Shade Tolerant Herbs For Your Herb Garden

Shade Tolerant Herbs For Your Herb Garden

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Herbs are generally considered the hardiest of all garden plants. They have relatively few problems with insects and disease and are extremely adaptable. While most herbs prefer to be located in full sun, there are many shade tolerant herbs that can brighten up dull, dark areas of the garden.

Shade herbs can make excellent companions for other shade-loving plants like hostas, ferns, and numerous types of bulbs. They make great companions with numerous types of flowering plants as well. Growing herbs for shade is a great way to add color and fragrance to the garden.

Shade Herbs

When growing herbs for shade, it helps to know what herbs will grow in shade. Knowing which herbs are more likely to succeed and understanding their adaptations in shady conditions can increase the chances of success.

For instance, while some herbs may require full sun in cooler regions, these same herbs might prefer shady areas in warmer climates. Before choosing shade tolerant herbs for the garden, it’s also important to understand the difference between full shade, partial shade, and light shade or partial sunlight.

What Herbs Will Grow in Shade?

Some of the most popular shade tolerant herbs include:

  • Lemon balm – Lemon balm grows well in shady areas, especially in dry climates, provided it has adequate drainage.
  • Sweet woodruff – Sweet woodruff is great for use in shade, providing excellent ground coverage for dark areas. This shade herb also grows well with bulbs.
  • Ginger – Ginger prefers areas of light shade in moist but well-drained soil.
  • Chives – Chives also prefer light shade in moist, well-draining soil.
  • Parsley – In warmer climates, parsley can be grown in shade.
  • Mint – Several varieties of mint also make suitable shade herbs. They do well in lightly shaded areas with adequate moisture and relatively fertile soil.
  • Angelica – Angelica plants are also suitable shade herbs.

Growing Herbs for Shade

Shade tolerant herbs also grow taller and lankier as they reach for the sun. However, you can easily keep shade herbs bushier and encourage new growth by pinching back their foliage. It may also help to prune the lower branches of trees to allow more sunlight to peak through.

In addition, pruning helps to improve the air circulation of shade herbs. When growing herbs for shade, try to choose herbs that are native to woodland settings.

Shade herbs typically require less watering. The majority of shade tolerant herbs prefer moist, humus-rich soil. Amending the soil with organic matter such as compost will help improve the soil quality and ultimate success of the garden.

Gardening in the shade doesn’t have to be frustrating. Shade herbs can be integrated with other shade-loving flowering plants. Knowing what herbs will grow in shade is key to their success. Choosing and planting shade tolerant herbs is a great way for the gardener with limited sunlight to create diversity within dull areas of the landscape.

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Read more about General Herb Care

Shade-Loving Herbs

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a perennial herb hardy to USDA Zone 3, tolerates partial shade and grows well in poor soil as long as the drainage is good. It self-sows easily. Lemon balm may be used in teas, salads and fish dishes or with fruit. Its dried leaves may be used in potpourris and sachets. Plants grow leggy and thin unless they're cut back several times a year.

Garlic chives grow best in light shade and require frequent cutting to encourage production of new leaves. Chives may be used in soups and salads, as a garnish and as a seasoning for poultry, fish and pork.

Mint tolerates light shade and comes in a variety of fragrances, including peppermint, spearmint, apple, chocolate and orange. Mint may be used in flavoring teas and drinks or in baking. Because they have a tendency to be invasive, grow mint in containers to help keep plants in check.

Parsley, a biennial herb, requires part shade in hot climates and can be grown in containers or window boxes. Italian flat-leaf parsley has an especially strong flavor. Soak parsley seeds for 24 hours before planting.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a perennial that bears star-shaped white flowers in spring and requires partial shade in hot climates. It prefers a rich soil and can become a pest if left unchecked. Foliage is hay-scented when dried and is used in making May wine.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), an evergreen shrub, prefers full sun but may be grown in light shade. It is very aromatic when brushed or bruised and is used in cooking fish, poultry and game. Rosemary comes in upright and prostrate forms. The latter may be grown on a wall or in a hanging basket.

Try Growing Herbs in Shade

While not all herbs grow well in the shade, these nine herbs will do fine if you keep them in a shady spot. Ideally, they would have a site that receives at least two to four hours, but they’ll be fine without that as well. Don’t neglect your shady garden spot take it back by planting some herbs that grow in the shade there.

Learn more about growing herbs in the shade here:


Leafy Greens

  1. Arugula
  2. Pak Choy / Bok choy
  3. Celery
  4. Chicory
  5. Collards
  6. Endive
  7. Kale
  8. Kang kong
  9. Mustard greens
  10. Chinese cabbage
  11. Lettuce
  12. Spinach
  13. Swiss chard
  14. Mesclun
  15. Mizuna
  16. Tatsoi
  17. Watercress

These are leafy greens that will grow well in part sun.

The best thing you can do for partial or full shade crops is to keep them in pots that you can move and shift around to acquire whatever sunlight they can get. Otherwise, you risk them growing stringy and weak. Therefore, it’s best to stick to crops you’d grow for their leaves and roots.

Root veggies mostly rely on nutrients found in the soil and therefore, don’t need much sunlight.

You’ll want to be sure to avoid most fruiting crops [2], such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These are happiest in gardens that receive eight or more hours of sunlight every day.

This makes them very difficult to grow in portable pots and window boxes where light might not be most prevalent.

Tips for Growing Vegetables and Herbs in The Shade

Start Them Indoors

Typically, young seedlings need quite a bit of light to really grow. By starting your seeds indoors, you are able to make sure they get the light they need before transplanting an older, more established seedling into the shady garden spot.

If you do direct sow plants, try to do so in an area that will be covered in dappled shade before the leaves bloom on the trees.

Water Needs

A garden in the full sun has very different water requirements than a garden in the shade. It’s always best to mulch to conserve moisture and water when the soil is dried out.

Generally, a shade garden will need less frequent watering than a sunny garden. However, if your shade is provided by trees, the leaves can stop rain from reaching your plants and the plants will be competing for moisture with the trees. So, every situation is going to be a bit different.

Soil Health

Making sure you have healthy, good quality soil is paramount to allowing your plants to yield good crops when they’re grown in the shade.

Whether you improve your soil or use raised beds or containers filled with high quality top soil and compost, make sure that you aren’t giving your plants too many challenges by providing them with shady conditions and poor soil, too.

Expect a Slower Crop and a Lower Yield

Plants like light, that’s how they grow. And while many plants will produce, even in the shade, that production will be slower and smaller due to lack of light.

Your lettuce may look a little more leggy, things may not have as high of a yield as they would in full sun conditions, but you’ve got to work with what you have available and that’s ok!

Consider Containers

While we are blessed with lots of full sun areas for our garden, we do have some areas I would love to grow things that don’t receive any sunlight at all. The solution? Container gardening. By utilizing containers I can move the plants out into the sun to make sure they get enough sunlight and put them back into their respective spots after they get their daily dose of UV light.

Growing vegetables and herbs in the shade can be challenging, but not altogether impossible. In homesteading and gardening, we have to learn to make do and work with the resources we have and if we’re blessed with plenty of shade, that’s what we have to do.

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Watch the video: 5 Herbs That Grow Well in Shade