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How to Grow Low Light Vegetables

lettuce texture image by AGphotographer from

Most veggies, especially warm-season crops, require lots of sunshine. There are a few cool-season vegetables that will grow in the shade ,as long as it's not dense shade. The only vegetables that will grow in dense shade are rhubarb and mushrooms. If your only planting area is shady, take advantage of dappled shade under high-limbed trees. Plant early crops under deciduous trees that haven't leafed out yet. Otherwise, don't fight nature, only select vegetables with lower light requirements and you'll have a successful gardening experience.


Dig the shaded vegetable garden to loosen the soil. Add soil amendments such as compost and organic matter. Work in the amendments by turning the soil over with a shovel. Rake smooth.

Start plants from seeds. Pre-soaking the seeds with warm--not hot--water for up to 24 hours gives them a head start on germinating. Tiny seeds, such as lettuce, may be placed on a wet paper towel and placed in a zipper-top plastic bag.

Plant the seeds by cutting the paper towel into sections that have two or three seeds each. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Pat down the soil and water well with a light spray so the seeds aren't dislodged.

Fertilize according to package directions if the veggies are shaded by a tree. The tree competes with the vegetables for food and water. Fertilize half as often if the shade is from a fence or building. The vegetables are growing more slowly than they would in full sun, so they don't need as much food.

Supplement rainfall with watering if necessary. Check the soil once a week if it's dry water until the top 6 inches are wet. If the soil is moist, wait to water.

Crop Selection

Select leafy greens and lettuces. These plants will grow more slowly in shade than in sunlight but they will grow. Greens may be harvested in the immature stage as well. Choose spinach, kale, mustard greens or chard. 'Bright Lights' chard is pretty and will provide color in a shaded corner. The dark green leaves are oval with prominent veins. 'Bright Lights' has red, yellow and white stems and veining in the leaves, but tastes just like plain green chard.

Grow lettuces that are loose-leafed rather than those with compact heads. Head lettuce includes iceberg and romaine types. Loose-leaf lettuces include mesclun mixes, oak leaf, red oak leaf varieties and 'Buttercrunch.' Harvest when leaves are a few inches long by cutting them with scissors.

Plant radishes. They grow well without a lot of sun. Radishes come in very spicy, rather mild, red and ball shaped, red and white and long, all white, purple and white and icicle shaped. Plant the seeds directly in the ground. They sprout within a few days and are ready for harvest in less than a month.

Stay away from other root vegetables. You might think that because the edible part, the root, is underground and away from the sun, they would grow well in the shade. They don't. As the plant's stems and leaves grow, the roots grow. If the stems and leaves slow down their growth, the root does as well. Being in the shade slows the growth down. The roots may never get big enough to harvest.


Transplants from the nursery are used to being in sun light and won't take well to the shade. Edible mushrooms, while grown in deep shade, take a special kit to get going. It is possible to grow mushrooms in a garden but they take longer to get started than other vegetables.


While warm-season vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, appreciate late-afternoon shade from the hot summer sun they won't produce if they're in the shade all the time.

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