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May 2008
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Growing plants in the shade

A site receiving full sun is premium real estate in the vegetable garden. If sunny spots are in short supply in your garden and you want to overcome this restriction, an easy way to free up space, expand your garden (and your yields) is to use the shady spots in your garden to your advantage. A wide range of delicious fruits, vegetables, and herbs can all be grown in partial shade and make your garden look as good.

Definition of Partial Shade?

Partial shade is described as any site that receives 3 to 6 hours of sun per day. Flowering edibles (tomatoes, melons, squash and peppers) need the most amount of sun. They prefer 8 to 10 hours a day. Other plants such as leafy vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, need only 6 hours of sun a day and tolerate partial shade quite well because they can be picked at any stage of maturity. Partial shade is also good for planting early and late crops (while trees are without leaves) and for crops conducive to succession plantings.

Best Choices for Partial Shade

This list is by no means extensive. Experiment and find out what works best for your site. While production and performance will be better in full sun, the following edibles need a minimum of 6 hours of sun a day and are considered tolerant of partial shade.

* Vegetables: broccoli, beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leafy greens (including collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale), onions, peas, radishes, salad greens (including leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, and radicchio), and Swiss chard.

* Herbs: cardamon, chives, garlic, and mint.

* Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

Utilizing Available Light

Plant your partial shade crops in rows from east to west. This will maximize the amount of light they receive by allowing plants of different heights to follow the sun as it passes overhead during the day. Don’t cut down whole trees to create more sun, but consider thinning out some of its lower branches to open up some more light.

Providing Adequate Moisture

Keep a careful eye on the moisture levels of your shady crops. You may find you need to water them more often in case they are situated in shade. Shady sites are often more dry than sites receiving full sun, because the roots of trees tend to steal all of the moisture from surrounding plants and leave less water in the soil. Trees make a great shelter to stand under when it is raining, unless of course, you are a plant. Plants growing underneath them receive less water because branches divert falling rain toward the outer perimeter of the canopy, where it drips from the branches onto the thirsty roots below.

Ensuring Soil Fertility

In partial shade, the roots of hungry trees often gobble soil nutrients up as fast as they become available. Give edibles a boost above their competition by applying a balanced fertilizer in the spring, and one or two more applications as the growing season progresses. An alternative is to consider growing edibles in containers so they don’t have to compete at all with neighboring trees and shrubs.

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