Vegetable Gardening in the Shade

New Zealand spinach in partial shade

Inspired by Scott Kleinrock’s work at the Huntington Ranch, I’ve been experimenting with growing vegetables in partial shade. Two of our vegetable beds sit under two large deciduous trees. In the winter these beds get full sun, but in the summer they might get as a little as four or five hours of direct sun.

Now my shade gardening experiment may not be applicable to northern climates. In fact, the sun is so harsh here that partial shade can be a good thing, in that it keeps more delicate veggies from drying up and blowing away.

What has worked in our partially shaded beds:

  • New Zealand spinach
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes (not as much growth as in the sun, but they are fruiting)
  • lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • dandelion greens
  • raspberry

Growing but struggling:

  • bush beans (cover crop)

For more information on growing in the shade, check out this article in the San Francisco Chronicle,  “Best Edibles to Grow in Shade in the Bay Area

Also, follow Scott Kleinrock’s research on the Huntington Ranch blog.

And I’m interested in hearing other people’s experiences growing vegetables in the shade so please leave some comments noting where you live.

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21 Comments

  1. I have found much more success with gardening in partial shade than I first hoped for. Even tomatoes and peppers do ok as long as they get a good start and some sun.

  2. I grow veggies in rather heavy shade under a grapefruit tree. I’m in Los Angeles near LAX airport. The raised planter space is rock, built by the prior owner. It gets dappled sunlight all year, and only a scant few hours of late afternoon angled direct rays.

    When I start to plant my summer veggies in my sunny main garden, I begin moving my leafy crops into the above-described shade zone. It’s all in anticipation of days like today when the heat is supposed to soar. The leafy greens enjoy the sun protection. Swiss chard, frisee lettuce, mesclun mix, par cel herb are my standards. Green onions, egyptian walking onions do well too.

    I’m trying a short-day bulbing onion this year (no results on the bulbs yet to report). I have leeks there this year; they have done well in the past. Nasturtiums do well (we eat the young leaves in salads). Mint rambles through one of the shade beds and does well in the shade. I just moved perennial french sorrel there and it’s liking it (can anything kill it?). Yarrow is doing okay. Tomatoes did not do well in prior years – lots of leggy growth and few flowers/fruit. I’m trying cucumbers this year but the young plants seem to be growing quite slowly.

    I can’t see these all things doing well in the solid shade of a building, but they are fine in the dappled shade that a tree casts. I do notice that the chard needs wider spacing in the deep shade than it does in the winter in the sun, or else it will get chronic mildew.

    In another garden spot that gets many hours of deep shade from a neighbor’s magnolia, we have lemon balm, oregano, thyme that are all doing gangbusters. They are very leafy and green, perhaps you could say the mediterranean herbs are overly green and a bit leggy, but they do grow.

  3. I am really interested in this topic, since I have a lot of our front yard facing north and the house casts a shadow over much of the front lawn. We are just getting started with our little plot, so i don’t have any suggestions yet. But soon…

    I am still learning how to be apart of this online community here at Root Simple. (I have met some of you at the Poo Salon, and a Slow Food event in Orange County a few months back) So i posted a gardening related question in the post. I hope it doesn’t distract from the value of this current post, but i didn’t know where to send it, and i could use some advice. See below…

    My wife and I are inspired by what you guys are doing thanks. I hope to get up there and spend some more time with you all. Anyways we have returned from 2 years away in New Zealand and Oregon learning about homesteading and farming during our first two yrs of marriage. We are from Orange County, and left this place given the fast, cheap, and easy values that seem to drive this culture. Our hearts began to ache for this place and we felt called to return and begin to rethink the the current template for living here in this place.

    Having said that. I have a question about getting a late start on our garden and the lack of water that is in the ground because of that late start. 1.5 yrs ago we double dug our garden beds at my mom’s house and now that we are renting her house we resurrected the beds, but due to our arrival of our first daughter in early April. We are just getting our seedlings in the garden, and I have become discouraged by the lack of moisture in our beds. It is bone dry for the first 1.5 feet down. I have spent the last four nights really watering the beds hoping they would regain their moisture content, but each day i find that the beds are so dry that the water has only permeated about and 2 inches or so, and I my higher value to reduce water consumption is tempting me to throw in the towel until winter.

