The title above is nearly an oxymoron. There really are very few vegetables and herbs that enjoy shade. At the very best, they tolerate it. And if you’re planning a vegetable garden and really hope to have abundant harvests, you should avoid shady spots like the plague!
However, if you have no other choice and your “shady nook” gets at least some sun (for example, dappled shade under a tree or direct morning or afternoon sun), there are a few vegetables and herbs you can try that will give you some success.
(How can you tell if the spot is truly shady? Do the petunia test!)
Note: All plants presented are usually grown as annuals unless a hardiness zone is given.
- Arugula/roquette (Eruca vesicaria sativa)
- Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) zone 3
- Beet/beetroot (Beta vulgaris crassa)
- Bok choy (Brassica rapa chinensis)
- Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica)
- Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea gemmifera)
- Cabbage (Brassica oleracea captitata)
- Carrot (Daucus carota)
- Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea botrytis)
- Celery (Apium graveolens)
- Chicory (Chicorium intybus)
- Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis)
- Corn salad/lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) zone 3
- Endive/escarole (Chicorium endivia)
- Fiddlehead fern* (Matteucia struthiopteris) zone 3
- Garlic (Allium sativum) zones 3 to 6, depending on variety (grow for edible foliage only)
- Kale (Brassica oleracea acephala)
- Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea gonglyoides)
- Leaf lettuce (Latuca sativa)
- Leek (Allium ampeloprasum)
- Mizuna (Brassica rapa nipponosica)
- Mustard (Brassica juncea, B. nigra and others)
- New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
- Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
- Pea (Pisum sativum)
- Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
- Radish (Raphanus sativus)
- Rhubarb (Rheum x hybridum) zone 3
- Rutabaga/swede (Brassica napus napobrassica)
- Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)
- Scallion/green onion (Allium spp.)
- Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) zone 3
- Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
- Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris cicla)
- Turnip (Brassica rapus)
- Watercress* (Nasturtium officinale) zone 2
*Plants marked with an asterisk (*) are especially shade-resistant and are the best choices for shade gardens.
- Angelica (Angelica archangelica) zone 4
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Cardamom* (Elettaria cardamomum) zone 10
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) zone 3
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) zone 2
- Coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
- Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) zone 6
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) zone 6
- French tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus sativa) zone 5
- Garden cress (Lepidium sativum)
- Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) zone 5
- Ginger* (Zingiber officinalis) zone 10
- Ginseng* (Panaxspp.) zones 3 to 6, according to species
- Horseradish (Armoracia rustica) zone 3
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) zone 4
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale), zone 3
- Mint* (Mentha spp.) zones 2 to 6, according to species
- Mitsuba* (Cryptotaenia japonica) zone 4
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) zone 9
- Shiso/perilla (Perilla frutescens)
- Sweet cecily* (Myrrhis odorata) zone 4
- Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) zone 4
- Sweet woodruff* (Galium odoratum), zone 3
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) zone 4
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) zone 3
- Wild ginger* (Asarum spp.) zones 3 to 6, according to species
How to Grow Herbs and Vegetables in the Shade
Shade doesn’t stimulate fast, exuberant growth, even on the vegetables and herbs mentioned. You can expect a diminished yield, smaller leaves and roots and a longer time to harvest. And slugs are more damageable in shady spots than in sunny ones.
On the positive side, vegetables and herbs grown in shadier spots will need less watering than their sun-grown counterparts (unless they’re growing under trees with shallow roots, in which case they may actually need more!) and they’ll suffer less weed competition. (Most weeds like sun too!)
Here, though, are a few tips on how to get the best possible results when plants are not getting all the sun they really want:
- When possible, start crops indoors under optimal conditions so they’re at least off to a good start at the beginning of their growth cycle. Or buy greenhouse-grown plants.
- Soak seeds of slower-growing crops, like carrots, parsley and parsnip, overnight before sowing them, as this promotes faster germination and thus gives them more time to produce a reasonable crop.
- Anything that reflects light towards the sun-starved plants will help: light-colored paths or paving stones, white lawn furniture, nearby walls painted white.
- Prune lower tree branches and thin out higher ones to let more sunlight into the garden.
- Grow plants in containers so you can move them to the sunniest spots as the season changes.
Sometimes, gardening is not about striving for the best possible results, but just learning to make do with what the conditions will allow!