Shade-Tolerant Vegetables

By: Jennifer LaMontagne – Horticulturist – Bloch’s Farm – Green Lake, WI

A vegetable garden can bring you hours of therapeutic exercise and provide healthy foods for your table.  If you have a shady area that receives at least a few hours of sunlight each day, you can grow shade-tolerant root or leafy vegetables.  A few ideas for leafy vegetables and herbs that don’t need a lot of direct sunlight include lettuce, arugula, spinach, kale, and chives.  Bloch’s Farm in Green Lake has a full selection of vegetable seeds and plants for all your gardening needs!

Lettuce comes in a multitude of colors, textures, and flavors.  Loose-leaf varieties prefer shade but need at least 3-4 hours of sunlight per day.  In early spring, sow a variety of lettuce seeds directly into the ground.  Every two or three weeks, plant more seeds for a continuous summer crop.  Adequate moisture is a must to ensure flavorful, succulent leaves.  Harvest lettuce until the plant bolts.  Bolting is when the plant stops producing edible parts and grows a tall seed stalk.  

Arugula, a dark green leafy vegetable, can be added to salads and has a distinctive peppery taste.  Arugula is a very fast-growing vegetable that grows best in cooler temperatures with 2-3 hours of sunlight per day.  Like lettuce, you’ll want to begin succession planting in early spring.  Sow the first seeds, wait a week or so, and then plant more.  For more leaf production and better taste, harvest Arugula often when the leaves are about 4-6 inches long.  Pinch off individual leaves, pull out the whole plant, or cut it just below the soil level.  After the plant bolts, the leaves may become bitter tasting.   

Spinach is a cooler temperature crop and can even be planted before the last frost of the spring.  It grows quickly with just 4 hours of sunlight per day.  Long hot days cause spinach to bolt, so plant seeds in early spring and provide sufficient water to obtain the tastiest results.  Sow seeds again in late July for a fall/winter crop.  Harvest spinach in six to eight weeks, cutting the outer leaves to increase plant longevity.  After the plant bolts, cut off the entire spinach plant just below the soil surface.  

Kale tastes great when added to salads, mixed in with other dishes, or baked as a delicious kale chip snack.  Kale is easy to grow, needing only 4 hours of sunlight, and thrives in cooler temperatures. In fact, kale can have a sweeter taste after a light frost.  Varieties with smooth leaves are faster growing and well-suited to shady spaces.  To harvest, you can cut young leaves after a month or two to use in salads, or harvest more mature leaves for cooking.  Be sure to watch kale plants closely for rot diseases and harmful insects.

Chives are the easiest, hardiest perennial herb to grow.  If full-sun is not available, chives happily thrive in the shade, although they may have fewer blossoms. They are an appetizing addition to salads, potato soups, or any dish that needs a little oniony flavor.  Bees and butterflies love them, too!  To harvest, cut the leaves as needed. 

Bloch’s Farm is open to the public 7 days a week:  Monday through Saturday 8am to 6pm and Sundays 8am to 4pm.  Don’t miss this weekend’s sale!  25% perennial day lilies and tropical canna lilies! 

We ask that health department guidelines be followed upon your visit to the farm.  If you have questions, feel free to call 920-294-6000 or email me at

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