    On a positive note have learned gardening in So. Cal is very different from the water rich areas of New Zealand and Oregon, and yes you can grow year round, but you also have to learn how to use water appropriately? I guess we have started our learning process…

    So i guess i am wondering what my options are?

    1.Throw in the town and wait for the rain, and then start again with early planting and ground cover to keep the moisture in as long as possible. Then maintain moisture levels with harvested rain water/hose.

    2. Spend the money and water resources on a watering fan attached to the hose, and leave it on for a couple of hrs to really saturate the ground.

    3. Or look into those terra cotta watering barrels that you bury in the ground to disperse water, but those might only maintain current moisture, not re-establish the lost moisture

    Any thoughts?

    [email protected]

  4. Ive grown tomatoes and spinach easily in the shade and this year my raspberries and blackberries are going crazy on the north side of my house. Its definitely possible to grow stuff in the shade!

  5. I’m planning on terracing the side of my garage for vegetable gardening in the spring – it probably gets about 4 or 5 hours of sun at best in the summer. I’m going to do sugar snaps, english peas, lettuces and spinach at least. I actually think in our Georgia weather the peas will do much better in the summer!

  6. Here in Los Angeles, I have had success with manzano peppers in shade, and have seen many pequin peppers in partial/ high shade. The Manzanos in fact, struggle in full sun, but produce a decent crop here in the shade. Even in coastal Northern Ca, the mazanos did well in partial shade. As for the pequins, in the wild they often grow in dense stands, that tend to cast a lot of shade on up and coming seedlings. Runner beans have done okay to well in partial shade for me too, and have returned for 2 or 3 seasons, as they are a perennial.According to the literature, they originate in densely shrubby areas as well, and have to grow through the shrubs to reach the sun.

  7. Hey Seth,

    Thanks for your kind comments. As to your questions, I have exactly the same soil problem going on in one of my beds. It’s a soil texture problem and I haven’t figured out the solution yet but was planning on blogging about it. I’m no longer a double digging proponent–double digging might, in fact, have contributed to this water retention problem, but I can’t say for sure. Will let you know, in a post, what I figure out. I’ll ask Lora “Homegrown Neighbor” Hall who has a degree in this stuff!

    1. There’s no shame in waiting for the fall to plant. Sounds like you’re busy anyways. You could also sow a summer cover crop like black eyed peas or buckwheat. Just remember to knock down the peas when they are flowering and before they start producing seeds.

    2. Maybe, but I don’t know for sure if it would work. Might be worth a try.

    3. I’m skeptical of the terra cotta watering pots. From what I’ve heard they don’t spread water much beyond a few inches, but I’ve never used them so I can’t say for sure. I’ve used drip irrigation for years and it works well once the plants are established. Somewhat spendy, but worth it IMHO.

    And thanks for returning to SoCal–we need many more thoughtful people like you two. Hope to see you again soon.

  8. I’m in Redwood City (SF Bay Area) and grow in partial shade. It’s all most noon and 3 of my beds are still in part shade but will get sun until about 6pm so not sure it that counts. I’m growing all the usual stuff… tomatoes, peppers, pole and bush bean, onions, lettuce and carrots. I have one bed that will not get sun until about 1pm and have squash growing in there. In my two potato bins I just planted lettuce seeds. They only get about 3 hours of very late afternoon sun. This is the first time I am trying this. The neighbor tree has grown so much that is it now shading that area of the yard so I can’t grow potatoes there any longer. Starting in Nov I don’t get any sun on the raised beds. If you want to see photos her is a link to my blog
    http://liisasgarden.blogspot.com/

    PS – I made the herbal stick deodorant in your book “Making It” last week for my husband and me We love it!

  9. Our garden is in Oakland, and most of our back yard is in partial shade (we’ve cut down 5 of the NINE trees in our small lot, which made me only a little sad, because we need more sun!). We grow parsley, cilantro, cucumbers, chard, kale, peas, lettuce, zucchini, and potatoes well in these areas.

    Tomatoes, basil, winter squash, eggplant, peppers? Not so much. We’ve tried, but I think the combination of shade and cool-summer-climate does them in. Those ones are hard enough to grow in full sun in a part of the world where summer fog is the norm.

