Here are the summary points you have to understand about reducing light levels in the vegetable garden. I add these here because some gardener may be thinking of vegetable gardening in the shade and others will have noticed that growing corn and cucumbers together is going to create shade for the cucumbers.
It is quite possible to garden under trees if you’re using an “open-leaved” tree such as a fruit tree or a smaller/younger ornamental tree that doesn’t produce much shade and allows sunlight to reach the ground. Or a wide spacing of a large vegetable plant such as corn.
It is not possible under dense shade trees such as evergreens or even mature, dense-leaved maples.
Two Tricks to Keep In Mind
The trick is to use shade tolerant plants under or beside trees that allow light to penetrate through to the ground. So think spinach and lettuce rather than big tomatoes.
Having said that, all varieties have to be early varieties. You simply can’t grow a late season corn or tomato in shade and expect a crop. You might get a crop if you use the earliest possible variety. Consider early varieties to be more shade tolerant in practice.
A final thought. Each garden and amount of shade in each hardiness zone is different every year (that’s what makes this such an “interesting” challenge). Bottom line, you get to experiment and work with early varieties because they might grow for you where they won’t grow for me. Try!
Shade Tolerant Vegetables.
Let me be clear. All vegetables prefer full sun but a few do “better” in a limited amount of shade than others. Better is a relative term meaning “not great but surviving to produce something.”
Here are some of the most shade tolerant vegetables and possible combinations of them for height and growth pattern.
In this table, the second row of plants are the more shade tolerant plants. In other words, do try to grow celery next to bush beans so the celery won’t be too badly influenced by the shade. If you grew high-light level cole crops next to bush beans, the cole crops would do poorly.
Again, use the earliest possible varieties you can find of each of these plants.
Lists of combinations
Sunnier ….More Shade tolerant
bean (bush)….. – celery
bean (bush)….. – lettuce
bean (bush)….. – spinach
cole crops ….. celery
cole crops….. – lettuce
cole crops …..– spinach
corn …..- lettuce
cucumber (trellis) …..– celery
cucumber (trellis)….. – lettuce
eggplant …..– celery
onion….. – carrot….. – lettuce
peas (trellis)….. – lettuce
peas (trellis)….. – spinach
sunflower….. – cucumber
tomato (stake)….. – lettuce
Note that trellis and staked means you have to grow that particular plant upright. It can’t be allowed to sprawl on the ground.