Would you like to start a kitchen garden but have a shady garden plot? Don’t worry. Even if your garden is in a shaded area, you can still grow lots of delicious fresh vegetables in your backyard even without full sun. You already know that growing some of your food is good for the environment, health, and bank account.

The problem is that many home gardens only get a few hours of sunlight. However, with a little research and planning, even plots of land that get only a few hours of sunlight a day can produce an abundance of fresh produce. Some leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, celery and cabbage thrive in shaded areas. But that’s not all. Various root crops such as leeks, beets, turnips, and even potatoes do well in shaded vegetable gardens.

Is Shade a Problem for Growing Vegetables?

Shade can be a challenge or a blessing for gardeners who want to establish a kitchen garden. It isn’t easy to grow certain root vegetables and fruits in the shade. Many plants depend on flower production and sugar production to form a root system or produce healthy fruit. These are processes that depend on plentiful sunlight, which is why fruit-bearing plants like root vegetables like carrots and tomatoes need full sun. Fortunately, some vegetables do better in shadier areas. Generally, leafier plants are ideal for shaded kitchen gardens.

Degrees of Shade and Vegetable Gardens

It is also essential to consider the type of shady area you have in mind. With very little direct or reflected sunlight, a shaded area will probably not be the best location for a vegetable plot. However, different levels of shade (like that found under a majestic leafy tree) or areas that get just a few hours of sun a day can be the right places to grow vegetables. Under full shade conditions, even shade-tolerant vegetables could be difficult to grow.

Before you start your vegetable garden, consider the following:

  • Is your kitchen garden lightly shaded? – If you have a lightly shaded growing area, you should have success with root and leafy crops.
  • Is your vegetable garden partially shaded? – In a partially shaded vegetable garden, you could successfully grow a variety of fruiting crops.
  • Is your garden deeply shaded? – If you have a deeply shaded garden, it will perform poorly or not at all as a kitchen garden.

Make Friends With Your Shady Spaces

To make the most of a shady garden area, try to work with the shade rather than against it. We know now that shady sites are not ideal for root and fruit growth and are much better suited for growing plants with large or plentiful leaves. So, focus on leafy green vegetables when planning your garden layout, and you’ll have a much better harvest from your sun-scarce garden bed.

Don’t despair, ‘leafy green’ doesn’t only mean lettuce – and if you’ve just got the plain old iceberg type in mind, think again. There are so many different kinds of lettuce. You could create a diverse garden space full of different tastes, textures, and colors by focusing on salad greens. If you’re looking to grow your own gourmet salad, here are some tasty shade-friendly greens to try:

  • Green or red leaf lettuce – Lettuce you grow in the shade is best harvested in the baby stage.
  • Endive – It is tolerant of shade.
  • Kale – A nutritious yet highly shade-tolerant leafy vegetable you will love.
  • Carrots – The carrots you grow in the shade will be smaller but delicious and tender.
  • Beets – Expect small but tender beets in your shaded backyard areas. It needs at least four hours of sun per day.
  • Arugula – While there are some shade-tolerant vegetables for your kitchen garden, arugula loves the shade.
  • Radish – A fast-growing shade-tolerant veggie that you could harvest as fast as in 30-days.
  • Spinach – It only requires about four hours of sun each day.
  • Mesclun mix – This crop is ideal for the shady vegetable garden.
  • Mustard greens – Dwarf and bush varieties need about three hours of sun each day.

Once you’ve chosen your perfect home-grown salad ingredients, you can add some of these other leafy favorites to your shady vegetable patch:

  • Leeks – They will grow smaller in the shade than in a sunny home garden.
  • Asparagus – It will tolerate shade, but it should really get about 8-hours of sunlight per day.
  • Chard – You can have fresh Swiss chard in your kitchen garden all summer long.
  • Rhubarb – It will tolerate light shade.
  • Bok choy – This vegetable grows best in shaded areas.

Although most people think of a dry, sun-baked area as the ideal place to grow herbs, some types will tolerate shadier areas. Some great herbs to try in a shady spot include:

  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Lemon balm
  • Rosemary

Some Vegetables Won’t Thrive in the shade

Finally, even though there is a good range of vegetables that will grow in a shady area, it’s wise to remember that fruiting vegetables won’t flourish without a full day of sun. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you eat the fruit or the root, it will likely need a sunny spot to grow. This means that you should save vegetables like tomatoes, peas, squash, carrots, and beets for a more sunlit garden patch. However, if you don’t have a lot of full sun vegetable garden, even setting a container or two of patio tomato plants on a sunny balcony, sidewalk or patio can yield enough tomatoes to compliment your shade-happy salad mix.