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Garden Advice: Shade Vegetables

This summer I'm planning to plant our first vegetable garden at this house. It is the first year in a long time when I won't be spending a significant part of the planting or growing season out of the country and where I don't have an infant to care for. I'm hoping to get the kids involved in helping too and look forward to eating food from our own garden. The only thing I've planted here in the past is mixed lettuce in planters. But I'm getting prepared. I have a copy of The Canadian Edible Garden that I got for Christmas and we're going out to buy seeds sometime soon. My hope is that between our garden, our weekly organic Community Supported Agriculture basket, and visits to the farmer's market, that maybe I won't have to buy vegetables from the grocery store all summer long (I don't think I'll get away with it entirely for fruit though).

But I have a question for the experienced Canadian (or Northern US) gardeners out there. We unfortunately do not have a space to put our garden that gets a lot of a sun. I can do a few planters in sunny spaces, but the main garden will be in an area that gets only a couple of hours of sun each day. So, I'm wondering which vegetables tend to grow well in shady spaces in the Canadian climate. Any suggestions?

Image credit: wwworks on flickr

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Reader Comments (23)

I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with plants for your area, but I just wanted to say how wonderful it is that your planning a garden! I missed a few seasons, too, because of pregnancy and caring for a newborn, but this year, my son will be about 18 months, and he will be able to play in the garden with us. I've been dreaming of that specific moment since I was a small child gardening with my parents. I can't wait! I hope you enjoy yours immensely. Happy harvesting!


I don't know your zone, but we're in zone 6... so we likely have a longer growing season than you... so you'll want to start your seedlings inside, and transplant.

We're in a condo, but are blessed with a fenced yard (yay, I can keep out the pesticide crew), so last year we container gardened in the back. We also made a garden plot out by the woods in the "common area", but because the grass here is so heavily pesticided, we only planted non-edibles out there. If you're interested, http://www.kellynaturally.com/post/Container-Vegetable-Gardening.aspx

We receive about 3 - 4 hours of direct sunlight in the back yard, and were able to successfully grow cherry tomatos and spearmint in containers. Less successfully, we grew bush cucumbers and strawberries in containers.

More than the sun issue for us seemed to be the pollination. With heavy pesticides & not many flowers (people don't tend to flower or vegetable garden in condos), there are not many bees. Our plants all grew well, green, lush, and flowered profusely, but due to lack of pollination, other than the tomatoes, our "garden" only produced a few fruits.

This year we ARE going to try the cherry tomatoes & bush cukes again, as well as the spearmint. We'll also try more shade-loving crops like , lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and peas. I'm going to plant more flowering plants out back this year as well to attract bees (my flowering perennial beds are mostly out front).

Veggies that will tolerate shade:
lettuces, chard, spinach, parsley, beans, peas, brussles sprouts, radish, onions, celery, cress, kale, and herbs! The tomatoes that I bought were specially designed for container gardening, and did really well - you can always ripen tomatoes on your windowsill too. :)

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

I live in Montana, zone 4b. I bet you could get away with brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc), lettuce, carrots, arugula and chard. Try black plastic mulch to warm things up for plants that need a little more warmth.

Try to make use of any micro-climates there might be in your yard. For instance, when I lived in town, I had a pretty crappy spot for a garden, but grew the earliest tomatoes I ever produced, despite it being my first year gardening. The reason they did so well was because they were right up against a south-facing, dark red wall. It got seriously hot there and they loved it! Good luck!

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I just had an article published in Mother Earth News on this exact topic! Based on my experience and that of other gardeners I interviewed for the article, here's what you can easily grow with 3 - 4 hours of sun:
Bush beans
Mustard, pak choi (bok choy), arugula -- just about any green
Herbs such as mint, lemon balm, chives, garlic chives

You might get slightly smaller yields of things like peas and beans than you would if you grew in full sun, but it's better than not growing them at all :-)

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen Vanderlinden

I came over to give you the exact advice you've already gotten. Generally the larger the fruit the more sun you need, with beets being a surprise success in a shady spot in my backyard in Toronto.

I love the variety that you can get growing your own produce and my experience is that kids do to. Yellow carrots are my daughter's favourite and who can resist a sweet striped beet? Ok, my nephews can, but they are strict followers of the beige diet. Lemon Basil is called fruit loops basil by our friend's daughter who has eaten a whole plant's worth right in my garden.

I'm just stopping by to let you know that I'd like to send you some seeds. It can be a thank you gift for your great co sleeping posts that I share with new moms all the time:) I'm thinking rainbow chard, a mix of beets, some herb, some greens.

