What does it mean to have a small garden? If your neighbor down the street has a yard that can fit a pool and bocce court, you might say that your home garden is small when your yard can only fit a table with four chairs and a BBQ.
This will likely make anyone living in an apartment, condo or one-bedroom house roll their eyes, but let’s play nice. “Small” comes in many sizes (just ask the retail world!).
To clarify, we are describing small in the context of this article as a balcony/deck that can hold a 2 square foot garden (perfect for an urban garden!), or a small yard/porch that has enough gardening space for a 10 square foot garden (I’m talking to you townhouse/condo dwellers).
Great, so we’ve got the size of your garden covered, but now let’s talk about how much sunshine your garden will enjoy. Full sun gardens receive 6+ hours of direct sunlight and are optimal for Fall favorites such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Let’s be real, if you have a small garden as we discussed above, you likely have partial shade to full shade to grow your garden.
Growing in Shade
Partial shade and partial sun both describe areas that receive 3-6 hours of sun each day. Partial sun areas obtain 3-6 hours of direct sunlight but are in shade the rest of the day. Partially shaded areas are moderately shaded during some of the day or receive filtered sunlight all day.
What grows in Partial Shade / Partial Sun:
Root vegetables are a must-have! Fall and winter are the perfect seasons to grow Radishes, Turnips, Beets. They are great veggies to grow in partial shade and they thrive in cool weather. Root veggies are also a great way to maximize small spaces. Because of limited light, you may find that the plants are slower to produce or grow to maturity, and will likely result in one big harvest vs. many fruits.
Gardener Tip: If the roots are slow to develop, you can always skip waiting for the roots to mature, and just eat the tops of the radishes, turnips, and beets!
Full shade gardens may receive no direct sun or reflected/filtered light during the day. Full shade is not a good place to grow root vegetables, because they will need some sunlight to develop and be healthy. We consider full shade to be less than 2 hours of direct sun but reflected light for at least 6 hours.
What grows in Full Shade:
Leafy greens, such as sorrel, chard, and salad greens are the most tolerant vegetables that grow in shade. In fact, keeping these plants shaded as the late spring/summer season heats up will help them last longer. Leeks, Golden Oregano, Chives, and Chervil are also shade tolerant but would do best in partial shade to full sun.
For best results, plant these herbs & veggies in areas that are moderately shaded during part of the day or receive filtered or dappled sunlight all day.
Gardener Tip: Give microgreens a try in full shade! Microgreens are immature baby plants that you start by seed and harvest once they have developed their cotyledon leaves or the first set of true leaves. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leafy greens are all excellent (and super healthy!) to grow as microgreens. Do not eat the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers) as microgreens. The sprouts and plants are poisonous and only their fruit should be consumed.
What not to grow:
Vegetables that produce fruit or flowers from the plant should not be grown in full shade. Plants need sunlight to fuel functions such as growth and reproduction (fruit production).
Gardener Tips: Broccoli and Cauliflower heads are actually flowers, and like most flowers, they should be planted in full sun. They can tolerate partial shade but are likely to develop smaller heads
You now have the basics to narrow down what may grow best in your small garden. If something dies or doesn’t grow the way you hoped it would don’t get too down on yourself. Gardening is full of trial and error and even the best and most experienced gardeners have been in your shoes! Try a new varietal or plant and give it another go. Check back for information about planting a small garden in Spring/Summer and we look forward to growing with you!