Shady Vegetable Garden Plans


A few weeks ago I shared on our Facebook page that I was getting excited about ordering seeds for 2013. Our friend and CSA customer Joli Lorion-Fytczyk commented asking about what sorts of plants to grow in a shaded yard. What a wonderful question! She got me thinking about what types of things they could grow at home. If you have a heavily shaded yard, these tips could help you too.

So what can you grow in shade? Here are ten veggies that can grow in 3 to 6 hours of sun.

  1. Salad Greens (leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, and radicchio)
  2. Leafy Greens (collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale)
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Peas
  6. Beets
  7. Brussels Sprouts
  8. Radishes
  9. Swiss Chard
  10. Beans

After talking with Joli about factors that influence her garden space, I’ve put together a few Shaded Vegetable Garden Plans that with any luck (fingers crossed!) will bring her and her husband Josh some veggies this season. (Because they are also our CSA customers I tried to choose plants that we are either not growing at all or are growing in limited quantities. That way, they’ll get more variety out of their summer rather than heaping amounts of the same thing.) The varieties I selected were chosen either because they are especially shade-tolerant or because of their beautiful color. Here are some of the factors we discussed and that you should consider for your garden.

Grow What You Like

It’s pretty straight-forward – if you can’t wait to eat what’s in the garden, you’re more likely to put forth the effort to care for the plants cabbageand harvest the results.

Josh and Joli are veggie lovers. The only thing they don’t really care for is onions. That means any of the shade-tolerant plants listed above would be good choices in their garden.

Find Out How Much Sun You Actually Get

This is also simple but takes some planning. Even in a shaded yard you’re likely to get some sun during the day. Find a day (maybe a Saturday) where you’ll be able to observe the yard from morning to sunset. In the best case scenario, check the yard every hour and make a note of which areas are receiving sunlight. (If you can’t check every hour, try for every 2-3 hours.) This will help you to determine the best place for the garden and how many hours of sun that area is receiving during the day.

The Fytczyk’s estimate that they get about 5 hours of sun per day.

Try Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening is a simple system of gardening that can be done easily by beginners. In general, the concept involves intensive planting which means you can squeeze way more plants into a small space than you thought possible (without any detriment to the plants’ growth)! The method also uses raised beds which have several benefits. Raised beds are easier to tend (you don’t have to bend down so far), they can be filled with great gardening soil (so you can have a thriving garden even if your soil is crappy), they don’t get walked on so the soil doesn’t get compacted (compacted soil makes it harder for roots to get the nutrients, water, and air they need) and the fact that they are above ground means they warm faster in the spring than the earth does (you get an early start on the growing season).

Josh and Joli have an existing 8’ x 8’ raised garden bed. They also have a 4’ x 8’ bed that is mostly full of strawberries, rhubarb and herbs but there is a smidge of room left for something new. To make the garden more manageable, it would be good to consider altering the 8’ x 8’ bed to be two 3’ x 8’ beds with a 2’ path down the middle. This will eliminate the need to step into the bed to harvest; you can easily reach into either bed from the path. (See diagram at the bottom of the page.)

Woman holding soilDon’t Skimp on Soil

The key to great gardening (especially organic/natural gardening) is having great soil. The beauty of gardening with raised beds is that you can choose to fill your bed with whatever you’d like. Mel Brooks (creator of the Square Foot Gardening method) recommends the following soil recipe: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost. This mixture is designed to provide the nutrients your plants need, moisture control and a soil that has plenty of air pockets for root health. It’s important to use a variety of compost sources for your 1/3 compost including both plant-based and manure-based composts. Filling your bed with good soil can be relatively expensive and initially it might seem like you’re throwing money away on dirt. Resist the urge to feel like it’s a waste. Trust me – it will be worth it in the end!

The Fytczyk’s have filled their raised beds with basic gardening soil (10 years ago) and have added a little bit of potting soil here and there over the years. My thoughts on what they can do to improve their garden fertility are included in the final section (Setup a Neglect-Tolerant System) below.

Protect the Garden

Garden pests can ruin an otherwise well cared for garden and include things like bugs, rabbits, moles, raccoons, deer and even beloved pets. One way to help veggies stand up against critters is to give them an early start inside. Transplants will have a much better chance of bouncing back from critter-injury than a tender seedling. A low fence might also do the trick – even just a 1’ to 2’ decorative border similar to pictures below. For more thoughts on keeping dogs out of the garden, check out this post I wrote last summer about keeping our dogs out. For thoughts on keeping other pests out of the garden, click here.

Josh and Joli have a precious 11-year-old lab named Mera. (We love Mera!) According to Joli “things should be pretty tough.  As much as we try, Mera just can’t seem to stay out so things might get stepped on a couple times before she remembers to pick a new path.” I think it may help to add a decorative fence (even as low as 6 to 12 inches) to give Mera a visual cue that she should stay out of the garden area.

