Don’t let the common misconception that vegetable crops can only be grown in full sun stop you from making use of those shady spots in your garden.
Although it’s true that some crops (like tomatoes and peppers) need lots of sun, others plants will be perfectly happy growing in relatively shady conditions.
Do A Light Study
The first step in making full use of your growing area is to understand its light patterns.
Pick a sunny day and conduct a light study by monitoring the light in your garden every hour or so over the course of the day. Draw a sketch of your garden and note the hour that the sun first reaches and leaves the various portions of your growing area.
Keep in mind that these light patterns will change with the seasons, so conduct additional studies in the fall and spring.
Once you’ve conducted your light study, determine whether each section of your garden receives:
- full sun (six or more hours of direct-sun daily)
- partial shade (three to six hours of direct sun daily)
- full shade (less than three hours of direct sun daily)
Select Your Shade-Tolerant Crops
Unfortunately, fruiting crops require full sun to thrive, so you won’t be able to grow tomatoes or melons in the shady corners of your garden.
Don’t despair, though. There are plenty of annuals and perennials that grow well in partially shady conditions.
When it comes to annual vegetable crops, many leafy greens and root crops thrive in partially shady conditions. Kale, spinach, arugula and swiss chard can all be grown in partially shady conditions. So can beets, carrots, radishes and turnips.
Many perennial berries also grow in partially shady conditions, including blueberries, blackberries and currants. Look up the particular light requirements of each crop before planting it though, to make sure that the plot receives adequate sunlight.
Use Shade to Your Advantage
Partial shade can also be advantageous if you use it to your advantage.
For instance, you can plant crops that won’t thrive in full sun at the height of the summer in the shade of a deciduous tree. Then, once the tree loses its leaves in the fall the crops will get more mild, direct-sun exposure for the rest of the season.
Similarly, in the early spring you can make use of the areas in your garden not yet shaded in by leaves. If you get them in the ground early enough, many cool-weather crops (like radishes or turnips) will grow quickly enough to reach maturity before the leaves come out.
Know What to Expect
Finally, it’s important to know what to expect when growing crops in partial shade.
Generally speaking, many crops will grow somewhat slower in shade than they will in direct sun, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Additionally, water will behave somewhat differently in shaded parts of your garden. Rainwater may not reach portions of your garden shaded out by trees as much as it does open areas, for instance.
On the other hand, the soil in partially shaded areas tends to retain more moisture than portions of the garden in full sun.