You want to grow a vegetable garden, but unfortunately all you have is partial shade, or even worse–full shade. Don’t despair. While you can’t grow everything you might want to, there are lots of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that do well in shade. In fact, I’ve made a list with pictures of 30 edible plants that grow in the shade.
Realistic Expectations for Growing Edible Plants in Shade
Just because a fruit or vegetable is shade tolerant, doesn’t mean that it will grow exactly the same as it would in full sun. Expect your plants to grow slower and produce less of a harvest.
If possible, you can get a bit more sun by trimming trees or removing them altogether. If the area is by a fence, you could always paint it white to help reflect the light, or even set up a mirror if you have a large one.
That said, here are some options for shade tolerant fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
Fruits that Grow in Shade
There are a surprising amount of fruits that will grow well in the shade. In fact, there are at least 10 that I didn’t list, because I live in zone 2/zone 3 in Canada, and I don’t like listing plants that I have no hope of ever growing. Wherever you are, I recommend buying any fruit bushes or trees at a local greenhouse, and asking the staff if the variety you want to buy can be grown in partial shade.
Don’t try and ask the staff at a big box store. Chances are very high that they will not know.
P.S. There’s a surprising amount of fruit you can grow in zone 2 and zone 3. Click here for 28 fruits you can grow!
Blueberries fall into two categories: high bush and low bush. Choose the low bush varieties and make sure that your soil is on the acidic side.
Chokecherries are very hardy and can even be grown in zone 1. If you’ve never tried one before, they are very astringent and don’t taste good raw. They are delicious in jams, jellies, and juices when you add a lot of sugar.
Raspberry canes have a spreading habit once established. Be a kind neighbour and offer to pull out any canes that stray over the fence line. Fruit does not grow on first year canes, so you will not get any fruit the very first year.
Rhubarb is a very hardy fruit. The stalks are delicious, but the leaves are poisonous.
Canadians know these berries as Saskatoon berries, but Americans will likely know them as Serviceberries or Juneberries. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious!!
I’m a wee bit obsessed with Saskatoon berries, and have a lot of recipes on this blog. Click here for a list of all my best Saskatoon berry recipes!
Vegetables that Grow in Partial Shade
What vegetables do well in shade? The ones that like cool weather and tend to be quick growing. In general, most leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are able to tolerate partial shade.
Arugula is one of the quickest growing crops you can grow, with only 20 days to maturity!
Asian Greens: Bok Choi, Pack Choi, etc.
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, and you can’t harvest anything until the 3rd year. Once the plant is established, it will provide you with fresh spinach every spring without any effort.
Beans prefer full sun, but if you’re okay with slower growth and a smaller harvest, you can grow delicious bush beans.
Most root crops are also good candidates for growing in partial shade. Get your seeds in the garden as early as possible, as they will need the whole season to get as large as possible.
In some cases broccoli actual does better in partial shade, as the cooler temperatures the shade provides means its slower to bolt.
Do you struggle with bugs in your broccoli? Here’s how to keep them out! The same trick will also work for cabbage or any other cruciferous vegetable.
Celery is not a quick growing vegetable. It’s best to start celery 8 to 10 weeks before you intend to plant them outdoors.
Collards are very similar in texture to kale and are quick and easy to grow. They’re not every popular in North American diets, but they should be!
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There are so many varieties of kale to chose from, ranging from the darkest green, to blue/green, to tinged with pinks and purples. Sneak some into your flowerbeds for something that is both pretty and practical.
Kohlrabi is super useful, as it can be ready in as little as 45 days, and both the leaves and roots are edible.
Peas are one of the less-shade-loving-slower-growing-options on this list, but they will still work. Just plant more than you usually would to account for the vines being less productive.
Radishes add a nice peppery hit to your salads. Don’t plant too many though–16 or so radishes in enough for one week. Plant a new crop every week or two while its cool for radishes all season.
My favourite variety hands down is Bloomsdale. It’s the only one that I actually get to harvest before it bolts.
Swiss Chard comes in so many pretty colours. My favourites are Bright Lights and Giant Fordhook.
Turnips are another vegetable in which both the leaves and roots are edible. I like the Purple globe variety because it’s both pretty and tasty.
Can You Grow Vegetables in Full Shade?
If you have an area that receives no sunlight whatsoever all day (example–the front of a North facing house, a walkway between houses that is constantly shaded) you can’t grow any vegetables well except for possibly Asian Greens. Many of the leafy green vegetables can be grown with as little as 2-3 hours of light a day, but the growth will be slow.
Partial shade, with about 4-5 hours a day of light, or even a full day of dappled shade underneath a deciduous tree is your best bet for growing shade-loving vegetables.
Shade Tolerant Herbs
All those vegetables would taste better with a couple of fresh herbs! Although most herbs are heat and sun loving, there are 5 herbs that tolerate the shade.
My favourite kind of basil Sweet Basil, but I also like to grow a few other purple tinged varieties to use as greens in flower arrangements too.
Keep your mint in a pot instead of growing it in the ground, as it has a spreading habit that you might not appreciate.
Which of these shade tolerant vegetables, fruits, and herbs will you grow? If you need more ideas for plants that love the shade, here’s 17 perennials that grow in zone 3, and 22 of my favourite shade annuals.
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.