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Growing Vegetables In Pots - How To Grow Shade Loving Edible Plants

Spinach beet

Spinach beet

6 Vegetables That Can Be Grown In Pots In Areas Affected By Shade

For many people, growing vegetables in a lovingly tended allotment or in beautifully arranged raised vegetable beds in the garden is just a dream. Many of us don’t have the time to manage the requirements of digging, weeding, feeding and maintaining a large growing area. Some don’t have the luxury of space or don’t have a garden big enough to afford giving some over to a vegetable patch while others don’t have much more than a back yard. There are also those who live in flats or apartments that don’t have any outdoor space, just windowsill, or possibly a balcony.

The good news is that even with these limitations it is still possible to grow your own food, by growing vegetables in pots. And vegetables grown this way don't have to be in just ground level pots and containers. Hanging baskets, wall or fence mounted containers, flat roofs, balconies and even window ledges and sills can be utillsied and can give surprisingly large yields of produce.

Admittedly, you will never be able to grow the same amount of produce as you would from an allotment or full vegetable garden, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to be self sufficient all year round with vegetables, so the best advice is to be selective about what you grow. Choose plants that you enjoy eating, are either expensive to buy or difficult to find in stores, or ones that are attractive to look at.

Mini greenhouses

Mini greenhouses

Growing in shade

But what do you do if the only place you have to locate your pots is not blessed with all day direct sunlight? In most cases, vegetables require at least six hours of sunshine in order to grow into healthy producing plants. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in a place with these suitable conditions. For some, the only space suitable for placing their pots is an area that is partially shaded. The good news is that there are some vegetables that will happily grow in areas affected by partial shade.

If you, Like me, enjoy growing your own veg but have a growing area that spends a large part of each day in shade, you will know how difficult and frustrating it can be to grow vegetables in these conditions. However, after years of trial and error I have learnt which edibles I can grow successfully and which ones are better not taking up my valuable growing space. For me, a large part of the growing is for the eating, so I concentrate on plants that I like eat and which not only manage but can actually thrive with some shade.

All vegetables need some degree of exposure to light and there are several methods that can be utilised in order to maximise their hours of sunshine. Growing vegetables in containers has many benefits but, for gardens with a problem with shade, container growing can have a distinct asset. In order to maximise the sun that the plants get, they can be re-positioned around the garden as needed. Also, the use of greenhouses and coldframes will provide that extra degree of warmth and limit exposure to cooler conditions caused by the shade. I have two small greenhouses in my garden which extend my growing season for months compared to the plants I grow out in the open.

Salad leaves in container

Salad leaves in container

Rocket in pot

Rocket in pot


Leafminer is a particular nuisance when growing leafy plants such as spinach beet. The larvae of different flies eat the the content of the leaves between the outer layers leaving unslightly tracts and patches. Without resorting to sprays, the best method is to remove affected leaves, and keep the remaining plants well fed and watered to promote healthy growth. Protecting the growing area with fleece to prevent the flies gaining access will reduce the chances of the plants being targeted.

Spinach beet affected by leafminer

Spinach beet affected by leafminer

The vegetables

Salad Leaves.

If I could grow only one type of food it would be these. I tend to grow a lot of the salad bowl variety, as well as oriental vegetables such as pak choi and mizuna which I harvest as baby leaves. They are so easy to grow, can be used as a cut-and-come-again crop, and a small growing space can produce amazingly large amounts. Considering how much a small bag of salad leaves costs in the shops, it's clear that growing your own is considerably cheaper, as well as the benefit of getting much fresher, healthier leaves. Salad leaves will grow quickly and will be fine in shallow pots or trays. They are not hungry plants, so can be grown in compost that has been previously used to grow something else.


As the name suggests rocket grows very fast. These leaves have a tendency to bolt, going to seed if they are exposed to too much sun and heat. Growing them in a partially shaded area and being kept well watered will reduce the chances of this happening, keeping the leaves tender for eating. Rocket likes to push its roots down deep so deeper pots are required. If you are growing it outside, the main pest is flea beetle, which damages the leaves with lots of small holes. The plants can be protected by covering with fleece.

