Can You Grow Vegetables in Shade?


Question: I have a beautiful garden with only four and a half hours of sunshine a day and that’s calculated by totaling up pretty much every single ray that hits it. What vegetables can I grow there effectively?


Answer: I won’t beat around the bush. Deep shade is simply not conducive to vegetable gardening. No regular vegetable will grow well in the shade, but you’re lucky. Your garden sounds more to me like it’s in partial shade rather than full shade and that gives you a chance.

What little sunshine you have is probably still enough to grow most leafy greens. Many of them, like spinach and lettuce don’t actually like the intense heat of full summer sun and will do best, at that season at least, with at least a little cooling shade. 

However, don’t expect to grow prize vegetables. Under partial shade, leafy vegetables will grow more slowly than normal and may not reach their full size. And vegetables that normally form a dense head, like Iceberg lettuce, endive and head cabbage will likely instead produce loose leaves you’ll be able to harvest one by one. But then, aren’t baby leaves just as tasty as full-size ones?

When onions grow in partial shade, you’ll mostly be harvesting the leaves as green onions. Photo:

You can also grow root vegetables in partial shade. Again, they’ll grow more slowly and may never reach their full size, but will still be delicious. In the case of garlic and onions, you’ll be able to produce edible leaves (as in green onions), but not really a bulb worth harvesting.

Most fruiting vegetables, on the other hand, require a lot of sunshine to produce a worthwhile crop and I wouldn’t waste space on them if I were you. However, there are exceptions. Peas don’t do so badly in partial shade and, while strawberries aren’t vegetables per se, they are usually grown in vegetable gardens and produce reasonably well in partial shade.

Vegetables That Tolerate Partial Shade

While you can’t exactly call them shade-loving, the following vegetables are tolerant of partial shade. The plants marked with an asterisk (*) are the most shade tolerant of all and can be grown successfully in surprisingly deep shade.

  1. Arugula
  2. Asparagus
  3. Beet (beetroot)
  4. Bok choy
  5. Broccoli
  6. Cabbage
  7. Carrot
  8. Cauliflower
  9. Celery
  10. Chicory
  11. Chinese cabbage
  12. Endive
  13. Garlic (for its leaves only)
  14. Green onion
  15. Kale (kale)
  16. Kohlrabi
  17. Leek
  18. Lettuce
  19. Mache (corn salad)
  20. Mesclun
  21. Mizuna
  22. Mustard
  23. New Zealand spinach
  24. Ostrich fern*
  25. Parsnip
  26. Pea
  27. Potato
  28. Radish
  29. Rhubarb
  30. Rutabaga
  31. Salsify
  32. Sorrel
  33. Spinach
  34. Strawberry
  35. Swiss chard
  36. Turnip
  37. Watercress*

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Can You Grow Vegetables in Shade?

  1. joel o LeGrand

    Tomatoes also, they only need 6-8 hours of sun a day & in the hot peak summer we get 14 hours of HOT sun. dapper shade is good at that time of year.

  2. My garden is next to a space under a deck. It is frustrating to see all that empty space, but not be able to use it for anything.

  3. Great information that I also was wondering about. Thanks for this post.

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