Helen McKerralFruit and vegies to grow in the shade

Most gardening books tell you that it’s impossible to grow vegies without at least six hours of direct sun daily – maybe true for the UK’s weak rays but, here in hot, sunny Oz, that maxim simply isn’t true. Sure, some vegies fruit less than what market gardeners require, but home gardeners can still harvest a crop to be proud of. Other vegies actually prefer a bit of protection from our blazing summer sun, and there are many ways to manipulate shade and microclimate. Read on for tips I’ve used with great success in my own garden, with its southerly aspect plus fences and trees to the north!

My part-shaded vegetable garden

My part-shaded vegetable garden

As early readers of my blog will know, the purchase of additional land at the back of our suburban sized block (Relocation) was spurred by the desire for more sun, to grow more fruit trees and vegetables. I had one area of about five square metres that received a maximum of five hours of direct sun in midsummer (less at other times of the year), with the rest of the garden receiving dappled shade, solid shade, or a couple hours of sun in the morning or afternoon. The southerly sloping aspect exacerbated shading to the south of the house, but I was still able to harvest many vegetables and fruits elsewhere.

My harvest of tayberries, boysenberries, and red and white currants

My harvest of tayberries, boysenberries, and red and white currants

1. Time of shading: Morning sun versus afternoon sun.
Many vegetables and fruiting plants actually prefer shelter from South Australia’s blazing summer afternoon rays, so shade from trees to the northwest and west of your garden may be an asset for plants like red and white currants, bramblefruit, hazelnuts and other Northern European or understorey varieties. Deciduous trees are even better, because they don’t cast shade in winter.

2. Hours of sun or amount of shade
Don’t be afraid to try vegies even when you have only a few hours of sun a day. Nearly all leafy greens and quickfruiting varieties (I’ve had success with cherry tomatoes in surprisingly shaded spots) will produce a crop as long as you also give them excellent soil, ideal moisture, and a generous fertilising regime. The placement of different tree species in the new area was governed largely by their potential to cast shade, as well as the amount they require (Designing my productive garden).

Orange growing in dappled shade

Orange growing in dappled shade

3. Quality of shade: solid or dappled?
Dappled shade cast by trees with open canopies, such as eucalypts, is often fine for summer-fruiting varieties, although crops are generally not as heavy as they would be in full sun, and extra care must be taken with air circulation and control of fungal diseases. Often, it’s not the shade cast by trees but root competition that is problematic, so place a layer of weed mat under raised beds. Citrus, feijoa, loquat, medlar, quince and currants planted in the ground with year-round dappled shade have been perfectly happy in my garden when they are watered and fertilised generously. In Cinque Terra, with its Mediterranean climate so similar to ours, I spotted many vegetables (zucchini, pumpkins, lettuces, melons) growing in the dappled shade of olive trees.

Lettuce varieties with rich leaf colour contrasts

Lettuce varieties with rich leaf colour contrasts

In heavier shade, I’ve had success with leafy greens like lettuces, silverbeet and spinach, as well as herbs like parsley and, surprisingly, oregano. My currants grew for years in heavy dappled shade before being moved to the new area of the garden, and I now have male and female Tasmanian pepper berries from Peter Taverna thriving in their original spot.

Rhubarb leaf

Rhubarb also grows well in a shady spot, and its stems elongate in shade, so that’s a bonus! In the new area, I planted jaboticaba and macadamias in dappled shade, but it’s too early to tell whether they will fruit, although they are growing well.

Trickier is the solid shade to the south of my house. This gets very hot in summer with afternoon sun, but is completely shaded throughout the winter months. I’ve had success with deciduous fruit trees, especially plums – they are slow to get started but, once they achieve some height, receive more sun, too, and they’re dormant during the winter months when the area is permanently shaded.

Ripening pomegranate in part sun

Ripening pomegranate in part sun

Despite gummosis in the trunk, my All-in-One almond is fruiting well this year, but it remains to be seen whether the kernels fully ripen. A strawberry guava fruits reliably every year and a pomegranate also fruits, albeit not heavily.

Ripening almonds

Ripening almonds

In the new area, a fig in a huge pot to the south of a neighbour’s tall thicket of blackberries currently gets almost no sun. It’s growing slowly but steadily, and in a year or two it will be two metres high and receive sun for many hours each day during its growing season.

