What you can grow in shady spaces

Chives, mint and parsley - growing quite happily on a north facing windowsill, further shaded by the side wall.

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.

If you’re not sure how much sun your space gets, you’ll need to observe if first to find out.


3 – 4 hours sun

If your space gets 3 – 4 hours sun, your choice is restricted but there is still a lot you can grow. Good choices include:

Leafy crops

Most leafy crops (and there is a huge choice now  in many seed catalogues) grow well in less sun including

  • chard
  • kale
  • spinach
  • sorrel
  • 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.
Most leafy crops grow well in less sun - this chard and cavelo nero were getting about four hours a day.

Most leafy crops grow well in less sun – this chard and cavelo nero were getting about four hours a day. The fennel at the back did less well – but still OK.


These herbs are all well suited to less sun:

  • parsley
  • mint
  • chives and garlic chives
  • lovage
  • coriander
  • chervil
  • 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.

  • rosemary
  • dill
  • basil
  • sage
  • thyme
  • bay
  • oregano
Chives, mint and parsley - growing quite happily on a north facing windowsill, further shaded by the side wall.

Chives, mint and parsley – growing quite happily on a north facing kitchen windowsill, further shaded by the side wall. Perfectly placed for easy harvesting while cooking!


Most shoots or microgreens (ie harvested when just a few inches tall) will grow productively in less sun including

  • pea
  • fava bean and broad bean
  • sunflower
  • chickpea
  • sweetcorn
  • wheat
  • buckwheat
  • radish


Most fruits require plenty 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.

  • blackberries
  • cranberries
  • redcurrants
  • blackcurrants
  • honeyberry
  • gooseberry
  • blueberries
  • alpine strawberries
  • rhubarb (in a big pot)


Blueberries do well and taste good when grown in less sun - if not quite as sweet.

Blueberries do well and taste good when grown in less sun – if not quite as sweet.

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.It’s always fun to experiment though.  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 grow fine.
  • I think many other shoots like sunflower and chickpea would, too (do let me know if you try).


I grew these pea and fava bean shoots in a backyard that received no direct sun. However the walls were painted white so it was quite bright.

I grew these pea and fava bean shoots in a backyard that received no direct sun. However the walls were painted white so it was quite bright.


  • Chinese cabbage has done well for me – and I think other Asian leaves (eg mizuna, or mustard red giant) would be worth a go.
These Chinese cabbages are growing without any direct sun - they are not as strong as they might be, but not bad considering!

These Chinese cabbages are growing without any direct sun – they are not as strong as they might be, but not bad considering!


  • wild garlic and wasabi
  • also perhaps mint on the basis it seems to grow almost anywhere.
This wasabi is the only thing I've grown that actually seemed to dislike sun, wilting almost immediately. So I kept it on the floor of my balcony in the shade.

This wasabi is the only thing I’ve grown that actually seemed to dislike sun, wilting almost immediately. So I kept it on the floor of my balcony in the shade.

Want more ideas?

If you have less than three hours sun and you want more ideas, I’d recommend exploring 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!


Your turn

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 – I’d love to hear how it went.

42 comments… add one

  • Alternatively, you can use mirrors to bounce sunlight to the shadier parts of the space you have. http://www.gardenguides.com/115506-use-mirrors-increase-sunlight-plants.html

    • Thanks Lou! That is exactly what I am going to do! Coincidentally I only just noticed how the pots at the bottom end of the yard were doing well due to the light bouncing off upstair’s windows! So mirrors or alternative reflective surfaces I shall try (there is a roll of silver bubble wrap stuff in the skip outside work which will be coming home with me tonight!)

  • Hi there!

    I have to say I love this site! I live just down the road from Catherine in Gosforth, Newcastle and was wondering the same thing about my north facing wall. I am in a rented ground floor flat, but have been blessed with a long, fairly wide west facing yard (yarden?!) and my south facing wall is a sun trap – all ready with greenhouse, veg trug and cold frame ready for planting up my newly sprouting seedlings in a few weeks or so. However, the opposite wall is looking a bit sparse. As I only like growing things that are ‘useful’ I was wondering if perhaps I built a long but high planter there that would make any difference? Thanks!

  • Cabbage can be grown in shady areas. Try Greyhound,this works well. There is no need to wait for this to heart up,just use the outer leaves a bit at a time.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience – and always helpful to have specific varieties to try.

  • Hi, this was a wonderful article and i enjoyed it very much, i live in St.John’s,Newfoundland (canada) and while we do get sun being an island we do get lots of cloud cover, that being said i have a 60• NE facing window (mainly Eastern) and while the sun does not directly shine into the window it does have a good many hours in the day where reflected sunlight comes in through the window starting at about 8am-4pm in winter and 6am-7pm in summer, i am starting to grow several species of mint and was wondering if they would do fine within this window or if it would choke them out, i know they are very hardy but i am decently inexperienced at this po
    int so any tips would be appreciated!

