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New to gardening - herbs and veggies that grow well without much direct sunlight

I was in the hardware store this morning to buy a few screws and of course took the opportunity to browse and happened upon their supply of herb and vegetable seeds which reminded me that this year I wanted to try and plant a few things. I live in the city, don't have much room, and have killed nearly any plant I've tried to grow but I think it would still be a fun adventure. I have a small concrete slab in the backyard with a few planter boxes (4'x2' and 2'x2'), but unfortunately there's not much sun and it sits in the shade for most of the day. Are there any herbs or vegetables that do well in the shade?

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  1. How much of the day are your planter boxes in shade and how completely shady is the shade? Does any direct light come through at all? Most vegetables need at least four hours of full light a day or steady dappled light all day.

    If you have some places inside that get more light, it might work better to put planters in the sills or beside the windows there. You can grow lots of herbs in small planter boxes. If it's legal in your city, you can even affix window boxes right outside the window. This site has a lot of interesting products for small-space city gardening: http://www.windowbox.com/ -- You can probably get all the stuff they sell more cheaply elsewhere, but it's a nice source of ideas.

    I suggest posting your question on GardenWeb, too. There are many more knowledgeable home gardeners there.

    8 Replies
    1. re: ninrn

      It faces north and is pretty shady :) There is an overhanging tree that I could possibly trim but I think it's in the shade most of the day. I live in a rowhouse so there's not even snow coming through between the houses. I think my neighbors have hanging window boxes, so if the landlord is OK with that, that would probably be an option as it sounds like the backyard planter boxes won't be very good. Thanks for all the information, I'll be sure to go look over at GardenWeb.

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        Good luck, fldhkybnva. I think it's great to try to garden in the city. I lived in NYC for a long time and ate so poorly and got so cut off from nature that it really messed up my health. I think even just trying to grow a tiny bit of your own food (or just something beautiful) is worthwhile.

        1. re: ninrn

          I always keep fresh veggies at home but my motivation was more so in frustration of herbs that always go bad. Then, I figured I could expand and grow some veggies too. I'd love to grab it from the backyard and know there is always a fresh option :)

          1. re: ninrn

            I grew up in Queens, and my neighbor had a rooster. It crowed, but it was not as loud as the train that behind their house.

            1. re: Shrinkrap

              I grew up in Queens too (99 th ave & 204th St. in Hollis), had the LIRR passing loudly all day long (and part of the night). Gosh! I hadn't thought of that in years!

              1. re: Cherylptw

                I was in St. Albans, between Baisley and 120th.

                Things rattled for several seconds, several times a day. I thought it was "normal". When I moved to LA, the first time I felt an earthquake I was thinking..."there goes the train....wait...."

                1. re: Shrinkrap

                  heh once in SF I was talking to somebody who lived on a streetcar curve where it always rumbles, I was commiserating, but her response was "NO, the N-Judah is my buddy" later I lived where I heard foghorns, ships, and cable cars most of the night and I understood.

                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                    We used to go to Baisley Park all the time...wow, that brings back memories....

        2. do you have access to the roof?
          can you put planter boxes on the roof? is there a source of water near the roof?

          1 Reply
          1. re: westsidegal

            Hmm, never thought of that. I will have to investigate.

          2. peas, lettuce, spinach, chard, radish, carrots, mint, oregano l
            any direct sun at all?

            3 Replies
            1. re: daislander

              The sun is up today and there are very few clouds and I just checked and it's pretty dark although enough sun that the area is lit. In the summer I recall finding the sun pretty annoying when trying to grill so it must get some amount of sun.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                winter and summer sun is different as the summer sun is higher longer in the sky. That is what you need to do is actually track it and keep note then you can make choices of where one spot might get more then another so you can plant your most sun needy plant there.

            2. fruit bearing plants do want light but lots of herbs don't want to be blasted with light. so think leafies. herbs should do just fine in indirect. however, if you're the black-thumb you describe, you may want to consider the back-up of planting ones already sprouted. I'm pretty good with plants and almost never had success with seeds. that takes a lot of coaxing and counter/table space in egg cartons for a few weeks+ with no guarantees.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hill food

                Thanks for the tip, I don't coax well.

              2. My original garden area has become shaded by next door trees, so I've had to move sun-loving veggies to the front lawn (despite mild objections from DW!). Maybe you should look into ornamental veggies there too!

