With their myriad uses, herbs are a valuable addition to a garden. Herbs can be used for culinary purposes, to make potpourri or for their medicinal properties. In addition, as flowering plants, herbs often blend seamlessly with the other plants in an ornamental garden. Most herbs are easy to grow but, given the variation between species, naturally have different preferences.
General Light Requirements
Generally, herbs prefer to grow in full sun, with full sun defined as six or more hours of sun per day. Many will also tolerate partial-shade conditions. In partial-shade conditions, plants receive two to six hours of sunlight per day. Morning sunlight is always preferable to hotter, harsher evening sun. Herbs that thrive in full sun include chives, sorrel, cilantro/coriander, fennel, dill, basil, marjoram, oregano and sage.
Herbs That Thrive in Partial Shade
French tarragon and parsley grow well in partial-shade conditions. Some perennial herbs can be planted in containers and overwintered indoors, and some of these do well in partial shade. Rosemary and sweet bay are two tender perennials that, in areas with cold winters, should spend their winters indoors and their summers in partial shade.
Herbs That Thrive in Shade
Although the most familiar culinary herbs tend to prefer full sun or partial shade, some herbs thrive in the shade. These plants tend to be used for medicines or fragrance, although some culinary varieties are available. Sweet woodruff grows well in the shade. Sweet woodruff is a ground cover plant, the leaves of which can be used to make traditional May wine or dried for potpourri. Chervil and sweet cicely have culinary uses and prefer the shade. Mint and lemon balm are not particular about where they grow and will thrive equally in full sun or in the shade.
Tips for Growing Herbs in a Shady Yard
Although most herbs prefer to grow in full sun, if you have a shady yard, it does not mean that growing herbs will be impossible for you. Herbs grow very well in containers, so it's possible to take advantage of a sunny porch or spot in the yard that you're not quite willing to till up into a herb garden. Herbs also grow well in beds alongside ornamental plants, where their full foliage and colorful flowers often compliment an ornamental garden well. If you have a flower bed with adequate light, consider adding a few herbs.
Poor light conditions aren't the only consideration when choosing a location for your herbs. Just as too much sun can burn a shade-loving plant and a herb that prefers full sun can't get enough nutrients in the shade, locations that are prone to high winds and harsh, late-day sun may also stress your herbs and prevent them from thriving. Balance the need to provide optimum light conditions with the need to shelter herbs from damaging winds and weather.