Fruits and Vegetables That Grow in the Shade
Though most vegetable plants require full sun (6+ hours a day) to produce the fresh foods we love, some vegetables and fruits can grow in partial shade. Many are plants grown for edible parts that don't require sun to produce flowers and fruit, such as leafy greens and root crops. And nearly all prefer cool weather.
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Among vegetables, leafy greens are the most tolerant of shade, including kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula and chard. Related to both beets and spinach, Swiss chard tastes a little like both and is fairly easy to grow. Look for varieties in beautiful shades of red, yellow and pink, and pair this veggie with cool-season blooms like pansies in both beds and containers.
A tried-and-true favorite that's experienced recent popularity, kale is prolific in cool seasons and in shadier areas of the garden. Varieties run the gamut from green to purple, curly to smooth. Harvest leaves when young for the best flavor and often for an extended harvest.
For More: Garden to Table: Kale
Broccoli is a member of the Brassica family, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. All Brassicas can take a little shade. Plant broccoli in spring and fall and harvest the heads when the buds are still tight. Sunlight and time will cause the buds to open up as the plant tries to flower.
For More: Garden to Table: Broccoli
Like other Brassicas, cauliflower doesn't mind some shade, and in fact, the heads need shade to stay white. The process is called blanching, and while some varieties are self-blanching, most require help from the gardener. Blanching involves tying the outer leaves over the developing head—when it’s roughly 2 to 3 inches across—to block sunlight.
For More: Garden to Table: Cauliflower
King of the Brassicas, cabbage grows well in a little shade, particularly in warmer regions. This Chinese cabbage variety has an elongated shape and succulent leaves. Looser-headed varieties like Chinese cabbage may grow better in shade, as lack of light can cause solid-headed cabbage varieties to grow too loosely, not forming proper heads.
Many people are surprised to learn how Brussels sprouts grow like tiny cabbages along a central stalk. This purple variety offers additional surprise with vibrant color. Brussels sprouts grow best in cooler climates and don't do well in warm weather. To grow them successfully in warmer areas, it's best to plant early in an area that will receive some shade.
For More: Garden to Table: Brussels Sprouts
In addition to leafy greens and Brassicas, most root crops grow well in shadier spots, including beets, carrots, turnips and radishes. Beets are ready to harvest when half or more of the root pops out of the soil. In addition to the beet root, beet greens are also edible and taste much like their cousin, chard.
For More: Garden to Table: Beets
Similarly, radishes grow well in shady areas and are really a wonder crop: easy to plant, fast to germinate and nearly foolproof as long as soil and moisture conditions are adequate. Experiment with different varieties beyond the classic red radish, as radishes come in many shapes, sizes and colors.
Carrots, too, tolerate shade. Harvest this easy-to-grow root veggie when the tops pop out of the soil. Like beets, carrot greens are edible.
For More: Garden to Table: Carrots
Turnips are part of the Brassica family like cabbage, and they're grown both for their root and their greens, depending on the variety. Whether grown for turnip greens or turnip roots, this plant tolerates some shade.
For More: Garden to Table: Turnips
This member of the onion plant family grows best in cooler weather with some shade. In addition to being a wonderful culinary crop, leeks are known to be good companions for carrots because they can repel pests that feed on carrots.
Also known as "broad beans," fava beans grow well early in the spring season and like a little shade, especially in warmer climates. They can also be planted in fall and grown through the winter for an early spring harvest. The beans are labor intensive after harvest, as they must first be removed from the outer pod, and then each bean removed from its own shell or skin.
A perennial vegetable, rhubarb is best known in colder climates where it thrives; rhubarb doesn't grow well in warmer areas. Grown only for its edible stalks, the leaves of rhubarb are actually toxic. Though it will grow with shade, this plant will develop more of its pretty red color in full sun.
Celery takes a long time to grow, up to 180 days from seed to harvest, and it prefers cooler weather, so it's not ideal for all climates. But it does grow well in a little shade. To get celery to be a lighter green and sweeter, growers blanch stalks by shielding them from sunlight, similar to how they blanch cauliflower.
In addition to vegetables, many berry plants will grow fairly well in partial shade, including blackberry, raspberry, gooseberry and currant. This dwarf blackberry variety is well-suited to growing in containers alongside ornamentals.
Alpine strawberry varieties tolerate shade better than most strawberry plants, which prefer full sun. Also known as woodland strawberries, these next-to-wild varieties are prized for their small fruit and concentrated, sweet flavor.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, many well-known herbs will grow well in partial shade, including thyme, parsley, cilantro, chives, tarragon, oregano and more.
For More: 25 Herbs That Grow in the Shade