Tricks for Growing a Garden in a Shaded Yard

by StevenHelmer

Having a lot of shade doesn't have to prevent you from growing a vegetable garden.

One of the things I was most excited about when we first purchased our new house in 2006 was the fact we finally had a yard that was large enough for me to have a vegetable garden. Gardening has always been a bit of a hobby for me both because it helps relieve some stress and because I love the taste of fresh, organically-grown vegetables.
However, as I dug up and planted my garden for the first time that following spring, I learned it wasn’t going to be as easy as I originally thought. This is because my yard is surrounded by large trees that keep the vast majority of it under a blanket of shade for a good portion of the year.
Fortunately, through some ingenuity and a little trial and error, I am finally able to grow vegetables in my yard. It just took a few important steps.

First, Mobile Gardens Make the Best Gardens

Squash and peas growing in a wooden flower pot in front of my houseOne thing I found I had to do in order to grow vegetables in my yard was find whatever sunlight I could and make sure my plants were getting it. Basically, this meant I had to abandon the idea of a traditional garden and, instead, set up a series of mini gardens around my yard.

For example, I currently have a number of vegetables, ranging from onions to peppers, in wooden planters up by my house. In addition to this, I have other plants, like potatoes, in buckets, flower pots and just about anything else that can hold soil.

Regardless of what I ultimately use to plant my vegetables, I have one primary rule, it has to be mobile. That way, when the sun starts to shift in mid-July, leaving previously sunny areas of my yard shaded, I’m able to move the majority of my plants to a place that still has sunlight.

The main disadvantage to growing my vegetables this way is it has forced me to be a little better about pre-planning. I have to pick out plants that won’t outgrow whatever it is I ultimately decide to plant them in and, just as important, I have to make sure I’m planting vegetables that will be easy to transport from one part of my yard to the next without damaging them. However, that being said, I have had a great deal of success doing this and am now growing plants that, 5 years ago, wouldn’t survive a month in my garden.

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Experiment with Different Vegetable Varieties

Tomato out of my gardenSometimes, no matter how many times you move a plant to keep it in the sun, it just won’t grow. However, I’ve found that doesn’t mean you need to give up on that particular vegetable. Instead, all you have to do is experiment with other varieties of that same vegetable.

Tomatoes are the perfect example of this for me. This is the 7th year I have attempted to grow them in my yard and, up until this year, it had been a complete failure. Up until this particular gardening season, I was lucky if the tomatoes didn’t die on me a few weeks after I planted them. However, I kept experimenting with different varieties, looking for tomatoes with shorter and shorter harvest times. And, finally, this year, I found one that actually works for me.

The tomato plants aren’t very big (about knee high) and the tomatoes themselves are a little smaller than many other varieties. But, for the first time since moving into our house, I was able to harvest enough for our everyday use. All it took was 6-years worth of trial and error.

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You Have to Be Very Careful About Water

Watering CanThis was actually a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Plants that are even partially in shade don't use water as fast as plants that are in full sunlight. As a result, if you aren't careful, it's very easy to give your vegetables too much water, especially if they are in planters that don't have enough drainage.

A specific example of this happened to me last summer. Last year, in addition to the shade, I was contending with cooler summer weather and ultimately ended up losing my zucchini plants to some sort of white mildew. I also had some onion sets rot in the too-damp soil they were planted in.

The best I've found around this is by watering by sight rather than on a schedule. If the dirt around my plants is still damp, I don't add any more water and, instead, only water plants that legitimately need a drink. Ever since I started taking that approach, I haven't had a problem with this.

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Updated: 09/13/2015, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/11/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
Shade gardens are among my favorite parts of the lawn. Blue, blue-and-white, white wild violets as well as many wild berries and wild garlic, onions and rice -- all edible -- grow there.

It's impressive that you grow tomatoes in your shade garden. They have the best results for me in sunny areas and on sunlit counters and window sills.

Would you be likelier to water your plants in the morning or in the evening?

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