Spinach Beet.

This is a great vegetable! Similar in taste to true spinach, this vegetable can handle a lot of abuse and neglet and still produce month after month. Like true spinach, but with less tendency to do so, it can bolt in hot sunny conditions so is very happy with a mixture of sunshine and shade. In really hot weather I move the containers to areas of the garden that have less sunshine. This plant also has deep roots so give it a nice deep pot filled with nutrient rich growing medium to keep it happy. Spinach beet will actually start growing again for a second year, so leave the plants in over winter and enjoy some bonus leaves before you sow a new batch.

Runner Beans.

These can tolerate more shade than most other varieties of beans. As climbers, they will naturally seek out the sun as they wind their way up the frames. The amount of beans the plants produce may be less than if they had more sun, but as these plants are well known for the abundance of produce they can deliver, even in a shady garden like mine I still get a plentiful supply. To get a good crop they require a deep tub with plenty of nutrient rich compost and keep well watered, especially once it starts flowering. It has attractive flowers which is a bonus and is ideally suited in areas where vertical growing will maximize the space available.

Carrots in containers

Carrots in containers

Spring onions inter-cropped with carrots

Spring onions inter-cropped with carrots


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I grow baby varieties in containers. Though I don't grow enough this way to keep me supplied all year long, it does mean I have carrots straight from the garden. Their flavour can't be matched by shop bought ones, they need no peeling, and they taste great raw or only need minimal time to cook. Though it may take them longer to mature, it is still possible to grow carrots in areas affected by shade. They have long tap roots so require deep pots. Baby/salad and round varieties of carrots are well suited to pots as they require less depth of compost to grow in. Carrots can be ruined by carrot fly. Though carrots grown in pots seem to be less affected than when being grown in open ground, it still pays to take a few precautions. Cover the plants in fleece or position in an elevated position or surrounded by other plants. Carrot fly are attracted by the carrots scent, so disturb the plants as little as possible and the plants around them will help to mask the smell. This pest is a poor flyer and will find it difficult to reach pots elevated above about three feet or over barriers.

Spring Onions.

So easy to grow. To have a regular supply of spring onions, sow small amounts every few weeks, so that you have them maturing throughout the growing season rather than all at the same time. They take up little space, making them ideal for growing in small areas. They can be picked washed and added straight to salads or used in flans and stir fries. It's a good idea to grow spring onions near your carrots. The smell of the onions is known to be a good deterrent to carrot fly.

Growing your own

Though it will not be possible to grow all the varieties you would like, growing vegetables in pots in areas affected by shade is still achievable and will be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

growing in a small shady garden

growing in a small shady garden

Carrots in pot

Carrots in pot

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Jen Smith (author) from UK on June 05, 2014:

Thanks Den and happy growing! :)

Dennis Hoyman from Southwestern, Pennsylvania on April 17, 2014:

I am growing a lot of vegetables in pots. I really enjoyed this hub article. And even a profession can learn something new every day. Thank You for the great article on growing certain vegetables in pots. Keep up the great work and keep on writing! Gardener Den

Jen Smith (author) from UK on March 06, 2013:

Glad the tips helped! it can be frustrating when you have difficult growing conditions such as prolonged shade. I wish you well with your growing!

idigwebsites from United States on February 21, 2013:

I'm having problems growing plants because our place is quite surrounded with buildings, therefore there's little or no sun to penetrate into. Thanks for your tips, they're very helpful. Up and useful. :)

Jen Smith (author) from UK on January 10, 2013:

Hi! I'm glad this has been useful, and good luck with your growing!

smackins1974 from UK on January 05, 2013:

I am in this situation with shaded area and looking to try some container pots this spring with my little ones so this has been most useful thanks x

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