  10. Here in Alabama we actually put shades in the form of cloth or umbrellas over plants because of too much hot sun. The cloth is up on high poles or sticks or sometimes just off to one side. I grew tomatoes on the side of the house where I only got about two hours sun. The rest of the time it is in dappled sun or actually being shaded by the house. The best tomatoes for partial shade at my house are grape tomatoes.(This was and still is a flower bed…think lilies and tomatoes together.) The best way to kill a tomato is to let it get too much blazing sun. The tomatoes also get funny marks under the skin of there is too much of a too hot sunny day.

  11. I’v got a big ole, macadamia nut tree that shades a lot of stuff. I’ve been very successful with growing sesame in the shade. I’ve also got some thimbleberries that my dog just dug up and i had to replant, so we’ll see how that goes. It may be too hot for them. I also have a bamboo grove that i use for timber along a narrow edge on the north side of the house that does well in the shade.

  12. It’s funny reading the comments about people whingeing about having North Facing gardens. My instinctive initial reaction is “You lucky things! That’s a perfect orientation!”

    But then, I’m from Australia…

  13. I thought about the importance of crop rotation and growing different things each year in the shady beds to avoid drawing the same nutrients for the same plants each year. I guess we seem to be compiling quite a list so that might not be an issue. Any thoughts?

  14. @Seth: I’m going to throw in my 2 cents along with the Mister. It may indeed be a soil texture problem, like Erik says–but it is hard to say from your description. If it is soil texture, that’s tricky. But maybe it’s not so tricky. Raised beds dry out fast in the heat–that’s why we’ve been slowly transitioning to lower beds, even sunken ones, in our yard of late. In wetter places, elevation makes all the sense in the world, but here—maybe not.

    Anyway, point is, I’m not sure how much you’re watering. If the beds were totally dehydrated you will have to water them with a slow drip or spray for a long time–hours–to get them truly moist again. (And don’t be afraid to spend the water to do that! It’s for a good cause) After that, you need to take steps to keep the moisture in. I’d want to put down a thick layer (3″+) of mulch, like straw, around your seedlings.

    See, once veggies reach full size, they shade the soil around them, forming a “green mulch” — but when they’re little they need help. Oh, for that reason, you should also plant your veggies pretty close–close enough that when they are full grown, their leaves just touch. Otherwise the soil between them gets sun baked and sucks the water away. John Jeavons has very precise spacing tables.

    Summer gardening in so-cal is a constant fight re: the water. Winter gardens are just so much easier. We’ve been thinking about scaling back our summer garden next year, just grown the necessities (ie tomatoes and basil) and letting the rest…rest.

    Re: rotation–I think we’re seeing that there are so many different things that will do okay in shade that it’s not going to be a problem.

  15. I have cucumbers and some herbs in part shade. Here in SoCal we spent part of yesterday putting up 40% shade cloth over the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Even with lush growth and plenty of leaves, once the summer gets going any portions of fruit left exposed seem to get sun scalded. In the past I’ve used old coffee filters and made sun hats for the developing fruit so I’m hoping this solution works better.

  16. My apologies if this posts twice:

    So strange… For years I’ve avoided planting vegetables. I live in a condo and only have a little scrap of land between it and the parking lot and another scrap in the back. I finally worked up to a vegetable garden this year and have been amazed at how well it’s doing. Then, I find this post and the SFC article in the same day.

    What’s strange is that I just posted an article to my blog about my experience. If anyone would like to read it, it’s here:
    http://condogarden.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/vegetable-gardening-in-less-than-full-sun/

  17. I have the same situation here in my new apartment in N. Central FL. In winter, I’ll have much more sun, save a little shade from the live oak tree, but in the summer it’s almost total shade. This is actually a good thing, since most of our crops are grown in the winter. I’m waiting impatiently to see what I can grow here in the winter and then in the summer in the shade. I’m counting on leafy greens and some herbs.

  18. Central AR here. I planted some strawberry spinach that didnt do so well in our hot summer sun. When I moved it to a place that got shade most of the day, it really took off. It is in a pot, so I plan to try planting more of it in a few places that are mostly shade.

  19. Carol Deppe writes about a variety of bean adapted to serve as the understory in a corn patch. Its leaves grow several times larger in partial shade, allowing it to produce some food from the light that gets through the canopy, but also grow normally out past the edges of the corn patch.

    I’ve lent out The Resilient Gardener to a friend, otherwise I’d look it up.

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