Struggling with a shady patch in your edibles garden? Here are five edibles you can grow in the shade that can survive without much sun.
With more and more of us living in apartments, or urban sections shaded by neighbouring developments, many of us want edibles we can grow in the shade.
Understanding the impacts of shade on edibles is important if you want good yields from your garden.
All plants require sunlight in one form or another in order to photosythensise and create their own food.
Some plants, however, will tolerate a lot less than others. This can be because of their natural ecological niche as an understory plant. Or it can be because they are so hardy they will have a crack at growing just about anywhere.
Permaculture invites us to view our garden as an ecosystem with many levels. If we look at a forest we see many different species filling different ecological niches.
Large long-lived trees grow tall to reach for the sun. Fast growing “pioneer species” pop up when one of these long-lived species falls down. More prostrate species creep along the ground or up trunks with their large leaves angling to catch any ray of sun.
Looking through this lens we can find many plants that will tolerate, or even love, the ecological niche of living in the shade.
Shade can make growing tricky – many plants will straight up not grow without full sunlight. But adjusting your planting dreams to accommodate shade-loving plants will make your life easier. The plants listed below all require some sun. But all will either tolerate partial shade during the day, or enjoy the dappled sunlight found beneath a sun-drenched canopy.
Whether you garden on a balcony, in a crate or in the ground, thinking of your garden as a multi-level ecosystem will help!
Top five edibles to grow in the shade
There is a reason berries are known as “fruits of the forest”. Because that’s where many of them evolved! Alpine strawberries are a great groundcover that evolved in the wild forests of Europe. They love to spread beneath an established canopy and catch any stray rays of dappled sunlight.
Blueberries will tolerate partial shade (and even delight in it over hot summers), while raspberries and other cane berries will all tolerate semi-shaded situations.
While most berries will require ample sunlight in order to ripen, many are suitable for pots if you have limited sunlight. You can keep them in a shadier spot during their growing seasons and move them into the sun when fruit ripening is nigh.
Many herbs will thrive with only the smallest amounts of sunlight. Parsley, mint, tarragon, dill, coriander and Vietnamese mint are all suitable shade tolerant species.
For rapacious species like mint a little shade can help to keep them under control, while for those that can tend to bolt in the sun (like coriander and dill) shade will help to lengthen their growing season.
Another plant close to it’s origins in the wild is rocket, or aragula. A versatile green, rocket harvests over a long period, self seeds readily and is one of those hardy species that will grow almost anywhere. Shade is vital to stop it bolting in the heat, but it will tolerate semi-shade year-round.
Plants that ramble across the ground are great choices for a shady spot. They will usually find their own sun and can create a fabulous green mulch in the dappled sunlight under canopy trees.
Warrigal greens will thrive in full sun, however, they are a handy species to use in an understory situation too. When grown in shade we find they tend to have larger leaves (maximising their sun harvesting potential) which also makes them better eating. They’re also very hardy, and will give growing anywhere a crack.
Nasturtiums are another rambling plant that has a host of uses in the permaculture garden. They will seek out their own sun with their lilypad-like leaves. With edible flowers, leaves and seeds that can be made into a tasty pickled snack they are a handy edible to grow.
Tamarillos are a shrub-like tree that grows well as an understory plant. It’s large leaves fan out in search of sunlight and they will even grow successfully alongside such overbearing species as eucalypts and elderberry. Their sweet and sour vitamin C rich fruit is a treat in Autumn. They will also happily grow in a (very) large pot making them a fantastic option for balcony gardeners.