                However the shaded area (~5 hours of sun each day) are still useful for many crops:
                lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, peas, parsley, pok choy, mizuna, basil, sage, etc.

                Others seem to have their productivity reduced, but still do well enough to grow there:
                Beans, cherry tomatoes, garlic.

                Things that definitely need sun:
                Most tomatoes, peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, melons, squash.

                1. Is there sun near your front door where you could put some large flower pots at all? You could grow some vegetables in containers (container gardening) like tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, a cucumber plant can be grown in a large pot and trellised.

                  Look at garden seed websites for varieties that do well in shaded areas..

                  Gurney's seed & nursery
                  Territorial seed company
                  Kitazawa Seed Co (Asian type vegetables & herbs)
                  Burpee seeds
                  Baker Creek Heirloom seeds
                  Southern Exposure seed exchange

                  Here's a link to info about shaded crops: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organi...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    I have two large windows in the front that get plenty of the sun.

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      Cheryl - yeah but on the porch there are those damn damn squirrels. squirrels. damn them all.

                      with herbs (yeah I know I'm a scratched LP), the thing really is the moisture content of the soil more than the sunlight.

                    2. Leafy things don't need sun as much as (say) tomatoes, carrots, zuke. Try lettuces, chards. Also, cruciferous veggies do well.

                      As for herbs, I haven't found a place where mint *won't* grow.

                      1. Did you decide to plant anything yet?

                        I have a back yard with lots of sun, but I now keep my herbs in a large container next to the front door. I just went and got tiny plants and stuck 'em in there with good soil. I like having the planter next to the front door because every time I come home, I remember to water.

                        Right now I've got basil, flat leaf parsley, cilantro, and rosemary going.

                        My front porch is entirely covered, and there's a huge shade tree in the front yard, so the herbs get ZERO direct sunlight. I'll take a pic tomorrow and show you how large they've gotten in the short time I've had them. IME, herbs need very little light.

                        Not sure about veggies. Mine are all in back with plenty of direct sunlight, sometimes TOO much sun, with how the weather is here in L.A.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: nothingswrong

                          I haven't but I'm thinking herbs would work by the front stoop.

                        2. I am planning to start a little garden on my balcony this summer. It faces west, has walls on three sides, the front is cement half-wall and there is an overhang (upstairs balcony). Pretty light but not too much sun. I am definitely going to have two herb pot - an annual and a perennial that I hopefully would be able to take inside in the fall. Also want to have a few simple veggies and looking at buying square foot garden with a grow frame from Lee Valley. It looks like this: http://www.leevalley.com/en/garden/pa...

                          Now to decide what to grow and how much!

                          1. Speaking of living parallel lives! I've been contemplating the exact same thing. I don't have a balcony or a deck, so I've been thinking about getting a little garden bench to put in my living room with a grow-light. Window boxes are out for me because building management put bars over my kitchen window, ostensibly for safety reasons; understandable, but mildly annoying anyway.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: sharebear

                              Amazing how little greenery and edible one to boot makes our lives just a bit more pleasurable:)

                            2. Glad I headed over to the Gardening board, and leave it to fieldhawk to ask the question I needed to know.

                              I'm good with herbs - I've got a small (like VERY small!) front porch that gets lots of morning sun. It's where the herbs went last year because they were replacing our decks in the complex. I also grew some mixed lettuces last year, with some success.

                              This year I want to try a few more veggies and not just the herbs, and want to put some in a (mostly) shaded corner of the deck, so this thread is good info. Thanks!

                              1. Have you considered a grow lamp, or a container garden place in a room that is lit by lamp most of the day? You can buy special light bulbs that simulate the Sun (good for your mood And the garden), and put them in rooms where you need the light anyway... like the living room or kitchen.
                                Simulated light isn't as good as the real thing, though, so you might want to consider using many options in tandem - put them on the roof on the weekend while you can keep an eye on them, put them on the windowsill when it's raining, put them under the light for the ten hours that you're working...
                                That option too requires planning - a wheeled tray to help you move them around, a timer on the simulated lighting, a plant sitter on the weekends that you take a mini-break, etc.

                                1. I live in a row house as well - my front yard is very shady - I have luck there with herbs - rosemary, mints, thymes etc - the only fruit I have been able to grow there are blackberries.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: JTPhilly

                                    I read a great idea somewhere (maybe here?) that if your yard has partial shade, get an old wheelbarrow, the kind that has holes rotted out already, and plant garden plants in there. Then you can wheel it around and follow the sun.