Top 10 Vegetables That Grow Well in Shade

Harvest your own vegetables even in spotty sunshine.

Shade-friendly vegetables are a must for backyard gardeners who struggle with the light needs of other, more needier veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, or cucumbers. If you have a garden that gets more shade than sun, any one of these shade-friendly vegetables is a great choice. With each veggie pick, we’ve included how many hours of light it needs per day, so you can pick the right shade-friendly vegetable for your garden. (Read more: Top 10 Herbs to Grow)

Easy Ways to Give Your Plants More Light

1. See if branches are casting shade over your food garden. If so, get an arborist to thin the overhanging trees.

2. Paint nearby sheds, garages, or fences white to reflect light back to your plants.

3. Grow your edibles in portable containers or ones with wheels so you can move the crops to sunnier spots in your yard as needed.

4. Place light-colored flat stepping-stones between your rows to reflect light and absorb heat, which encourages faster growth.

For even more veggie garden tips and advice, check out Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun by Niki Jabbour. The book is chockfull of suggestions for trying new-to-you garden vegetables and includes growing information for each plant suggestion. Order a copy online or wherever books are sold.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

1. Lettuce

Light needs: 4 hours per day

Lettuce is fast and easy to grow, and it can be seeded as soon as the garden is ready in early spring. In shade, stick to loose-leaf varieties, such as Green Salad Bowl and Black Seeded Simpson, that are ready to pick just four to five weeks from seeding. Avoid heading types of lettuce, which take longer to mature when there
is less light.

Why we love it: Low on space? No problem! Loose-leaf lettuce thrives in pots, planters and window boxes for weeks of fresh salads.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

2. Spinach

Light needs: 4 hours per day

Spinach grows best in the cool weather of spring and fall, thriving in little sunlight. In fact, growing it in the shade prolongs the harvest by delaying bolting, especially in warm regions. For a solid harvest, try Space, a smooth-leaf type with great disease resistance, or the classic heirloom variety Bloomsdale Long Standing, with deep green, crinkled leaves.

Why we love it: Popeye was right—spinach is good for you! It’s packed with vitamins and can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s a rich source of vitamins A and K, plus folate, manganese, magnesium and iron, and includes flavonoids that can help fight certain cancers. It also adds variety to your homemade salads. Win-win!

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

3. Bush Beans

Light needs: 6 hours per day

Homegrown snap beans are a tasty summer treat and do well even in shady spaces. Sow seeds in beds or pots after the last expected spring frost, planting more seed every two to three weeks for months of tender pods. Early maturing bush varieties include Capitano, which yields buttery yellow beans, and Mascotte, an award winner that sets a heavy crop of slender green pods and is great for containers.

Why we love it: Bush beans are simple to grow and an ideal choice for a children’s vegetable garden.

photo credit: enrevanche/Pixabay

4. Scallions

Light needs: 4 to 6 hours per day

Also called bunching onions, scallions are a nonbulbing onion with narrow, upright foliage and a mild onion flavor. Start seeds indoors under grow lights, or direct-seed in the garden in early spring. Water regularly, as scallions have shallow root systems. Begin to harvest when the shoots are
about 6 inches tall.

Why we love it: With their upright, narrow growth, you can harvest a lot of scallions from a small space.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

5. Hakurei Turnips

Light needs: 4 to 6 hours per day

A farmers market favorite, Hakurei turnips are also easily grown in a home garden and ready to pull 40 days after seeding. For a nonstop supply of gourmet turnips, sow more seed every few weeks from spring through autumn. Begin to harvest when the roots are 1-11/2 inches across.

Why we love it: These turnips offer a double harvest; smooth, crisp roots and nutrient-filled, tender greens.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

6. Arugula

Light needs: 2 to 3 hours per day

Jazz up your homegrown salads with peppery leaves of arugula. Extremely fast-growing, this cold-weather veggie is tolerant of low light conditions, especially when grown during the warmer months of summer. Harvest often to encourage heavy leaf production.

Why we love it: The delicate white blooms of arugula are also edible; sprinkle them on salads, stir-fries, pizzas and other dishes before serving. Besides the typical super nutrients, arugula (like all green veggies) contains chlorophyll, which can help ease inflammation.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

7. Spring Radishes

Light needs: 4 to 6 hours per day

Going from seed to harvest in just three weeks, spring radishes are perhaps the fastest-growing vegetable. They’re perfect for both children and those new to gardening, and there are many colorful varieties like Easter Egg, Roxanne and Amethyst.

Why we love it: All parts of the radish plant are edible—from root to leaf to seedpod.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

8. Kale

Light needs: 4 hours per day

Growing your own kale is an easy way to add more of this superfood to your diet. It grows well in partial shade, and can be planted in containers or garden beds. For the quickest crop in shade, stick to varieties with smooth leaves, like Red Russian. These types  are fast-growing and quick to mature.

Why we love it: Harvest kale as a baby green just one month from seeding for a super tender salad.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

9. Herbs (pictured: Chives)

Light needs: 3 to 4 hours per day

Many herbs tolerate shade, growing happily with just a few hours of light each day. Chives (pictured here) produce beautiful blooms and beloved kitchen herbs. Stick to leafy herbs like cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, chives and mint. Avoid heat-loving herbs such as basil, thyme and rosemary, which grow best when planted in full sun.

Why we love it: Growing your own fresh herbs saves you money at the grocery store.

photo credit: Niki Jabbour

10. Swiss Chard

Light needs: 4 hours per day

Swiss chard was made for the shade. With its large, dark green leaves and colorful stems and veins, it does well in vegetable gardens, flower borders and containers. For sheer production, you can’t beat Fordhook Giant, the classic variety with white stems. But don’t overlook the showy colors of Bright Lights and Peppermint, which are almost too pretty to eat!

Why we love it: Enjoy baby Swiss chard as a salad green or as a cooked vegetable.

Niki Jabbour
Niki Jabbour is the best-selling author of three books, including Veggie Garden Remix and the Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.