straight forward. This is if you have sun but it’s being filtered by nearby trees before it gets to your garden. This can reduce the temperature in the area a lot.

Here is a list of just some of the more tolerant shade vegetables:

Arugula – 3 to 4 hours sun/day – will bolt as soon as the weather turns warm and if it’s in full sun
Asparagus  – takes 3 years to see spears that can be harvested but can tolerate shade
Asian greens – minimum 2 hours sun/day or bright shade – bok choi, komatsuna and tatsoi
Baby Chard leaves – 3 to 4 hours sun/day for baby chard leaves
Chard Stalks – minimum 5 hours sun/day for stalks
Beets – 4 to 5 hours of sun/day – slightly slower to mature
Celery – 4 to 5 hours sun/day – can be high maintenance, requires lots of water (not great for a beginner)
Green Onions – 3 to 4 hours of sun/day – easy to grow – continuous harvest
Herbs – minimum 3 hours sun/day – chives, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley and marjoram
Kale – 3 to 4 hours sun/day – it’ll produce but the total growth will be a bit smaller
Lettuce – 3 to 4 hours sun/day – indirect sun or full shade, prevents sun scald and bolting, continuous harvest
Peas – 4 to 5 hours of sun/day – Dappled shade is ok too – easy to grow
Potatoes – 4 to 5 hours of sun/day – will take longer to harvest – easy to grow
Radish – 4 to 5 hours of sun/day – will take longer to harvest but still fast growing compared to others
Spinach – 3 to 4 hours of sun/day – prefers shade as heat and full sun will cause it to bolt

If you’re dealing with a lot of shade, then two things you can do to help speed things up a bit would be to start your seeds indoors while the weather is still chilly outside and the other is to give them nice high quality soil when they do get planted out in the garden. The extra nutrients will help them get going just that bit faster. Doing these things will give them a good head start once outside in the shade garden and they’ll hopefully produce a little sooner.

Once the garden is on its way, the next thing to look at is using red plastic mulch, sometimes this is available in flat circles with a slit cut in half way so it can lay flat around the base of the plant stem.

Red mulch reflects light up onto the leaves of the plant. This also works with tin foil used around the base of the plant in the same way.

As a bonus, I know of only one full shade fruit! It’s the tart and yummy huckleberry. I’ve even grown those in containers too.

They normally grow in the forest at the bases of the trees, I’m not sure about all regions but the Pacific Northwest and the southwest coast of BC definitely have the right climate for huckleberries. They naturally prefer and are suited to a shady cooler environment. The ones around here are bright red, tart and scattered individually all over the bush.

Leave a comment and let me know how your shade garden goes or if you need any help.