Often shady areas of gardens are avoided as unacceptable for growing vegetable crops, but some crops actually love the shade. Usually, it's the green leafy vegetables used in salads that are most shade-tolerant. Shade-loving vegetable plants are some of earliest, as well as some of the latest, plants to be harvested.
Shade-loving leafy green vegetables include lettuce, mustard greens, kale, collards and turnip greens. Pac choi is also classed as a leafy green vegetable, although it's the plant's stems that are eaten, rather than its leaves. Collards, mustard, kale, pac choi and turnips are all shade-tolerant, green leafy vegetables that can also take cooler temperatures. After milder winters, kale can resprout from its stems in spring.
Planting and Harvesting Times
When planted in early spring, shade-tolerant vegetables can be enjoyed in the hot days of summer. Shade-loving plants planted in mid-to-late summer can grow well in fall, when temperatures are cooler, and fill in the gaps after summer vegetable plants have already been harvested. Spinach is a leafy vegetable that you can plant in mid-September and let overwinter, to be harvested in early spring.
Green leafy vegetable plants are shade-loving, but they still can't grow in total shade. "Light or filtered shade" can mean that plants spend 2 to 3 three hours during daylight hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) without receiving direct sunlight, notes Linda Steber of Texas A & M University. It can also mean a light pattern of shade all the time, or shading through young trees. Partial shade means 4 to 5 hours without direct sunlight or a dappled pattern of sunlight through trees, received throughout the day.
Shade-tolerant vegetable plants usually do best when planted in somewhat fertile soil that's well-drained, although there are some exceptions. Adding organic matter such as compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure can benefit heavy clay and sandy soils. These organic materials are especially beneficial in areas where there are hard and compacted soils.
Vegetable plants grown in shady spots can suffer from insufficient irrigation. Because structures such as the overhang of a house or a large tree can serve as thick canopies, shaded plants can be blocked from receiving water. To add to the problem, shrubs and trees that shade plants can compete for moisture. Watering plants regularly can help the situation, even during periods of sufficient rainfall.