When most people picture a vegetable garden, they imagine a spot that bakes in the sun for most of the day. And there is good reason for this because the vast majority of vegetables require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day in order to thrive. In all but the hottest climates, the best spot for a vegetable garden will be in the sunniest part of the yard. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and beans are among the vegetables that really demand full sun.
But if you don't have such a site for a vegetable garden, there are plenty of vegetables that will grow well without full sun. Be aware, though, that almost no vegetables will thrive in deep shade. But a spot in your yard that gets partial sun or partial shade (defined as 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight) can host a productive edible garden if you plant the right vegetables.
As a rule of thumb, the plants that provide edible leaves, stems, or buds are those that will tolerate some shade. But those you grow for their fruits or roots will require a full sun exposure in order to thrive.
Vegetables That Tolerate Partial Shade
These crops will produce in a location that receives partial sun, or one that receives dappled shade through the course of the day:
- Arugula (Aruca sativa) tolerates some shade, but also does well in full sun.
- Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris cult.) require at least 5 hours of sun each day.
- Beets (Beta vulgaris) will have smaller roots when planted in shade, but greens will be delicious.
- Broccoli (Brassica oleracea, var. Italica) actually prefers a shady location; it does not like direct sun.
- Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea, var. gemmifera) like a sunny location for at least 6 hours, but shade during part of the day.
- Cabbage (Brassica oleracea, var. capitata) grows well in partial shade, but full shade may prevent tight heads from forming.
- Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, var. botrytis) tolerates shade, but the size of head shrinks as shade ratio increases.
- Collard greens (Brassica oleracea, var. acephala) needs 4 to 5 hours of sun for full flavor; a good plant for colder climates.
- Cress (Lepidium sativum) is the rare vegetable that does well in nearly full shade. It matures very fast and likes moist soils.
- Endive (Cichorium endivia) does well with only a few hours of daily sun. Especially in midsummer, shade will prevent the plant from bolting (setting seeds).
- Kale (Brassica oleracea, var. acephala) prefers cool soils, making it a good choice for shady locations. It will tolerate very cool temperatures, including light frosts.
- Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a cool-season green that dislikes direct sun. Some gardeners even shelter lettuce with shade cloth to prevent it from burning out.
- Mustard greens (Brassica nigra) tolerate partial shade, though it is fond of full sun. It does not do well in hot temperatures.
- Peas (Pisum sativum) require at least 5 hours of sun each day but will tolerate morning and evening shade.
- Radishes (Raphanus raphanistrum, subsp. sativus) will produce smaller but still tasty roots when they are grown in shade.
- Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) does well with only a few hours of sun; it prefers cool temperatures of spring and fall.
- Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) tolerates light shade and prefers cool temperatures.
Advantages of Working With Shade
Most gardeners lament the fact if their yards have too much shade, but there are some advantages.
- In hot climates, some shade will prevent your crops from scalding in the direct sun. Gardens in the Southwest, for example, can greatly benefit from being sheltered from the direct sun for part of the day.
- Watering needs are lessened in a garden that gets partial sun.
- Crops that are quick to bolt (send up flower and seed shoots) in hot weather, such as lettuces and spinach, will grow quite a bit longer if they are given some shade.
- Using partially shady spots is a good way to maximize your use of space. You can reserve sunny space to grow peppers, tomatoes, and other sun-lovers, and then tuck in other crops in the spots that receive partial sun or a dappled mixture of sun/shade. Effective use of space can easily double the number of vegetables you can grow.
Having a shady garden doesn't mean you're destined to live a life devoid of fresh garden vegetables. By making the most of what you have, you can harvest lettuces, peas, and other tasty veggies from spring through fall.