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How to choose shade-tolerant vegetables

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Full sun is not always needed to grow vegetables. Gardeners with partially-covered or compact spaces can still enjoy home-grown produce by choosing shade-tolerant vegetables.


Here is a guide on how to select and grow shade-tolerant vegetables. 


Consider how much light is present

Plants need light to photosynthesise and produce the energy needed for growth, flowering and fruiting. Many people think that vegies need full sun and six or more hours of direct sunlight every day.


However, there are some vegies that can thrive in areas with less light. These plants might just be slower to reach maturity as they have less productive growth hours every day.  Cabbage can thrive in part sunCabbage can thrive in part sun


Before you select which vegies are best suited for your shaded area, it’s important to know how much light is present. Different shaded areas receive different amounts of light depending on their conditions, and this impacts what you may be able to grow.


Shaded areas can receive:

  • Filtered or dappled light. Areas like these typically have a canopy of trees overhead. The density of shade in these areas can vary minute-by-minute over a single day as the branches overhead move in the breeze.

  • Part sun. These spots get direct or reflected sun. This may be the result of taller crops in the same bed.

  • Good ambient light. There is good ambient light all day in well-lit areas but no direct sun falling on your plants.

  • Seasonal light. Some beds in spots with seasonal light could receive four to six hours of sunlight in the warmer months. However, they may receive lesser light as the sun drops lower in winter.

  • Full shade. An area receiving no direct sun and with low ambient light levels. This is the only area where all vegetables cannot be grown.


Different types of shade tolerant vegetables


The main rule when selecting vegetables for shady spots is to exclude most plants that produce fruit, such as tomatoes. They simply won’t get the daylight hours they need. A tomato plant, for example, may grow in the shade but it will stretch. The stem length between leaves will become very extended, resulting in a sprawling plant that produces very little fruit. Beetroot will produce larger leaves in the shadeBeetroot will produce larger leaves in the shade


However, shade can work to your advantage when it comes to growing certain vegetables. For example, many leafy greens such as lettuce or silverbeet can collapse or scorch under full sun in the warmer months. Vegetables such as cabbages, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and Asian greens can be grown for longer in shade as these spots are generally a little cooler. In addition, leafy greens tend to be lusher and grow larger leaves in the shade. They also stay sweeter and are less likely to bolt to seed. 


Here are some common shade tolerant vegetables and their characteristics:



Grown for both leaves and roots, beetroot will produce larger, lusher leaves in the shade. Their roots will be smaller, but their flavour will be more concentrated. This plant is perfect for growing in cooler temperatures. 



Celery tends to be shorter and thicker stemmed when grown in the shade. It thrives in cooler temperatures. 



Brassicas such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and cabbage perform well in the shade, albeit with slower growth. 



Rhubarb is a fantastic perennial that keeps popping up every year from spring onwards for a rolling harvest in many locations.


Both snap and snow peas are perfect for growing in the shade. They like protection from hot sun, especially as it gets warmer. The typical snap or podded peas are a cooler season crop, while snow peas are best grown either in autumn or spring, depending on your zone. Garlic can be very rewardingGarlic can be very rewarding


Garlic bulbs grown in the shade won’t be large, but their flavour will still be fabulous. I recommend planting them in early autumn.



This leafy green vegetable is perfect for growing in the warmer months. Select the “rainbow” varieties if you want to add colour to your garden.  


English or true spinach

Best grown in cooler climates, spinach will run to seed as soon as it gets warm. Growing in the shade will extend its season. 



Potatoes grown in the shade will be smaller and lower in numbers than when grown in full sun.



Make sure you select the right variety of lettuce for the growing season - either cool or warm.



Carrots grown in the shade take longer to mature and are smaller. However, they will be sweeter. Lettuce can thrive in the shade created by taller cropsLettuce can thrive in the shade created by taller crops



These long-lived perennials can grow in the shade, but harvest will be lower. You’ll need to plant more asparagus in the shade than you would in a full sun location.


Asian greens

Asian greens like Bok Choi grow larger, lusher leaves when planted in the shade. They also have a longer growing season with a reduced likelihood of bolting to seed. 


Tips for growing vegetables in the shade


Growing vegetables in shady spots is not difficult. However, you do need to approach a few things a little differently.


Here are some tips: 

Start your seeds in traysStart your seeds in trays

  • Don’t sow directly. Seeds may be slow or inconsistent in their germination rates when planted in shade areas. It’s better to grow them in seed trays in a warm, sunny spot before planting out. You can also buy seedlings. 

  • Watch your watering. Beds or pots in the shade tend to stay moist for longer, so you don’t have to water as often. An exception to this is when the shade is from trees. Trees can suck moisture from the soil and their canopies may reduce or unevenly spread rainfall. In short, check the soil and adjust your watering patterns to suit.

  • Be on the lookout for snails and slugs. These leaf-devouring pests love the shade so keep watch and treat as needed.

  • Expect slower growth and longer periods before harvest. On the flip side, you can expect a longer productive season for those "cut-and-come-again" leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and silverbeet. 


More inspiration and advice for growing vegetables

The Bunnings team has shared several guides related to planting and growing vegetables, including a Beginners guide to starting a vegetable garden and How to grow vegetables.

Check out our collection of Top 10 most popular raised garden beds and Top 10 most popular planter box projects for some inspiring ways to grow your vegetables. We also have step-by-step guides on How to build a simple raised garden bed and How to fill a raised garden bed


The Bunnings Workshop community is here to help if you need more help with growing vegetables. Don’t hesitate to ask a question

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1 Reply
Retired Team Member
Retired Team Member

Wonderful tips, thank you for sharing @Adam_W. Perfect for urban gardeners or those living in smaller units. 


Readers of this article may also be interested in these 6 ways to grow plants in an apartment shared by our creative Bunnings Workshop members.


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