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Vegetables for the Shady Garden

John Durham, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

If you've tried vegetable gardening in Colorado -- especially if you have relocated from more garden friendly areas of rich soil and high precipitation -- you know the importance of appropriate plant selection and manipulation of soil and microclimates.

The shady spot is a microclimate that can work to your advantage in the vegetable garden. Whether created by towering trees or adjacent man-made structures, shade can become your friend, especially in Colorado where heat from the summer sun is intense.

Many of our favorite vegetables succeed because of the sun, but a wide range of interesting and delicious varieties thrive in the cooler microclimate within our garden's shady areas.

In general, leafy vegetables are the most shade-tolerant, while those that fruit from a flower (tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants) are the least. In between are the root vegetables requiring at least a half day of full sun: potatoes, beets, carrots and turnips. Shade tolerant leafy vegetables include lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, endive and radiccio. Broccoli (and its relatives -- kale, kohlrabi, turnips, mustard and cabbage -- also grow in partial shade.

Leafy vegetables display another advantage: they can be picked and enjoyed at any stage of maturity, unlike sun-loving vegetables that must ripen. Yet another advantage to these shade-tolerant plants is their conduciveness to successive plantings. Planted early in the spring, they are ready to enjoy before the intense heat of mid-summer. Planted in mid-to-late summer, they thrive in the cooler days of early fall. Accordingly, they can be used to fill in gaps where summer-harvested vegetables have been picked, or even planted to take advantage of shade created by adjacent larger plants. One leafy vegetable, spinach, can be planted in mid- September, allowed to overwinter, and harvested earlier in the spring than if it were spring-seeded.

In planning your garden, don't overlook the shady spots---they can be the source of both your earliest and latest harvests.

Photograph of chard courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010