Which Vegetables Grow Well Without a Lot of Sun?
Not all of us are blessed with a sunny gardening space! See a list of vegetables (and fruit) that will grow in partial shade, vegetables that will NOT grow in shade, and tips to make the most of the light available in your garden. Plus, see three examples of garden designs for a partial-shade vegetable garden.
Although fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash need at least 6 hours of full sun daily to give you a good harvest, most crops can “get by” with part sun or part shade (3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight).
Assessing Your Garden’s Light Levels
Before you even think about what to plant, make note of just how much sun your site actually receives; you might be surprised! There are different levels of shade and it will often change with the seasons. Here are the common terms associated with light levels in the garden:
- Full sun is considered to be 6–8 hours (or more) of direct sunlight per day. Peak sunlight hours are between 10 am and 2 pm.
- Partial sun is 3–6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Partial shade is about 3 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Full shade is less than 3 hours of sun and dappled light for the rest of the day.
- Light shade or dappled shade is bright sun filtered through the leaves of trees overhead.
- Deep shade gets no sun at all. You won’t be growing any vegetables here.
Once you have figured out how much sun you have to work with, you can get planning! Morning sun with afternoon shade is the best situation for many plants whether they are vegetables, annual flowers or perennials.
Which Types of Vegetables Do Well in Shade?
- Cole crops are tolerant of partial sun or partial shade. Broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, kale, and rutabagas will grow well with less than a full day of sun, but may take longer to mature. Cabbage will also grow in shade, but they may not form tight heads.
- Root crops such as radishes, carrots, potatoes, and beets can grow in as little as 3-4 hours of direct sun with light or dappled shade for the rest of the day.
- Leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy, and chard are happy with just a few hours of sunshine each day. In fact, keeping them out of midday sun can prevent their tender leaves from wilting.
- Climbing vegetables do well in areas that are shaded in the morning but sunny by afternoon. Cucumbers and pole beans will clamber up supports into the sunshine.
- Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes can be grown in partial sun or partial shade.
- Vegetables that are susceptible to bolting, like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, can benefit from being grown in partial sun, particularly in hotter climates.
- For areas that receive morning sun then afternoon shade, try vegetables such as celery, carrots, and bush beans.
Vegetable Growing Guides for Shade
Here is the list of our Growing Guides for shade-tolerant vegetables and herbs:
Fruit to Grow in Shade
- Sour (acid) cherries actually fare better in shady plots, as they don’t need the sun to sweeten them. Plus, they look very pretty when trained on a north-facing wall.
- Currants and gooseberries also grow and crop quite well in partial shade. Train them as cordons or as fans against a wall to ensure the branches are well spaced and that light can reach all parts of the plant.
- Cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries can also cope with some shade, but will fruit better in more sun.
- Rhubarb is another great crop for a shady spot.
- In terms of fruit trees, pears and plums are your best bet. Pears do need a few hours of sun, preferably in the afternoon. Plums are a great choice for a landscape that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Just remember, many varieties of pear and plum trees need a cross-pollinator to fruit, so you may need more than one tree.
- Wondering about strawberries? Alpine strawberries are much tougher than normal strawberries. Try a variety called ‘Alexandria’ for shade.
What NOT to Grow in Shade
Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and melons simply won’t grow without full sun. They need hot, sunny days in order to produce bountiful fruit.
Most fruit trees need LOTS of sun. Citrus, peach, nectarine, apple, and apricot trees all need direct sun and won’t thrive in shade.
6 Tips for Growing in Shade
- In all but the hottest climates, use the sunniest parts of the garden to start seeds in a seedbed or in pots or modules, then transplant them to another bed once they are larger and more able to cope with shade. Using grow lights indoors can give early-sown seedlings a boost.
- Reflect any available light into shadier parts of the garden by painting walls and fences white, or use mirrors and other reflective surfaces such as shiny metal or foil.
- Shadier corners are slower to warm up in spring and quicker to cool down in fall, so use cold frames or row covers to warm up the soil earlier and extend the growing season later on.
- Slugs and snails often lurk in shady areas, so use beer traps and delay laying mulches until the weather warms up.
- Leave plenty of space between plants to help maximize light penetration.
- You may not need to water as often when gardening in the shade, since less moisture evaporates. Do take care when gardening directly under trees, however. Their roots tend to compete for available water and nutrients and their leafy canopy will block some rainfall from reaching the ground.
3 Garden Plans for Partial Shade
The garden plans below are “partial shade,” so they will also have sun-loving plants in them. For example, the first plan has shade on the left where the leafy greens are, but the squash and tomatoes on the right will need full sun. Likewise, the third plan has shade at the top, but full sun elsewhere because corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes all like full sun.
After you review the examples below, enjoy hundreds more garden plans with a free 7-day trial of the Almanac Garden Planner here.
1. Partial Shade Garden Plan: Home Garden
2. Partial Shade Garden Plan: Traditional Rows
3. Small Garden Plan: Community Garden
For more free garden layouts, return to our main page of free garden plans.
Try the Almanac Garden Planner
The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner makes it simple to choose crops suitable for shadier spots. Click on the Custom Filter button, select the ‘Partial Shade Tolerant’ option and click ok. The selection bar will then display just those crops suitable for growing in these conditions. Easy!
Importantly, the Garden Planner will also calculate your local planting dates, calculate plant spacing, provide you with a printable planting calendar, and so much more!