Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thoughts on Shade

I usually think that shade in a garden is a bad thing. The plants need the sun to grow and they tend to grow more poorly without it. My case in point is this broccoli. I planted six plants. Three in one of the sunniest spots in the garden (photo above) and three in one of the shadiest spots in the garden (photo below).

The shaded broccoli gets about three hours of full sun a day at this time of the year (at the solstice it is more like six hours). The plant seems to be growing just fine, but it is having trouble forming a head. I wonder how much slower it will be. This is the first time I've split up a crop like this.

Because I've always believed this I've avoided growing anything important over close to my compost pile which is in the shady part of the garden. I've got some lemon balm and mint, but frankly slowing down mint is a good thing, not a bad thing. This year I decided to dig up a small portion near the fence. During June and July it gets a few hours of sun and I grew some Chinese cabbage in it during the spring. It didn't thrive and I figured it was a sign that there wasn't enough sun and too many slugs.

I almost mulched it over, but decided that it wouldn't hurt to try some lettuce there. I wouldn't start the lettuce in soil blocks. It wasn't worth the effort. I started them in a plastic tray with some hole punched in the bottom. The tray didn't drain well, but really I didn't think the lettuce would grow much. In addition at the same time I started five soil blocks for lettuce that would go into its normal bed (not far from the more shaded of the broccoli).

When I planted the tray of lettuce seedlings out at the beginning of August, their roots were a tangled mess. I gently tried to work them apart but more than one had problems. I didn't add compost to the area. It wasn't worth the investment and it would just attract more slugs to this slug haven of an area. The other five seedlings in soil blocks got compost and their roots were never disturbed.

So how did these lettuce fare? Well the above was the lovely tended lettuce. It was quite unhappy to be seeing even few hours of sun that it got this August. I'm not going to eat those leaves. You want some?

This is the mistreated lettuce in almost full shade. Now that lettuce I would eat. The moral of the story is that next year I really have to find a way to shade my lettuce if I'm growing it out in the sun. Or I could just hide it back here where the sun never shines anyway. It wouldn't get much rotation this way, but at least it wouldn't see the sun.

Wide view of the shaded bed

The lettuce variety that is so pretty peeking up above my Red Sails lettuce is Deer Tongue. The seed was given to me by Dan over at the Urban Veggie Garden Blog. Currently I have two plants of this lettuce and one of Red Sails that is going to seed. The plants get pretty scraggly when they go to seed, but it looks like I might get quite a bit to trade later on in the season.


  1. Hi Daphne, thanks for sharing that experience - really useful info. I was sure with all that lack of attention and compost and sunlight the shady lettuce wouldn't do so well. But it obviously thrives in the cooler conditions!

  2. I've been learning the benefits of some shade in the garden also. Some of my pepper plants have been really happy under some light weight row cover that I've suspended over them, they were getting sunburned before, especially the pods. And I've suspended row cover over pots of germinating arugula and lettuce seedlings and keep it over the plants during when the weather is hot.

  3. I'm lucky to get 4-5 hours of sun at most in my garden, but I did see that the lettuce sure did love the shade more than the other plants. I think I could be so much more productive in the full sun.

  4. Same here. Due to lack of space, I planted 4 romaines among the peas, beans & cukes. The light they get is filtered never direct. They're doing so much better than the other four in full sun.

  5. In summer we get almost zero shade on the balcony garden, but I've learned to move the vulnerable pots around on the super hot days so they don't get too much sun. Particularly lettuce, it goes so bitter in too much sun. I'll experiment too this summer, following your advice and plant some in the mostly shady part and some in the rest which is full sun all afternoon.

  6. That lettuce growing in the sun looks pretty messed up! That's the first time I've ever seen deer tongue. Interesting.....

  7. I have found this to definitely be true with lettuces and with celery. They grow more slowly but the end product is in better shape. I have a large section of garden that is sun challenged and I reserve it for the greens and cole crops as well as some carrots - all of these crops grow more slowly with less optimal sun - but they do fine ultimately.

    I have grown Devils Tongue which is a red variety f the Deers Tongue and it is pretty plant to ahve in the garden - tastes good too!

  8. Scattered Gardener. it does indeed. It also shows me that it never hurts to try something even if you're not sure it will work.

    Michelle, My pepper that grew under a screen for a while (to isolate the seed) seems to be the healthiest still of all my peppers. Of course I picked it because it was the healthiest and best growing, but the shade from the screen didn't hurt it one bit.

    Ribbit, I have some friends that have very little sun in their backyard. They keep wanting to know why some of my plants grow so much better. Well it is the sun I get. Most of my garden gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. Not all of it during all seasons, but at least during the height of the summer.

    Miss M, I used to grow my lettuce under my bean tepee. It worked pretty well. I think it wasn't quite as much shade as I need though.

    EG, I like the lettuce. It is pretty and grows well here.

    kitsapFG, I've never grown celery. I keep thinking I need one plant for the whole year since I don't use it much, but just haven't ever bothered. Usually I buy one head that chop it up and freeze it for what I need. Maybe next year I should grow it.

  9. That is useful. I have a place out front that gets a lot of shade, and I'm thinking it's just the place for winter greens.