Saturday, May 21, 2011

Veggie Gardening in Part Sun

You can grow many edibles in part sun. It took me years to figure this out -as a new gardener, I devoured the articles in gardening magazines and diligently followed whatever the experts said. I would read about heirloom lettuce or how to grow beans, and in my imagination, I was already cutting “claret-splashed, bright green” lettuce leaves and serving tender steamed heirloom green beans. My fantasies burst with the inevitable words: “needs full sun.” The sunniest part of our yard gets direct sun from noon to 3 p.m., well short of the six hours of sunlight called full sun.

The woodland vegetable garden

Cherry tomatoes, planted last week.
Like many people who live in older neighborhoods with established trees, full sun is a dream. You don’t get much sunlight when your house is surrounded on all sides by 50- to 60-foot-tall trees. But my husband wanted a vegetable garden, and two years ago, we stopped listening to the experts. We dug up an oval-shaped patch of weedy “lawn” in a clearing on the south side of the house, added lots of compost to improve the clay, and began experimenting.

Probably the biggest surprise was that cherry tomatoes do quite well in part sun in our North Carolina garden. We’ve grown “Sun Gold” and “Sweet Million,” both of which produced so prolifically that we had extras to give to neighbors. Last year I tried Roma tomatoes, which ripened into several batches of tomato sauce.

Free bamboo makes nice tepees for pole beans.
The general rule seems to be that plants that flower and grow large “fruit,” such as large tomatoes, squash, cucumber, melons, etc. do require full sun. But we’ve had success with smaller vegetables such as peas and bush beans. This year, we’re trying two different varieties of pole beans.

Greens thrive in part sun in our Zone 7B garden. Swiss chard has become my favorite green. It’s beautiful, with its bright red, yellow or orange stems and survives both summer heat and winter cold. If you cut only the largest leaves, it will produce for months. We plant collards and kale in the fall.  Although they stop growing during the shortest days, they survive brief periods of snow cover and are ready for harvest by March. I almost forgot the lettuce - I think it may prefer part shade in the South.

Last, but not least, many herbs do well in part shade. I don’t know what we’d do without them – they’re especially valuable as flavor because my husband is on a low-sodium diet. We use them in almost every meal except breakfast. Parsley and oregano thrive with almost no care. Even with almost daily use, our two parsley plants grow faster than we can cut them. Our basil plants grew four feet tall last summer. Rosemary also has grown well in part shade. I just planted thyme and tarragon and look forward to seeing how they do.

One thing I know: I’m having a lot more fun as a gardener (and eating better!) since I started experimenting with the vegetable garden.


Donna said...

I agree I have had so much fun growing is an experiment that requires our mind and time...great to hear your successes with part shade....wonderful news for many gardeners

One said...


Hi! Congratulations! Your caption has been selected and is posted with a link to your site today.

Come over for some laughs. :)

Stacy said...

Plants seem to be a lot more adaptable than the seed packets and gardening books suggest. Many of the books, I suspect, are written primarily with the northeastern quadrant of the country in mind as well, and don't take the strength of southern sunshine into account. Isn't chard a trouper? So beautiful, and willing to take just about anything you can throw at it!

Sheila said...

Stacy, that's a good point I hadn't considered about much gardening information being targeted for northern gardens. I also think there's a fixed idea (which I bought into for a long time) that a vegetable garden has to be a longish rectangular plot in full sun, separated from the rest of the garden ...