Three cloud forest banana passionfruit ( Passiflora tripartite, Passiflora gritensis and Passiflora ‘Mission Dolores’) from plantsman Peter Taverna, are being trained up the southern wall of my shed and receive almost no direct sunlight, other than an hour or two in mid afternoon in midsummer (so far they are thriving, but even this much direct sun may be too much once they grow taller).

4. Manipulating tree canopies
Thinning limbs from mature trees allows more light to reach the ground and, when carefully done, is invisible to all but the trained eye. My local arborist has pruned eucalypts, melaleucas and an oak in this way.

Raising the canopy by cleaning the trunk of tall evergreen trees doesn’t greatly affect shading in summer, when the sun arcs high in the sky, but allows much more sun to reach the ground in winter, when the sun remains low. This is especially useful when growing evergreen fruit trees, such as citrus, under eucalypts.

The newly planted brassica bed

The newly planted brassica bed

5. Winter crops vs. summer crops
I’m still trying to succeed with winter crops – I harvest them, but not in winter! Planted in January and February in part sun on my south-facing block, cabbages and caulis grow well until late autumn and then, as the sun dips lower to the north, stop doing much of anything until spring, when they finally form heads. This year, I’m going to push them along with fortnightly Powerfeed and see if that makes a difference.

I haven’t had much luck with onions (brown or white) or shallots, but then they are particularly sensitive to daylight hours and I might have to concede defeat. Still, I can harvest spring onions year-round.

Coriander

Coriander

On the other hand, kale, Tuscan black cabbage, bok choy and gai larn (chinese broccoli), silverbeet, perpetual spinach and coriander can all be harvested through winter in my garden, and many of the Tuscan Black cabbage plants even produce for two years before going to seed. In my garden, sprouting broccoli performs somewhere in between kale and caulis – sometimes I can pick stems late in winter, but not reliably. Root crops – parsnips, carrots and beetroot – are fine as long as they’re planted in late summer, rather than autumn. Broad beans grow well too but, again, don’t ripen until mid-late spring.

I’d love to hear from other Hills and cool temperate climate gardeners who have had success with winter vegies in less than full-sun conditions!

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Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

9 thoughts on “Fruit and vegies to grow in the shade

  1. It’s great to get some tips from others testing boundaries, thank you! I have recently trialled a few ornamentals in more shade than they would like (e.g. Kniphofia…fail), but haven’t with edibles. Coming from England originally, I often wonder about the difference between shade caused by objects on a sunny day and full exposure to the would-be-sun on a cloudy day. My sense is that the former is stronger (mostly based on witnessing some unfortunate sunburn incidences), but I’d love to know if others have a view. I’d love to have a 3x = y type of formula for it! Whilst the UK has much longer hours of daylight in summer, the contrast in sunlight hours is stark (sunglasses were things I kept in the cupboard for holidays) as indeed is the strength of the sun, as you say; it would be great if we could convert light requirements more readily and hence make better use of the extensive horticultural data that exists.

  2. Veronica Rickard on said:

    I found this very helpful as my vegetable garden is on the east side of the house, between the fence and the house. And whilst it’s a good size, my neighbour loves her Sally Wattle which shades my vege patch in some places and the shade changes with the seasons. However, you’ve given me confidence to try more vegetables.

  3. rob on said:

    hi im looking at planting passion fruit. how much sun is needed per day and the spot im thinking of only gets morning sun ..

    • helen mckerral on said:

      Where in Australia are you, Rob? Morning sun might be okay in some areas, but not others.

  4. David on said:

    Here in Perth wa, I have two blackberry bushes that are doing very well in front of a south facing house wall which is shaded all winter.

    • helen on said:

      Haha, blackberries grow anywhere… they’re a noxious weed and I have a jungle of them next door. I would not recommend anyone plant them unless they are able to contain them !

      • randy on said:

        Growing fruiting trees in partial shade is a subject neglected by many so called garden experts. More discussion like yours need to take place. It is a common dilemma for gardeners.This is a good start.

      • randy on said:

        I would love to have this noxious weed growing in my garden. I would be enjoying every delicious fruit it bears. Count your blessing my man.

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