Can You Grow Edible Shade Gardens?

Of course! While the plants in shade gardens might be different from those normally grown in full sun, there are many edible plants that love shade (and a few that require it!).

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Happy strawberry plants in a shade garden

When grown in desert gardens or locations with extreme heat and sun, many plants will do better in the shade than in full sun (lettuce and tomatoes, for example).

Looking at the plant's native habitat can give clues to how best to treat it. For example, a plant that's native to a forest or jungle habitat will prefer shade.

This can also give clues as to whether the plant needs a lot of water (jungle plant) or whether it would do better in a dry area (forest plant).

Shade garden plants

Full shade:

  • Alpine strawberries -- nice ground cover
  • Blackberries (and all the other bramble berries) -- good for along walls or fences in deep shade, can be invasive
  • Chameleon (Houttuynia cordata)
  • Fuchsia -- deep shade to dappled shade tall shrub or small understory tree, edible fruit, wide differences in fruit flavor depending on species so taste before buying if you can
  • Giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia)
  • Hostas -- young leaves taste best, wide differences in flavor, taste before buying if you can
  • Mint -- great for shady areas where nothing else will grow, can be invasive
  • Mushrooms -- get spores from a known edible mushroom supplier to be safe
  • Red shiso (Perilla frutescens)
  • Serviceberries
  • Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) -- young leaves only
  • Wasabi (Wasabia japonica or Eutrema japonica)
  • Wild ginger (Asarum canadense, A. caudatum) -- Only the roots are edible. There is controversy about the use of this plant as it contains Aristolochic acid, which is toxic. Use in moderation, and never use in recipes with alcohol or vinegar.

Since I keep getting emails about wild ginger, I have included my sources below:

Wild Ginger: Delicious or Deadly?

Wild Ginger (Steve Brill)

Wild Ginger (Eat The Weeds)

Asarum canadense (Plants For A Future)

Asarum caudatum (Plants For A Future)

Partial shade (dappled or bright indirect light):

  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Beta vulgaris varieties (beets, chard)
  • Blackberries (and all the other bramble berries) -- good for along walls or fences, can be invasive
  • Black currants
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bush beans - may have lower yields
  • Cannas
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery - especially in areas with hot dry summers
  • Chameleon (Houttuynia cordata)
  • Chives
  • Cooking greens (collards, mustard greens, kale, pak choi)
  • Cucumbers
  • Elderberry
  • Fiddlehead ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
  • Garlic
  • Giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia)
  • Gooseberry
  • Grapes
  • Horseradish (particularly good when planted under fruit trees because it repels fruit tree pests)
  • Linden (Tilia cordata)
  • Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
  • Musk mallow (Malva moschata)
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Peppers (take longer to ripen)
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Ramps/Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum)
  • Raspberry
  • Red shiso (Perilla frutescens)
  • Rhubarb
  • Roses (particularly Rosa rugosa, which has several shade tolerant varieties)
  • Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, endive, cress, raddicchio)
  • Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
  • Spicebush/Appalachian allspice (Lindera benzoin)
  • Spinach - especially in areas with hot dry summers
  • Strawberry (fruit may be smaller and not as brightly colored)
  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
  • Swiss chard
  • Taro
  • Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium) -- bulb good cooked, petals eaten raw or cooked. Do not eat pollen: may cause nausea/vomiting
  • Tomatoes (take longer to ripen, cherry tomatoes do best)
  • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Also, most herbs can be grown in partial shade.

Planning your shade garden design

Decide what sort of shade garden you want to make.

Do you want a:

  • perennial shade garden,
  • an edible garden with only flowering shade plants,
  • or perhaps you need some vines to cover a wall?

Once you have determined what you need, then you can start choosing the right shade plants to fit your needs.

There are several categories of shade depending on who you talk to, but basically you can divide it into:

  1. full shade (the sun never hits the plant directly) and
  2. partial shade (you get sun actually hitting the plant for some of the day).

The higher your latitude, the more hours of sun you will likely need for partial shade plants to do well.

To test whether a plant will do okay in your level of shade, put the potted plant in the spot where you want it, but don't set it into the ground yet.

Wait a couple of weeks -- if the plant becomes spindly, starts bending towards the light, or in any other way seems unhappy, move it somewhere else.

Can you spot the plants that need more light?

Here are some tips to making the most of your shade garden:

  • For best results, plant on the south side of trees/houses (or north side in the southern hemisphere).
  • Make sure that shorter plants are closer to any light source than taller plants are. This will let your plants catch every bit of light they can.
  • Shiny, light-colored, and reflective garden ornaments will increase the level of light that gets to your garden.
  • If you can, put shade plants in front of a light-colored wall or urn to reflect light back on to your garden.

Would you like to talk more about your gardens with people who love edible landscaping as much as you do? Join the Tasteful Landscape community!

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