How to Grow Vegetables With No Direct Sunlight


Most vegetables, particularly those with fruit such as tomatoes, squash and peppers, require full sun to grow to maturity. Without sun, they would not only grow poorly, but would never flower and set fruit. The vegetables suited to low-light conditions include lettuce, kale, mustard, chard and spinach, which are grown for leaves, not fruit. In fact, shade during the hottest part of the summer will keep them growing leaves instead of sending up flower stalks, which causes the leaves to become bitter.

Step 1

Choose a spot that gets as much light as possible, even if only indirect light from a white wall. Use a light meter to measure the amount of light, if you can. If the shade is caused by overhanging branches, thin the canopy by removing some of the smaller branches and twigs.

Step 2

Spread a 3- or 4-inch layer of organic matter (some possibilities include compost, steer manure, peat moss or rotted straw) over the ground. Use a shovel to mix the organic matter with the soil to a depth of at least a foot. The light, airy texture of the soil that results is as beneficial for the vegetables as the ability of the organic matter to hold water and nutrients, so be careful to walk on the bed as little as possible in the coming weeks.

Step 3

Rake the surface of the soil smooth and create furrows in the soil with the edge of your hand, pressing down slightly to compact the soil.

Step 4

Put your seeds in the furrow and cover with potting soil. Follow the directions on the package for spacing and depth.

Step 5

Water your seed bed and keep it moist until the seedlings emerge As the plants grow, allow the surface of the soil to dry to the touch but make sure that the ground never dries out below the top quarter inch. Once the small plants are several inches high, a thin mulch applied around them helps to keep the soil cool and moist. Bagged sterilized steer manure has a fine texture that is especially suitable for seedlings. Harvest the outer leaves as they become large enough to use and leave the center of the plant, the growing tip, to produce more leaves.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't fertilize your vegetable starts too much. The shade will cause the leaves to grow larger than normal anyway, and an application of fertilizer on seedlings may burn them. Wait to see if they need the fertilizer, then use a half-strength liquid product.

Things You'll Need

  • Leafy vegetable seeds
  • Organic matter (compost, steer manure, peat moss or rotted straw)
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Potting soil


  • National Gardening Association: Vegetables That Will Grow in Partial Shade
  • Garden Organic: Growing Vegetables in the Shade
  • VOA News: Art of Darkness---Growing Vegetables in the Shade
Keywords: vegetables shade, low light vegetables, leafy green vegetables

About this Author

Over the past 30 years, Mara Grey has sold plants in nurseries, designed gardens and volunteered as a Master Gardener. She is the author of "The Lazy Gardener" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Flower Gardening" and has a Bachelor of Science in botany.