Lack of sun: what you can grow in shady spaces
Lack of sun is one of the most common challenges you can face growing in a city. Surrounding buildings, walls, pylons and trees, can all conspire to cast shade on your growing space for much (or even all) of the day. The amount of sun you get is critical – it determines what crops you can grow successfully and productively. As long as your space gets at least three to four hours sun, you’ll have a good choice. Less and it gets more challenging –but do give it a try – some ideas below. Not sure how much sun your space gets? You’ll want to observe if first to find out.
3 – 4 hours sun
For spaces that get 3 – 4 hours sun, your choice is restricted but there is still a lot you can grow. Good choices include:
Most leafy crops (and there is a huge choice now in many seed catalogues) grow well in less sun including
- most Asian leaves, including Chinese cabbage, the mustards, pak choi and mizuna.
- most salad leaves including lettuce, rocket, winter purslane, land cress, and lambs lettuce.
These herbs are all well suited to less sun:
- chives and garlic chives
- wild garlic
While the following herbs, traditionally grown in full sun, will grow OK in less. They will still taste good, if not quite as full flavoured as full sun.
Shoots or microgreens (ie harvested when just a few inches tall) that will grow productively in less sun include:
- fava bean and broad bean
Fruits often need lots of sun to develop and ripen. The exceptions tend to be the woodland fruits that have evolved to ripen in dappled shade. Professional growers will grow many of these fruits in full sun for a sweeter fruit, but they will ripen fine in less sun – and, depending on your palette, the slightly less sweet fruit can be a bonus. All the following can be grown in containers. The best suited are probably blueberries and alpine strawberries - so these make a good choice to start.
- alpine strawberries
- rhubarb (in a big pot)
Less than three hours sun?
It’s more difficult to grow food productively in a space with very little or no sun. Crops can grow weak and spindly – and will often be more susceptible to pests and disease. In less sun, the brighter your space is, the easier it will be to grow. See if you can reflect more light into it – for example by painting walls white or adding a white or mirrored backdrop. From my experience of growing in little or no sun, here are some crops I’d recommend to try first.
- Pea shoots and fava bean shoots - and most other microgreens like sunflower shoots and chickpea will grow fine.
- Chinese cabbage has done well for me – and I think other Asian leaves (eg mizuna, or mustard red giant) would be worth a go.
- wild garlic and wasabi
- also perhaps mint on the basis it seems to grow almost anywhere.
Want more ideas?
If you have less than three hours sun and you want more ideas, it's worth having a look at the Plants for the Future database. Here you'll find a number of less conventional edible plants you can grow in a more shady place. Hostas, for example, are edible – some varieties are even supposed to taste good, too!
I’d love to hear about your experience of growing in three - four hours sun. What has grown well for you - and what has not?! And if you’ve tried growing in challenging space with even less sun - one or two hours or less - how has it gone?