Photo Credit: LowJumpingFrog
A Slice of Shade: Edible Plants for Partial Shade
by Guest Blogger, Jay Harris
If your yard enjoys a healthy tree cover or your garden is contained to a portion of the patio, you may feel limited when it comes to plantings. Narrow it down to edible choices, and the selection seems to dwindle even more. That’s where keeping shade tolerant plants in mind will really help.
But with a bit of smart prep and a hearty helping of nutrients, there are plenty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can tolerate a taste of shade. A good rule of green thumb: culinary crops that yield stems, leaves, and buds generally do well in partial shade, while those grown for fruits and roots usually require lots of sun.
Below, I’ve dished up a smorgasbord of options for growing your own food without a full serving of the sun. If you choose shade tolerant varieties, you are bound to do better. But first, make sure you have the right ingredients:
1. In gardening, “shade” is a cloudy concept. It can mean light shade, filtered shade, partial shade, or full shade. Note just how much shade your planting space does have — while the items on the list below will produce a harvest in partial shade, many will fail to thrive without a lick of sun.
2. Provide your garden with as much light as possible by trimming low-hanging branches on neighboring trees, using reflective mulches to bounce light towards your plants, and creating bright and light-colored surfaces (think fences and walls) nearby to reflect the sun’s rays.
3. Feed your plants well by giving them ample water and plenty of loose, fertile soil. If your garden will coexist with mature trees, consider establishing raised and lined beds to prevent tree roots from stealing water and nutrients from your crops.
Shade Loving Herbs
Herbs raised in the shade will usually grow tall while reaching for the sun, so be sure to pinch back the foliage to keep them compact and encourage new growth. With too much sun, herbs can actually become nearly invasive with their amazing growth. Use new leaves for cooking, as the older ones can be bitter and tough.
• Lemon balm: Ideal for teas, salads (both fruit and veggie), and fish dishes, lemon balm spreads naturally and requires only a couple hours of direct sunlight daily.
• Italian flat-leaf parsley: This strongly flavored biennial works well in containers and prefers partial shade in hotter climes.
• Garlic chives: Lovely as a garnish for soups, salads, poultry, fish, and pork, chives do well in light shade but need to be cut back frequently to boost new leaf growth.
• Mint: Available in a variety of fragrances, mint makes a nice addition to teas, salads, and baked goods. But beware: this invasive herb should be grown in a container to keep it from taking over.
• Also try anise hyssop, shiso, wild ginger, spicebush, and sweet woodruff.
Shade Tolerant Vegetables
While popular go-tos such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash need to bask in the sun’s glory, many leafy greens prefer the protection from the heat of the day that partial shade provides.
• Lettuce, Asian greens, mesclun, arugula, chard, kale, mustard greens, endive, and spinach: Cooking and salad greens usually wither away in full sun, but in shady conditions that offer ambient light, they can be harvested multiple times during the growing season (just leave the roots intact). Use any of these (or mix them up) as a salad base.
• Broccoli and cauliflower: These cool-season crops from the cabbage family work well in spring, and heat-tolerant varieties can be planted for summer. Like the lettuces above, broccoli can be cut back more than once.
• Beans: While the output of these typically high-yield plants will be diminished when grown in shade, they do not require full sun to produce delicious results. Choose a bush bean variety, and it also won’t require upright supports.
• Radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, and sweet potatoes: While root vegetables certainly prefer full sun, if your garden gets at least half a day of sunlight, you can give them a growing try. Just remember, when raised in partial shade, these veggies mature more slowly, so wait a bit longer than usual to harvest.
Fruits That Grow in Shady Spots
Several fruit varieties can be grown in partial shade, and though somewhat shade tolerant,keep in mind that they won’t be as fruitful as when grown in full sun.
• Strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries: Many berries, especially those that grow on vines or brambles, can withstand light shade. Plant them in an area where they can spread, or limit their reach inside a container.
• Blueberries: If you live in a hotter region (like the South), Southern Highbush, which can be damaged when exposed to high heat, may benefit from partial shade that protects them from the heat of the midday sun. Lowbush blueberries do better in the northern half of the country.
• Also try lingonberries, mulberries, elderberries, gooseberries, and juneberries.
Do you have a yard or garden with less-than-ideal sunlight? What plants do you find are shade tolerant, and which ones have struggled?
Jay Harris is a Chicago-area sales associate at Home Depot. Jay writes often for Home Depot’s blog, where his outdoor project interests include providing hedge trimmer tips to homeowners and writing about the latest in zero turn mowers and riding lawn mowers.
This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. See more edible offerings on Kelly the Kitchen Kop.