How to Grow Vegetables in the Shade


Most instructions for growing vegetables specify "full sun" as a necessary element, but there are ways to bend this rule. Some vegetables are less fussy about sun; others, especially cool weather vegetables, may grow well in winter under trees that have lost their leaves. In general, vegetables whose leaves we eat, such as chard and lettuce, do better in shady areas than those with edible fruit, like tomatoes and squash. Here's how to grow a shady vegetable patch.

Growing Food With Less Light

Step 1

Measure the amount of shade your plants will receive, or at least make a good guess. Full sun is defined as six to eight hours of sunlight per day, but southern areas have stronger light than northern ones, so you could certainly get by with six. Two to five hours would be classified as partial shade. Full shade would be less than two.

Step 2

Lay out your garden bed as you would for any vegetable patch, loosening the soil, adding compost, leaf mold or peat moss as well as lime and bone meal. The better the soil, the healthier and more vigorous your plants will be.

Step 3

Plant a variety of vegetables, choosing the easy ones for shade. Include leafy greens like Chinese cabbage, arugula, lettuce, green onions and herbs such as parsley and chives, and, if you have two to five hours of sun, add some of the ones that are a bit of a risk, just to experiment. These could include broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, peas and beans. And don't forget that beets give excellent greens as well as roots. Arrange your vegetables to take advantage of whatever sunlight you get, planting leafy ones closer to a wall and sun lovers farther away where they will get more light.

Step 4

Fertilize regularly with 5-10-10 fertilizer according to the directions on the package. The phosphorous and potassium (the last two numbers) in this mixture will promote strong stems, flowers and fruit, balancing the inclination of the plant to put out long leafy growth to take advantage of every bit of light. Of course, with lettuce this is an advantage!

Step 5

As fall nears and the light weakens, replace your trial sun lovers with chard and other hardy greens for winter salads and stir-fries.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't attempt heat loving vegetables such as tomatoes, corn or eggplant in a shaded area unless you have a west wall to reflect heat or a long, hot growing season.

Things You'll Need

  • Vegetables seeds or plants
  • Compost, leaf mold or peat moss
  • Lime
  • Bone meal
  • 5-10-10 fertilizer


  • Colorado State University Extension: Vegetables For The Shady Garden
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Gardening In The Shade
Keywords: vegetables for shade, vegetables for partial shade, shade tolerant 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.