The Best Vegetables That Grow in Shade (and Small Outdoor Spaces)
Growing your own food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But if you only have a small balcony, shady garden, or terrace that receives very few hours of sunlight, you might think having a vegetable garden is an impossible task. But if you opt for cool-season crops and vegetables that grow in shade, you’ll be well on your way to creating a thriving edible garden.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the essential elements needed to create a green corner, even in the not-so-sunny areas of your place. We’ll also explore some of the best veggies that thrive under very low-light conditions along with some valuable tips, so you can start growing the perfect veggie patch.
Shade Vegetables: Tips and Tricks to Grow Them Successfully
While most veggies grow best under full sun — tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, to name a few — certain varieties prefer the cooler conditions provided by partial shade.
These adaptable and tolerant vegetables are a perfect match for the shaded areas of your gardening location of choice. And you’ll probably be surprised to find out that their flavor and texture actually improve the lower the temperatures get.
They Don’t Need a Lot of Sun … But Still Need Some Sun
If you’re new to vegetable gardening, it’s worth mentioning that it’s nearly impossible to grow them in full shade — that is, without any hours of direct sunlight or reflected light during the day. While the veggies in our list below can be cultivated in shaded gardens, they still need at least two hours of direct sun to grow healthy and yield a bountiful harvest.
That said, growing shade-loving vegetables means you can easily extend your cool spring crop well through the summer growing season. This is especially rewarding if you love eating fresh salads regularly during the hotter months. (Who doesn’t?!) As it turns out, leafy greens, with their crispy texture and refreshing nature, thrive best in partial shade and sheltered from the intense sun.
A bonus of these veggies is that you can quickly grow them inside raised beds — like the durable, double-stitched, fabric raised garden bed from Back to the Roots. This type of gardening container can be moved around easily, so you can ensure your plants get their recommended dose of vitamin D.
While shade-tolerant veggies don’t require as much light as other sun-loving species, they still should bask in the sun for 4 to 6 hours optimally. If this isn’t possible, two hours of sun is the minimum to support plant growth.
Be Mindful When Watering
Unlike classic vegetable gardens — which thrive under full sun and require frequent watering — vegetables that grow in shade don’t suffer from extreme water evaporation issues. For that reason, it won’t need as much watering.
Water only when the soil feels dry. You can use the finger test method, which is done by sticking your finger about two inches deep into the soil. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water.
Adding organic mulch to cover the soil also helps conserve moisture and keeps your plants hydrated longer, which can be quite handy if you’re away from home often (or just tend to forget!).
Look Out for Hungry Bugs
Veteran gardeners agree: one of the most frustrating things about vegetables that grow in shade is annoying pests. If you’ve tried to grow lettuce and other leafy greens, you’re surely well-acquainted with finding tiny holes on your perfect collards or Swiss chard leaves.
Shady and cool areas are irresistible locations for both snails and slugs, which will not shy away from nibbling your precious veggies. For this reason, check the leaves carefully and regularly and remove any invaders.
A natural and easy way to keep them at bay is by crushing eggshells and sprinkling them around the plants, creating a protective border against these little crawlers.
The Most Delicious Vegetables That Grow in Shade
When you start designing your garden layout and decide which seeds or seedlings to buy, keep in mind that the estimated growing and maturation times found at the back of the seed packages may vary. To be more precise, plants that thrive in sunlight but can also be grown in the shade will take longer to develop due to the non-optimal growing conditions.
Nevertheless, don’t let this deter you from growing a shade veggie garden. Many species in this list prefer cool temperatures, which prevent them from bolting and going to seed too quickly.
Looking at the shaded areas of your balcony, terrace, or patio as an opportunity and not a challenge is the first step to successfully starting a shade-loving garden.
This slightly spicy and peppery leafy green is a tasty addition to neutral-flavored salads. It can also be transformed into a pesto-like sauce that goes great with pasta and bruschettas. Arugula is a cool-weather veggie that thrives best in full sun but also flourishes in a shady spot.