I'll tweet at you in a second. I am trying to nurse circus toddler while I type.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I don't have any gardening advice but I wanted to say how cool this is for kids. Some of my earliest and best memories are of my grandfather and his wonderful gardens, and working in the greenhouse with several members of my extended family. I plant snowpeas and radishes in the fall (Southern California climate) with my daughter just to have the experience for her. Didn't get very many but she adored the experience.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersblairc

Oh fun, I am growing my first serious garden this year, too! I was just looking at the yards an hour or so ago, pondering where to put it. Thanks for asking this!

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanigirl

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Thank you everyone for the advice. Looks like we are on the border between zone 4a and 4b where we live.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Here in Toronto, I'm in zone or 5 or 6 and have had success growing peas, beans, salad greens, and beets in a pretty shady location. Cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes didn't do so well in the same area. My mom, who lives further north, has had success with spinach, broccoli and kale in similar conditions.

Perhaps some of the farmers from your CSA might have suggestions for your area and growing situation...

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

yay gardening! i just wanted to suggest that you check out http://www.myfolia.com" rel="nofollow">folia. it's a great interactive gardening resource and garden-tracking site. (i'm not getting anything from them for plugging it--the site has just helped me so much in my gardening.) folia is run by a couple in the UK, but there are gardeners on the site from all over the world (mostly anglophone countries) and you can always find someone to help you with questions like the one in this post.

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermaria

Did you know that you can help the plants polling the same way bees would? I have a friend who does it every summer. I think you use a toothpick.

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I grew basil in a couple of plastic pots on a somewhat shady apartment balcony in the upper midwest quite successfully a couple years ago-we had more than we could use for the two of us (this was pre-baby) even though we used it fairly often in spaghetti and quiche and baked chicken, so that might be a good herb to try! Good luck!

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I've noticed that what "zone" you fall into seems to depend on (a) the source and (b) your exact location and the conditions of your particular yard. Different catalogues and different magazines describe Ottawa as Zone 4 or Zone 5a. My mom had a devil of a time trying to keep things alive (and uneaten by the deer!) in her rural garden on an exposed and windy site - but I've been able to overwinter things in my very sheltered riverside city backyard that are only borderline hardy in Zone 5. So it's worth experimenting.

I don't have much experience with veggies, but I gather that results vary from year to year as well...cool and rainy is good for lettuce crops and beets, I understand, but not so good for tomatoes. I've also heard that it's particularly important to pay attention to the quality of your soil (add lots of compost/organic matter) because they are generally heavy feeders.

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

You could also straw-bale gardening - I first ran across this fantastic idea in a gardening magazine - good way to take advantage of a paved but sunny corner. The magazine further suggested arranging bales in a hollow square such that you could fill the middle with soil and grow root crops like potatoes and carrots.


February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

I looked at a very detailed map. We're on the outskirts of Ottawa and I found our location on the online map of zones.

February 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

The results definitely vary from year to year. Rule of thumb seems to be that too much of anything is bad. You'll want to make sure your soil is good. The city used to sell cheap compost that I found was great. It was made of yard waste though and I believe that's all been diverted to green bins to make up the shortage due to over optimistic guesses on green bin use so that might not be an option anymore. But Ottawa soil is generally very poor from what I understand. I've had bad luck with peas in the mostly shade but beans do really well. The big problem with peas? Squirrels! Earwigs, ants and slugs also real pests in my garden (but I'm in the Glebe)

February 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Just tripped over a great post about shade vegetables from an Ottawa based gardening blog that I really like. Thought of you and decided to share: http://veggiepatchreimagined.blogspot.com/2008/12/vegetables-for-shade.html

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Thank you!

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Tender herbs do well in weaker sunshine. I had a terrible time with my dill, cilantro, etc cooking last summer because it was just SO hot.

I really like "The Bountiful Container" by McGee and Stucky as a gardening guide. Tons of info on container veggies that can also be applied to plants in the ground. And I like container stuff because you can move them around to get more or less sun depending on the weather.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

You'll have an easier time of it near Ottawa than I do out here in Calgary (zone 3 with cold nights). In my small yard I grow tomatoes (try Tumblers in hanging baskets), pole beans, peas, beets, celery, summer squash and a whole variety of herbs in (big) containers on my sunny deck..check out Lee Valley for self-watering planters that make the job much more fun. I used to start everything from seed but with a toddler in tow, there's no shame in hitting Canadian Tire for seedlings! Leafy greens like lettuce and spinach do well in the shade, especially in the hot months. Don't bother with peas and beans in the shade this far north (no matter what Mother Earth News says...read your article, Colleen, it was otherwise great) -- I've tried it -- for years -- and the teeny tiny crop is just not worth the effort.

I get more compliments on my container garden since I switched to mostly growing vegetables than I ever did when it was all flowers. Now the flowers are limited to a few strategically located petunias to keep my little one -- and me -- smiling.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrances

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December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVaughn

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