Looking for fruits, herbs, and vegetables that grow in shade? In this article, you’ll find a detailed list of EDIBLE, shade-loving annual, biennial, and perennial plants, and the seasons in which they perform best.
If we could have a dollar for every time we’ve heard people say, “I don’t have a garden because my yard doesn’t get enough sun,” we’d have $47 in the bank. With that $47, we could buy more than enough edible garden plants that grow in shade to keep our fridge and pantry well-stocked with produce.
If your yard gets part to full shade, then it is true that you can’t grow some common fruits and veggies, such as large tomatoes and peppers. However, there are countless plants that are acclimated to thrive in full to part shade, and many of them are choice edibles.
What does full sun, part shade, and full shade mean?
First, let’s define some important garden terminology:
full sun = 6+ hours of full direct sunlight
part shade/part sun = 3-6 hours of full direct sunlight
full shade = less than 3 hours of full direct sunlight
These sunlight level distinctions are important to keep in mind when planning your garden. Putting a plant into more sun or less sun than it requires for optimal results will result in… suboptimal results or even dead plants.
Seasonal changes in sunlight exposure, microclimates, and more
How seasons impact sun exposure
It’s important for you to pay attention to how the sunlight levels change in your garden from season to season. For instance, we have areas of our garden back near our forest line that are part – full shade in the summer when the leaves on the trees are out.
However, from mid-fall through early spring when the trees don’t have leaves, those same areas are in full sun. During those months, we grow loads of winter annual veggies under low tunnels to protect them from the cold.
Another interesting phenomenon to work with is “microclimates.” Microclimates are specific spots where the growing conditions (sunlight, heat, water) are different than the overall growing conditions in your area.
For instance, a garden bed in front of a south-facing wall of your house that gets morning sun is going to be much warmer than a garden bed on the opposite north-facing side of your house where the morning sun is blocked. These spots represent different “microclimates.”
It’s also important to note that a part-shade spot in the summer might get as much solar exposure as a full sun winter spot. For instance, we’ve successfully grown cool-weather plants like turnips and beets under the shade of rows of summer corn despite the intense summer heat in our South Carolina climate.
The shade provided by the corn leaves kept the ground below much cooler, while the intense summer sun still provided enough light (even in shade) to allow the root crops to grow.
Annual, biennial, perennial
Three more important definitions to note before jumping into our detailed list of fruit, herbs, and vegetables that grow in shade:
annual = plants that lives for less than one year, often just a single growing season;
biennial = plants that take two years to complete their life cycle (usually growth during year 1, then flower/seed/death in year 2).
perennial = plants that lives for 2+ years.
Understanding a plant’s life cycle is very important when determining its placement in your garden. For instance, we mentioned how we used our knowledge of microclimates to get good production out of ANNUAL plants like beets and turnips grown in the shade of corn during the summer months.
This approach would likely not work well with PERENNIAL plants like a grape vine. If we put a grape vine in a spot that got full shade during the summer months, it might live for a while, but it wouldn’t thrive or synthesize enough energy from the sun to produce grapes.
EDIBLE GARDEN PLANTS THAT GROW IN SHADE
Below is a detailed list of fruits, herbs, and vegetables that grow in shade. We’ve grown the vast majority of the plants on this list (in part or full shade as noted), so we can attest to the fact that they don’t just eek out an existence when grown in shade, they actually perform quite well.
Given the tens of thousands of species of edible plants that grow around the world, there are sure to be shade plants we’ve left off this list.If you see one we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments section and we’ll add it to the list and give you credit!
FRUIT & BERRIES THAT GROW IN SHADE
American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Life cycle: perennial
Shade tolerance: Grows well as an understory tree in part shade, but will produce the most fruit with 6+ hours of sun.
Edible parts: fruit
Tastes like: American persimmons taste like sweet, delicious caramel candy AFTER they’ve been sweetened by frost/cold weather and turned mushy-soft. Otherwise the fruit can have a very unpleasant puckery effect in your mouth.
When to grow: Plant saplings in spring. On mature trees, fruit ripens and falls to the ground in fall.