You can start seeds indoors in early spring and late fall or sow directly outdoors as long as temperatures are not too hot. Arugula appreciates some partial shade or dappled sunlight, which is when the light is filtered through tree leaves.
Also known as pak choy and pok choi, bok choy is a delicious Chinese cabbage often used in classic Asian stir-fries.
This cool-season veggie benefits from partial shade, especially when temperatures start to rise. By placing your bok choy in a shaded area, you’ll help prevent the plant from going to seed too quickly and thus have a longer growing season. You can sow seeds in spring and fall.
You may not be the biggest fan of Brussels sprouts, but these tiny, cute veggies are undoubtedly one of the coolest-looking plants you can grow in your shade garden.
If you decide to cultivate Brussels sprouts, keep in mind that they are a long-season crop — this means you sow the seeds in spring to harvest in fall. This is one of those veggies that actually tastes better after being exposed to some light frost, so don’t be afraid to keep them outdoors.
If you wish to prolong their growing season, place them in a corner with some light shade to prevent them from becoming bitter and developing a flimsy texture that may not taste so good.
Beans are pretty easy to grow and are perfect for container gardening, which is why many balcony gardeners cultivate them. While bush beans — shorter and fuller varieties — are great for small spaces, they thrive best in full sun, so opting for vining types (like kidney, pinto, and navy beans) might be a better idea.
These climbing beans are better at tolerating cooler temperatures and can grow vigorously under partial sun conditions, especially if they have a trellis or another structure to support their upwards growth.
In the last couple of years, it seems like no matter where you look, there’s something kale-related around every corner: kale chips, kale crackers, and even kale cookies.
While kale is considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, it’s also one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed foods in the U.S. when grown conventionally. You can avoid these unwanted chemicals and save money on pricey organic versions by growing your own with Back to the Roots certified-organic kale seeds.
This veggie is a dream come true to shade gardeners as it’s very tolerant to cold temperatures — it’s a great spring and fall crop. Make sure you place your baby kale in a shady spot, as warm weather can cause its leaves to become tough and quite bitter.
With a milder and sweeter flavor than onion and garlic — their plant cousins — leeks are super versatile and bring loads of flavor to any dish, including soups, risottos, frittatas, and so many more culinary concoctions.
Like scallions, leeks are great for container gardening as they bloom upright, without requiring a lot of space. They also grow well in both full sun and partial shade. Just keep in mind that leeks won’t grow as big in shadowy corners as they would under long sun exposure, but they’ll still be equally delicious.
As you stroll through your local Walmart or Home Depot garden center looking for gardening inspiration, you may come across a veggie or two that you don’t know and wonder if it would be a good fit for your shade garden. So here’s a pro tip: If it’s a root crop, chances are high that it will do well in not-so-sunny areas.
Root vegetables are best sowed directly into the container’s soil, where they’ll grow until it’s time for harvesting. Cool temperatures achieved by shaded gardens tend to make them sweeter and more tender, but their roots will also grow smaller than if the plants had access to longer hours of sun exposure.
Some good examples of root veggies that love shady patios include:
Together with root vegetables, salad greens are among the best vegetables that grow in shade. They come in all shapes and sizes and — given the right conditions — can have very long growing seasons.
Too much sun can cause salad greens to divert nutrients to seed production — instead of leaf growth — and turns these veggies overly bitter. As such, they’ll be very thankful to be placed in a cool area of your terrace instead of being subjected to long hours under the sun.
One of the best things about salad greens is that they grow fast. What’s more, if you collect the outer leaves and don’t bother the root, they’ll just keep on producing, so you’ll have fresh salad leaves all the time!
The easiest varieties to cultivate include:
Growing Vegetables In Shade: A Worthwhile Adventure
After reading this article, you may begin looking at that shady corner in your small patio as a superpower instead of a weakness. When you choose the right veggies, you can quickly start harvesting fresh produce and even prolong the growing season of certain species that would otherwise go to seed abruptly.
To learn more about growing vegetables with low-light conditions, check out our guide about starting an indoor vegetable garden.