Garden Border 2 garden border garden border fence

Setup a Neglect-Tolerant System

A major reason why people don’t garden is because they dread “all the work” involved. But with an investment in up-front work and planning, you can minimize or eliminate much of the in-season work. Our friends are busy professionals who – just like the rest of us – have shifting priorities throughout the week. It’s just a fact of life that sometimes watering the garden falls lower on the priority list. There are ways to setup a neglect-tolerant garden, including:

  • Using hugelkultur (to address watering consistency)
  • Using a sprinkler or soaker hoses on a timer
  • Starting with weed-free soil and using mulch to minimize the need to weed
  • Growing plants that are able to thrive with limited care (seed packets and catalogs are a good source of information on this)
  • Starting with nutrient-rich compost so that you don’t have to fertilize

In addition, you shouldn’t grow more than you have time to harvest/cook. Why? Because that may make the garden feel overwhelming (“Ugh, I have to go out there and pick all those beans!”) and an overwhelming garden is often a neglected one.

Setting up a neglect-tolerant system encompasses the majority of my recommendations for Josh and Joli. I recommend:

  • Use hugelkultur. Remove the soil in the 8’ x 8’ raised bed and add a layer of fallen sticks to the bed. The layer should cover the ground but should leave enough depth so that there will still be approximately 6” of soil on top. Besides using up what would otherwise be yard waste, this hugelkultur method should do wonders to increase soil fertility and minimize the need for watering. For an even more dramatic water-reducing effect, you could dig a 1’ pit underneath the bed and fill it with small logs (the more rotten the better). To understand more about why this method can help reduce (or sometimes eliminate) the need to water, click here.
  • Add compost. After adding sticks/logs to the bed, put half of the soil back and replace the other half with a combination of manure-based and plant-based compost. (Leaf mould would also work well – this can be found by digging under the top layer of fallen leaves in a wooded area or by creating your own in the fall.) The addition of compost will add needed nutrients to the soil and should eliminate the need to fertilize. Also add a layer (½ to 1 inch thick) of compost to the top of the 4’ x 8’bed.
  • Reduce Weeds (And Weeding Time). Use mulch to reduce weeds. My favorite mulch is chopped fall leaves but those are kind of hard to come across in spring. Wood chips are another good choice. For more options, click here.
  • Water Smart. Use a timer like this one with a soaker hose. You can set the timer (no batteries needed) when you leave for work in the morning and the garden will be watered while you’re gone without wasting time or water. If the hugelkultur part of the system works well, you may not need to water at all.

Custom Garden Plan Design Arcadia Farms Inline Basket

Shaded Vegetable Garden Plans

Companion planting is an important part of natural growing. Because plants have either helpful or harmful relationships with each other it’s important to note that beans don’t necessarily play well with some of the other things in this garden. First, beets and chard (which are in the same plant family) are fine with bush beans but they are inhibited by pole or runner beans. Thus, the beans in this garden are bush beans. Second, plants in the brassicas family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale) have a similar dislike for pole or runner beans. For that reason, the garden is laid out to provide a safe distance between these plants.

Another thing to note is that in un-shaded areas, it may be too hot to grow these veggies all summer long. The beauty of a shaded garden is that you can keep these plants cool during July and August when those of us with super-sunny gardens have given up.

Here are all of the beautiful varieties chosen for this garden (click for more info). Keep scrolling for the actual garden plans!

Winter Density Lettuce Rossimo Lettuce Forellenschluss Lettuce Lolla Ross Lettuce Dragon Carrots Dragon Tongue Beans Violetta Italia Cauliflower Bloomsdale Spinach Romanesco Broccoli Detroit Dark Red Beets Rhubarb Red Swiss Chard Red Russian Kale Wild Rocket Arugula Red Acre Cabbage Rat's Tail

Salad Greens Garden

Of all shade-tolerant plants, leafy greens grow best in shade. This garden provides an array of greens (plus carrots and beans) for a tasty, beautiful salad. Radishes can be used traditionally for their roots, or they can be grown longer for their edible leaves and seed pods (which are crisp and less spicy than the roots).

For both the 8’ x 8’ plan (pictured below) and the plan with a 2’ path, as well as links to detailed information about each variety, click here.

8 x 8 Salad Greens

A Bit of Everything Garden

This garden trades some of the leafy greens (mainly lettuce) for veggies like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

For both the 8’ x 8’ plan and the plan with a 2’ path (pictured below), as well as links to detailed information about each variety, click here.

2' Path Everything

Want Your Own Custom Garden Plan?

What do you think? Would you like to try creating a vegetable garden in your shady yard? Or do you have other yard-complications that make it difficult to plan for growing your own veggies. If so, I’d love to help you! Leave a comment or send me an email with info on your situation and I’ll see what I can do.

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