    • Hi Christian, it is definitely worth a try! If you put a reflector (eg foil or white card) behind the mint plant, that will reflect some light back which will help. Also, if you have any opportunities to move it into some sun for a few hours, that might also make a difference. I can’t say for sure, but it is always worth trying – and mint is a good choice. Pea shoots would be another worth a try if you fancy growing them. Thanks for your questions – and apologies for my slow reply. Mark

      • Thanks for the reply!
        I am currently trying to start them from seed (im stubborn haha) i want to try and take it on, altho it is and has been a tedious task getting them to start, have to dig up some more research on it, but its not like i have a lack of seeds, they are very tiny, and you can get so many for so cheap, which is good, all i need is a few to work out and i can weed the weaker plants from the stronger ones. Im not in any means experienced with plants and i am not making much head way the last year, i have sucessfully planted lupins and flax as well as morning glory but living in canada things usualy only grow may- october and then the rest of the year is cold.

  • Hi Mark,

    Im currently living in Jesmond Newcastle in a basement flat with a 12ftx10ft patio sunken about 5 ft into the ground. It is west facing so it receives a good bit of sun from around 11-3 and a little bit in the late evening before the sun gets too low in the sky that it disappears over the neighbours houses. Im looking for something to grown on the north facing wall that does not get any sun at all other than pea shoots. Do you think it is worth risking full size peas in pots here? I was thinking i could move them if they weren’t doing particularly well if they are in pots. Do you have any other suggestions of things I could grow with a bit of height here, the green stained wall isn’t that pleasing and i can’t paint as i am a renter. Thanks


    • Hi Catherine, it can tricky to grow in spaces that get no direct sun. It is unlikely that peas will flower and fruit. Having said that, I have grown fava beans (small variety of broad bean) in very little sun and was surprised when they produced some beans. Wild garlic will also grow in very little / no sun, but wouldn’t give you the height. There are probably some non-edible climbers that would work, but I’m afraid I only know about edible things! Btw I’d doing a talk in Jesmond library at 6pm on 27 January – do come along if you can.

    • I’ve grown peas in a hanging basket in a North facing garden, they even flowered on Christmas day, although it was during a mild winter in South west England. The top of the fence saw the sun for about 3 hours.

  • Nice post Mark. Thanks for sharing Plants for the future database too. It was very helpful and I discovered some species that may go well at my garden.

    I will try to grow these ones into my shady space:
    alpine strawberries, sorrel, mentha, mizuna and giant red mustard.

    And also will try chervil and Allium tuberosum as soon as I get some seeds.

  • Love your site! Had great success for years with a Morello cherry against a north facing wall. Not a sweet cherry but great for a runny jam – delicious on ice cream.

    • Super idea – bet it looks great too. Thanks for sharing your experience, Carol.

  • I am so grateful for this, as I have only 2 hours or so of late afternoon sun before the sunsets. I have grown herbs but also lavender seemed to do well which was surprising, though I did not start them from seed. Tomatoes were a complete and utter waste of time and money and effort, but I will try the wild garlic this summer! Thank you!!!

    • Hi Lisa, yes it is tricky with only two hours of sun, isn’t it. But great you’ve grown some herbs successfully, well done – and also learnt that tomatoes are no good. Some of the leafy salads like mizuna and rocket and other leafy veg like chard and kale might be worth a try one day – if you like those things. If you get rainbow chard or similar, it looks very cheerful, too.

  • I have already tried with spinach. Very nice ideeas! Thanks for the article.

  • awesome article, very helpful and full of knowledge. i have a small amount of growing space under the patio which is shaded all day and have been looking for something to grow and i think i might give the wasabi and mint a crack!

  • Most seedlings are happy to grow without direct sunlight – of course, you need to move them on as they get older, but it’s always worth putting your young plants in the least sunny spot.

  • You have to take your climate into account, too. You can grow great tomatoes, in Arizona, or southern Texas, with 4-5 hours of sun per day. In Minnesota, for example, you should go for full sun, all day long.

  • I do own a garden but also only have 3-4 hrs in the sun there. I did grow strawberries there with no problems and was even a bit too succesfull with over a 100 strawberries covering my 3x3m patch. Fruit was very nice, comparing them to commercial strawberries would be a insult though because of course they are fully organic. So do try!

  • What about raspberries? I’ve often read that they’re a woodland plant so I planted 10 raspberry canes (5 early and 5 late) yesterday in my north facing front garden but against a south facing sunny wall. They’ll get around 5 hours of mixed direct and dappled sunlight in this position. Are they a woodland plant or have I done the wrong thing?

    Great blog/website by the way.

    • Hi Leah, I grew a raspberry last year that got about that much sun and it did fine – so I think you’ll probably be OK. I’ll keep my fingers crossed – do come back and let us know how it goes, would be interesting to hear.

