Growing vegetables in shade

Question ...

I have an area of garden very near to a wild cherry and a couple of small apple trees, with the trees to the South. Are there any vegetable crops that would be suitable to be grown in their shade? They only seem to be in full leaf by late April, so there is a bit of direct light early in the year for growing early crops. What do you suggest?

Answer ...

Few vegetables will grow well with less than 4 hours sun. However, you can try the following:

  • Growing early vegetables such as spring cabbage, winter lettuce and broad beans (Aquadulce) is one solution. Sow in early autumn so they are well established by early spring.
  • Try growing some shade tolerant vegetables like beetroot, calabrese, kale, kohl rabi, Little Gem lettuce. Also radish, spinach and herbs - chives, mint and parsley are all shade tolerant.
  • Fruit such as raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberry and rhubarb are plants of the woodland edge and will thrive in this environment.
  • You could try other strategies to improve the growing conditions such as increasing the light levels by careful pruning of trees.
  • Improve the soil too as tree roots remove a lot nutrients and water. Work in plenty of well rotted organic matter at a rate of one wheelbarrow/5sq m.
  • Starting seeds in modules will get them off to an early start with an established root system.

I hope this list gives you some hope. As with most things in gardening, experiment and see what does well in your situation.

Garden Organic members can see our expert factsheets for further advice on organic gardening. Access to factsheets requires a members' password.