What Are The Best Vegetable Plants To Grow In the Shade? Are There Any that Prefer Shade? This Article Answers Your Shade & Vegetable Questions.

Social media and allotments are full of questions about the best vegetable plants to grow in the shade. The answer depends on what we mean by shade. Most vegetables grown in the UK prefer plenty of sunlight. Very few prefer shade. There’s a simple reason for this. For plants to grow they have to photosynthesis and photosynthesis is powered by sunlight. The less sunlight there is the less photosynthesis there is and the slower the plant grows. That also means potentially smaller the plant grows and few gardeners want small plants to harvest. They want plants that are big enough to eat!

How Much Shade is Too Much Shade For Vegetables?

It’s hard to be categoric about this except to say that in most cases the more sun the better. But a rule of thumb might be to say that most vegetable plants need at least six hours good sunshine a day if they are to grow well. Of course in winter we get much less daylight and achieving this figure is hard. It’s one of the reasons why plants grow slower in winter. Another is the cold, and less sunshine also means it is colder, both air and soil temperature.

I’m often told by gardeners that crops such as lettuce prefer the shade. I disagree. As a commercial grower I grew around half a million lettuce a year and I know from experience that they more sunlight they had the better. They grew faster. They were less likely to bolt. They grew bigger. They were healthier and suffered fewer pests and diseases.

I had one greenhouse that was partly shaded by a hedge. It was a big greenhouse and held 12,000 lettuce at a time. Crops in the front of this greenhouse matured a week before the ones in the shade. The few rows closest the hedge, where the shade was worse, often got binned as they didn’t mature into saleable crops. Sadly I didn’t own the hedge so couldn’t cut it back to allow more light. When the greenhouse was built the hedge wasn’t there .. no commercial grower would knowingly build a greenhouse in the shade of a hedge.

Of course many readers of this article aren’t commercial growers and don’t depend on the crops for a living. But I use the commercial example to demonstrate how bad shade affects crops. 12,000 lettuce should, in theory, have produced 1000 boxes of lettuce. Most greenhouses of this size would produce around 998-9 boxes. This one regularly produced 820 boxes! The rest just weren’t good enough to sell.

Growing Vegetables In A Shady Garden

If your garden is shady don’t despair. There are crops you can grow. They just won’t yield quite as well. And if it is very shady they will also get drawn (etiolated).

But being drawn isn’t critical if you are growing veg such as peas for pea shoots. They tend to be a bit straggly but will still taste good. In fact any leafy crop will produce something edible. So go for things like lettuce where you can stripe leaves off the stem rather than harvest the while plant. Think about herbs such as coriander, parsley, sage, thyme etc. They prefer bright sunlight but will tolerate a bit of shade and and we tend not to harvest vast amounts from sage and thyme.

The other thought is to grow plants in containers that can be moved. Some areas are shady at certain times of the year and sunnier at others. So move the containers to the best place at a given time of year. My heavy containers are relatively easy to move with a sack truck.

Are There Any Shade Loving Vegetables?

Yes, just a few few. Crops such as wasabi actually prefer shade. It’s an exception.

Out of interest I’ve just Googled “Vegetables that grow in full shade uk”. I was offered lots of pages about veg that would tolerate some shade …. but NOT ONE that actually suggested veg that PREFER shade.

The reason is simple. There aren’t any popular veg that prefer shade.

More on Best Vegetable Plants To Grow In the Shade Below 

Do Food Forest Plants Prefer Shade?

Yes. By definition food forest plants prefer or tolerate some degree of shade. But most grow best in forest glades rather than deep forest or woodland. And none of them are the vegetable plants we find being grown in abundance in gardens and allotments.

Best Vegetable Plants To Grow In the Shade; Growing in polytunnels
Best Vegetable Plants To Grow In the Shade; Growing in polytunnels

Doesn’t Shade Keep Temperatures Down?

Yes. In extreme conditions shading does reduce temperature. However, many crops are very tolerant of high temperatures and take them in their stride. They relish warmth and sunlight.

Under glass it can of course get hotter than outside. The glass traps the temperature and my fully vented large greenhouses often approached 90F / 32C. That was fine, but if it went much higher then growth would slow down and I had to try to lower the temperature. The easiest was was to use water. Sampling down the pathways between tomato rows could drop the temperature a lot very quickly. Spraying water on crops such as lettuce was not an option however. Put cold water on a hot lettuce leaf and the temperature drop will damage the leaf structure. It’s not due to the myth I often hear about the drops of water acting as magnifying glasses .. that is just a myth. It’s because of the rapid cooling damaging the plant cells.

The way to cool a lettuce crop is to irrigate it early in the morning. The moisture under the plant then slowly evaporates and cools the sir around the plant. The greenhouse can have an air temperature of 100F but around the plant it can be appreciably cooler.

We never shaded our greenhouses or tunnels. The plants needed the light and there were better ways to control temperature.

What Can I Do With A Shady Part Of The Garden?

Don’t condemn a shady area in the garden. They can be a blessing.

Shady garden – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_shady_garden_south_of_St_Edmund%27s_churchyard_-geograph.org.uk-_1930972.jpg

In really hot weather they ar somewhere to sit and keep cool.

You can also use shady areas for garden storage. Or a place to locate your compost bins. Or somewhere to put water storage tanks. Shady areas are valuable in a garden.

And if you keep poultry, rabbits, goats or other livestock a shady area is often ideal for their living quarters. They like a bit off shade as much as we do in very hot weather. Just make sure they have access to a bit if sun as well, living in the shade all theme isn’t great.

What Other Gardeners Recommend For Shade

In an article written in 2019 Gardeners’ World recommended the following as the best vegetable crops for shade.

  • Swiss chard.
  • Brassicas.
  • Beetroot.
  • Salad leaves.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Radishes.
  • Carrots.
  • Leeks.
  • Broad beans

As they didn’t really define what the meant by shade I didn’t find the article much use.  I suspect most gardeners will have questions about how much shade was being referred to. Hence my suggestion that at least 6 hours sunshine was needed by most plants.

My Veg Growing & Shade Conclusions

Plants need light to grow.

Too much shade inhibits growth and should be avoided.

Veg plants prefer good light.

Use shady spots for storage etc, keep veg in as much light as you can.

Tag: Best Vegetable Plants To Grow In the Shade

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Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_shady_garden_south_of_St_Edmund%27s_churchyard_-geograph.org.uk-_1930972.jpg

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