      • Update. I’m still learning about the soil and space here as we only moved into this house in the December before I planted the newly ordered canes. I just shoved them in and waited to see what would happen – pretty much nothing, and two canes died a death! I’ve just moved them into a large raised bed where the soil is very different and where I successfully grew a riot of edible flowers last year (Sainsbury’s £3 a box – fabulous and includes salad leaves. Beware the borage though – it’s a bit of a thug and needs pulling out or it will take over). I dug in organic chicken manure pellets first and will add fish, blood and bonemeal in a couple of weeks. This patch gets conifers shedding onto it so should be a bit acidic which is good for raspberries apparently, so fingers crossed.

  • I’m on a west-facing balcony, that only gets about 4 hours of good sunlight. Thankfully we face an open space, so there is nothing to block the sun, however that means we get a lot of wind. The balcony is made entirely of concrete so it is really cold for the first part of the day, and then really hot for the afternoon and early evening, which also poses a problem for gardening. I have had good success with cucumbers. They shot straight up and took over part of the neighbors balcony. Peas and beans were not so successful, but did ok. By keeping my tomatoe and pepper plant in a 5 gallon pot all to themselves, I had a better crop then by putting them in a larger planter with other stuff the year before. Salad greens and spinach did great. My garlic had great shoots but no bulbs. (I had that same problem in a garden in the ground. Not sure what went wrong, but I’m told most people in my part of Canada plant garlic in the fall, which won’t work out so well in pots on the balcony.) I have not had any success with any of my herbs.

    • Hi Heaher, thanks for sharing your experience – sounds like your doing a great job of learning what grows well in your space. Mark

  • Hi Mark, excellent article!
    I’ve grown nasturtiums in pots on my shady balcony for years now. They look pretty and the leaves and flowers are great in salads! I’ve not tried pickling the ‘capers’ yet but might try this year.
    Nice to see someone else growing wild garlic! Hi Sarah! Great for dressings, soups and pestos!

    • Thanks, Eva, and good to know we can add nasturtiums to the list – my favourite edible flower!

  • Hi, I have very little morning sun and even less evening sun yet have HOT sun for about 4 hrs in the hottest part of the day…what plant suggestions for an area like this…. Thankz….

    • Very good question Rene, not something I’ve experienced but hopefully someone else can give you better advice than I can. My initial thoughts are that you’ll be able to grow a wider range of crops, perhaps including chillies, tomatoes, particularly if your space is also warm and bright in the times when it is not sunny. If you want to grow some of the leafy stuff, you may have to use some sort of shade netting to keep the worst of the heat off them.

  • I used to live in a basement flat with an area which received no direct sunlight at all (as well as the basement-ish-ness, there were big trees right over it). Mint and violas both grew OK, especially the mint which seemed perfectly happy (the violas were a bit straggly). Mint, as you say, is pretty robust :)

    • Hi Juliet, phew, glad my mint suggestion wasn’t too wide of the mark – and great to hear that we can add violas to the list. Congratulations – growing without sun is not easy at all.

  • hi mark

    we have grown alpine strawbs,radish, peas and lots of salad leaves(which were harvested daily, upto november) in a small section of walled yard.
    a kilmarnock willow also has grown very well too.

    had some failings but thats how it goes.
    good growing

  • Thank you! This was my problem, and I now know what I can plant. I am very grateful for this information.

  • Excellent Mark, I’ve been looking for various articles on which plants grow in varying degrees of sun/light as I am going vertical on my highrise balcony, and have both sun and shade. There is a facebook group called Vertical Gardening Alliance that has recently been started and it is most excellent. Seems like most participants are in the US and Canada (I’m from Vancouver, BC) It was started by a fellow named Khaled from Laval, Quebec, and there are wonderful ideas from small space to larger space vertical gardening. You may wish to check it out.

    By the way, your link to Plants for the Future is not working – says “page not found”

    • Hi Karen, thanks for pointing out the broken link – that’s now mended. I’ve looked for the Vertical Gardening Alliance on FB but can’t find it – just lots of links to the container gardening alliance! Perhaps you could send me a link – I’d be very interested to take a look.

  • I grow wild garlic in the shade, it’s brilliant!

  • Hi. This is a very useful article. I don’t have much growing space – just a patio and a small (very shady) yard, and vertical space on the house and garage. The yard is just outside the kitchen, but is in total shade except for 1 hour in the early morning. I’d love to grow something out there, so it looks like it’s going to be wild garlic, wasabi, mint and Chinese cabbage. I also heard on R4 Gardeners Question Time today that it is possible to grow the fruits that don’t need to be sweet on north facing walls, including cooking apples. Thank you for your enlightening article.

    • So glad it was useful Amanda – thanks for writing. Good luck with your experiments, would love to hear how they go!


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