Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Best vegetables for shady winter conditions

This bed is one of best in summer as it gets the mild morning sun and falls into total shade in the late afternoon, protecting it from the scorching heat. Being our first winter planting with the mandala design I have only just discovered that this bed despite being great in summer is our worst in winter. It is located in the northeast corner of the garden and shielded by the house on its northwest side and partially by a fence on its east side. As you can see above it only starts to get some streaks of sunlight peeking through the gate at 8 o’clock.

By 11 o’clock the sun has reached the top of the bed and will remain in darkness for the rest of the day. That is a total of 3 hours, but not 3 full hours because at 9:30 only half the bed is in the sun as it tracks across. So this bed is probably only getting about 1 and half hours of direct sunlight. As a result this bed has remained bare for a couple of weeks as I procrastinate not knowing what to do.

Last night I decided to do a bit of research into what plants would cope best with all this shade. Again I was rewarded with the richness of human opinion. Even though once and awhile I would just like a straight simple answer to my questions, I have come to appreciate and enjoy the diversity in belief, knowledge and opinion, particularly when it comes to gardening.

One site advised that if growing the plant for its fruit or root then it will require a lot of sunshine. If growing it for its leaves, stems, buds, or flowers, a moderate amount of shade is ok. But then I found some contradictory advice claiming that root vegetables are also fine in heavy shade, and that budding and flowering ones require more. So now I am left to apply my own logic and instincts and come to my own opinion.

If I went with the former (budding and flowering vegetable ok) it would include plants such as broccoli and cauliflower. But this just doesn’t feel right to me, but I have no logical reason though. With the root vegetables though, I believe the whole reason they produce large root/tubers is to store energy for when the conditions are better to go to flower. Following this logic I would conclude that they would be actually better in shade. With the green leafies everyone seems to agree shade is fine, thank goodness.

So after applying a bit of shaky logic and whole lot of pulling it out of my ass (intuition) here is my list of what I am going to plant.

Bok Choy

What would you recommend I plant?


  1. I have found, contrary to any logic, broad beans do okay in shady winter beds. Kale is a good choice and spinach will always do well. Coriander doesn't like cold, wet feet....this would be the only one I would have concerns about on your list other than the ones I have no idea about as I have never grown them anywhere successfully (carrots and bok choy). I love you documentation and observational approach to the garden!!


    1. Yer I thought someone might say the coriander was no good. I had a niggling suspicion that I chose to ignore because I had coriander seedlings and we really need some in the kitchen. The board beans would have the additional advantage of their height to reach more sun.

  2. Hi Jason from your list I would go for the kale and bok choy, if you are planting from seed into trays the others might be ok in a few weeks to move out into the beds, you could grow your corriander inside over the winter if you have a sunny spot. Have you thought about planting garlic? that is what I will be putting in next week and also as Debbie said broad beans are good to put in during winter.

    1. Yes I do possibly have a good spot indoors for the coriander. Good idea thanks. Garlic, now that too is a good idea.

  3. Jason, we're going to plant potatoes, garlic and beetroot! There was a segment on shade loving veg on the latest gardening Australia, here's the fact sheet from their website:

    They suggested rainbow chard, but that's just silverbeet in disguise as far as my kids are concerned, and no-one will go near it! :)

    1. Useful link that confirms that root vegetables are ok in the shade. Even though the potatoes maybe ok in the shade are they going to be ok over winter. Scarecrow has a recent post showing the damage frost will do to them.

    2. Jason that damage (on the potatoes) was caused by a -5C frost (and consecutive days of not much warmer temps) they were going well until that happened and it hasn't quite killed them.

      I doubt if you would ever get such low temps where you are...if you did I would hate to think what sort of temps we'd get up here on the same day...eeek! :)

    3. We found seed potatoes at our local feed store for $3/kg (sebagoes) so we'll give it a go. I've got beets and rainbow chard to go in as well. Our shady spot also gets flooded from the neighbour's side, so it might not be great for spuds, but I guess we'll see. We don't get frosts here in Sydney, which is good I guess, except it means we can't grow apples and most berries! :)

    4. Trying is the best and possibly the only way to learn gardening. Nature never quite follows a book. Good luck with those spuds. I might give some winter potatoes a go.

  4. Hi Jason
    I decided to come over here and comment on this.
    I'm not sure of the direction this bed faces but would it be possible to put up a light coloured fence (temporary just for winter) on the side that does get some sun so it could perhaps reflect some of that light back onto the bed. Foil would reflect a lot of light back to the bed. Make it into a sun trap of sorts...just a thought.

    As for plants to grow I think the trick will be to get things growing early in the season before you lose that sun. I have a similar situation on our south side. This year I planted snow peas up a cage of wire back in March when the bed was still in sun. Now they have grown to the top of the cage and are producing peas (that did get a little frosted last weekend!). The beetroot below them is still growing well too.
    French Sorrel is a hardy green that would cope in the shade but you might like to pot that one and not let it seed as it can become a weed...but it makes a great addition in soups.
    With lettuces the loose leaf types are supposed to be best, I only grow these anyway I seem to get more of a harvest by picking the side leaves off as I need them.
    Parsley might be good too. Or New Zealand Spinach.
    If you plant out onion seedlings now they will be in the soil for quite a while so they should be back in sunshine later to finish their growth.
    I would think the soil in this bed would be pretty cold at this time of the year too so don't bother with seeds even broad beans can be started in a warmer spot and planted out later.
    If all this fails you could turn it into a perennial bed and plant Asparagus, Garlic Chives, Sorrel, Rhubarb, Lovage (Levisticum officinale), Comfrey (for garden/compost use and chooks), Jerusalem (Helianthus tuberosus) and/or Chinese Artichokes (Stachys affinis), Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), Horseradish (Amoracia sp.), Turmeric (Curcuma domestica), Arrowroot (Canna edulis), Ginger (Zingiber officinale) or Galangal (Alpinia galangal).
    Most of these plants would be dormant through winter anyway and not need the sun but will come back in Spring as the soil warms up. I realize that you probably want the bed to be productive all year round but things will struggle in the cold shade.

    A long comment again!!!

  5. I don't mind a long comment as long as it is useful and on topic, and that it is. Sadly there is no fence on the south side but I could erect a little foil one as you suggested, hmmmm, you'v got me thinking. Good to see you have confirmed my choices of lettuce, beetroot, spinach and onion. I do like your parsley suggestion. Thanks

  6. I have been growing parsnips in a shady spot on advice that they are OK with shade. They are doing well. I put in a couple of cauliflowers & broccoli because I couldn't fit them all in my garden bed. They did nothing for a long time but about 2 months after the others, they have formed a head & seem to be doing well.

    1. The growing of parsnips, now that further confirms that root vegetable are ok in the shade. Sounds like cauli and broccoli are less good in the shade (slow) but still get there in the end. I would imagine that would be the case for most plants. This is great information, thanks Annette.


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