Shade-Tolerant Edible Plants

Written by jackie carroll | 13/05/2017
Shade-Tolerant Edible Plants
Lettuce comes in a variety of leaf shapes and colours. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Edible plants that tolerate shade help gardeners make use of garden space that might otherwise be wasted. Many of these shade-tolerant edibles are attractive enough to plant in shade borders alongside ornamental plants. Plant heat-intolerant edibles that are normally grown in spring in a location with afternoon shade to extend the season. Traditional vegetables and herbs that tolerate shade may produce a smaller crop in shade.

Jerusalem Artichoke

Shade-Tolerant Edible Plants
Jerusalem artichoke belongs to the sunflower family. (topinambour image by Claudio Calcagno from

Jerusalem artichokes need plenty of room. The plants grow up to 10 feet tall with a similar spread. They produce edible tubers that are easy to harvest because they are just beneath the soil surface. Butterflies love the bright yellow flowers, which also make excellent cut flowers. The plants prefer a loose, well-drained soil and perform equally well in full sun or partial shade. Plants die back when killed by frost, so leave a few chokes in the ground after harvest to sprout the following spring. In areas with cold winters, add a thick layer of mulch for protection over winter. Jerusalem artichokes spread aggressively.

Leafy Greens

Shade-Tolerant Edible Plants
Ruby chard has deep red stems. (ruby chard image by hazel proudlove from

Leafy greens such as lettuces, chards and spinach need full sun when planted in early spring, but summer crops need shade, especially during the hottest part of the day. The plants come in shades of yellow, red and green and leaf shapes vary from large and lush to dainty and finely cut. Mix them into shady borders where they will provide interesting foliage to rival any ornamental plants. Cut the outer leaves as they are needed.


Shade-Tolerant Edible Plants
Once the flowers fade, the seeds begin to mature. (dill image by Tina Stumpp from

Dill grows 2 to 3 feet tall and features light, feathery, needle-like foliage. Harvest dill all season until the yellow flowers bloom at the top of the plants. At this point, the leaves lose their flavour. The tan seeds ripen after the flowers fade. Try to provide at least six hours of sunlight per day, with shade in the afternoon. Dill needs a well-drained soil and a location sheltered from strong winds that can easily knock down the hollow-stemmed plants.


Beets tolerate partial shade, and they even appreciate it in hot climates. Very high temperatures tend to make the leaves bitter and the roots woody. The dark-green leaves are ornamental as well as tasty. The roots come in red, yellow and white, and they vary in shape as well. Round types are most common, but flat and cylindrical types are just as tasty. Beets need a well-drained, loamy soil.


The different varieties of mint offer a wide diversity of fragrances and flavours. Two varieties most people are familiar with are spearmint and peppermint. Both plants grow about 3 feet tall and produce dainty flowers in summer. Seed catalogues offer other varieties of mint such as chocolate mint, apple mint and orange mint. The names are descriptive of the flavours and fragrances. Mint is an invasive perennial that should be grown in containers or contained with edging sunk 14 inches into the ground. Mint needs a fertile, humus soil.

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