The Impermanent Garden: Tips for Landscaping a Rental Home (Part 4)
Most vegetables and fruits do best with significant amounts of direct sunlight - and this makes sense, since sunlight acts as fuel for plant growth! Tomatoes, for example, need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day, but do best with eight to ten hours. But on many balconies and patios, that is just not possible. Not everyone has the coveted southern exposure.
But not to worry! While you may not have all day sunlight, there are still options to grow tasty veggies in your portable garden as long as you have a few hours of direct sun. Working with partial shade gardens require that you be a little more proactive, the upside is that partial shaded plants often result in more tender, sweet vegetables.
A couple tips for gardening in the shade:
- Because of the time spent in shade, be extra careful with your watering. Water on the leaves can lead to rot
- Most of these plants work well in sunny gardens as well, if you can plant them in the shade of taller plants
How Many Hours of Sunlight Does Your Portable Garden Have?
If your portable garden has anywhere from two to four hours of direct sunlight, there are delicious edibles that you can grow in containers!
Edible Plants that Grow in Two to Three Hours of Direct Sun
Tender Asian Greens: Bok Choi, Tatsoi, Komatsuna, Gai-lan (Chinese Broccoli), and Choi Sum
Since these greens prefer cooler weather, the Northern California coast is a great place to grow these plants!
- Because of their preference for cooler weather, late Summer is the best time to sow these seeds - if you are in an area where your Summers are pretty hot (over 70 degrees on average), you may want to consider starting your seedlings indoors for the first month
- Too much sun and these little greens will bolt, which means you will end up with bitter greens. Two to three hours a day is optimal
- These seeds will usually begin to sprout within a week, which is great if you like to see fast results!
- Moist, but well-drained soil with a nitrogen heavy fertilizer is best for these varieties, and a 12 inch deep container will give enough room for the root systems
- Asian greens are great for compact space. Bok Choi, Tatsoi, and Komatsuna only need about 6 inches between plants. Chinese Broccoli and Choi Sum do best with around 14 inches
- With Asian Greens, you can either selectively harvest by clipping outer leaves (as long as you leave the core), or pull the entire plant when it is closer to mature
- Younger greens are far tastier and tender than matured plants
Mesclun Salad Varieties
Mesclun is a cooler weather lettuce mix that can grow well with two hours of direct sunlight per day, and also handles dappled sunlight very well. Mesclun is harvested while it is still young, making it tender and sweet, and there are many varieties of mixes, so if you plant several kinds then you can experience different flavors.
- Mesclun can be planted for both Spring and Fall harvest. Aim to plant a few weeks before your last frost and again in late Summer
- Moist, well drained soil and a slow release fertilizer is great for this lettuce mix
- Two hours a day of sun is enough for Mesclun, but it can handle longer bouts in the sun or partial shade
- Make sure your soil is well worked and loose, aim for an inch between seeds as you sprinkle the mix, and lightly cover with soil
- Mesclun needs to be well watered while sprouting into seedlings, but take care not to saturate the soil
- When the plant has reached four inches or so in height (35-40 days), it is ready to harvest. If you cut the bunch with sharp scissors an inch or two above the soil line, then the plant can regrow. Plan on harvesting three times before it is time to replant
Edible Plants that Grow in Three to Four Hours of Direct Sun
Most often we see arugula used in salads, where is gives a peppery kick to its accompaniments, but when cooked quickly can add great flavor to hot dishes as well.
- Arugula prefers cooler weather, and will become bitter in hot climates. Avoiding Summer sowing and harvests is best for flavor
- Since the root system of the arugula plant is shallow, you can choose shorter containers
- Moist soil is best for arugula, but it is important to be careful of water pressure when watering, especially during seed germination. Arugula seeds are very small, and can easily be pushed too deep into the soil, which hinders growth
- Thinning is a good practice for arugula - snipping outer leaves so that that plants are 3-4 inches apart
- You can harvest with the cut-and-come-up-again method, cutting off the outer leaves and allowing it to continue to grow. Young leaves are best, so look for leaves that are 3-4 inches long
- sowing new seeds every two weeks will keep you in arugula for the entire grow season
Swiss Chard is a delicious and healthy vegetable that is very popular in Mediterranean cooking. A dish as simple as sauteed chard with a little garlic and olive oil - especially when the veggies came out of your own garden - is truly delicious!
- Chard can be grown for late Spring and Fall harvest. In the Bay Area near the water, aim to plant in late March and September. Further inland will need to adjust plant times based on frost dates
- When growing chard for its tasty leaves, and not the ribs, 3-4 hours of sun and partial shade works very well. You will not have large plants, but the leaves will stay very tender
- loose soil with a balanced fertilizer is ideal for chard, and seeds should be planted about three inches apart
- Chard does best with moist soil. If you find your soil is drying quickly, a layer of mulch will help keep your chard cool and damp
- if you see more than one sprout coming up from each spot, cut everything back except for the strongest looking plant
- When harvesting, cut off the outer leaves about an inch above the soil line with a sharp knife. This should encourage growth so you can enjoy more fresh chard
Spinach is especially good for shadier gardens, because direct sunlight can cause the plant to bolt and taste bitter.
- Spinach prefers at least three to four hours of partial sunlight per day, and performs poorly in the heat
- For container gardens, look for the Melody or Baby’s Leaf Hybrid
- Spinach grows very quickly, so replenishing soil with a nitrogen heavy fertilizer will result in better tasting leaves. Ask for a potting mix with a neutral pH balance
- Growing smaller crops and reseeding every few weeks will have better results than large initial crops
- Keeping the soil moist is important, especially during germination
- Thinning the plants once they have started to sprout is best, aiming for 6 inches between the plants - of course you can eat what you harvest!
- You can harvest spinach by cutting off the outer leaves or cutting the bunch an inch or two above the soil. Your plant should resprout new leaves
Scallions are a great option for any garden because of their hardiness. These spring onions love to grow!
- If you do not want to grow scallions from seeds, you can plant the trimmed bulbs from the supermarket
- Growing from seeds takes a little more time - up to one month to germinate
- If your seedlings are a little crowded and closer than an inch together, it is best to thin out the scallions
- Scallions prefer three hours or more of direct sunlight per day, but will grow in partial sunlight as well
- If you are looking to grow inside, scallions are a great option if you have a sunny kitchen window to place the container
- Moist but well drained soil is best, and make sure the soil doesn't dry out!
- Scallions will grow longer and retain their bright flavor if you treat the soil with a phosphorus rich fertilizer
- When the scallions are between 8-12 inches tall (usually around 70 days), gently loosen the soil around the bulb and remove the plant - and enjoy!
Some herbs require plenty of direct sunlight, but chives, mint, and parsley all grow well with three hours of sun per day
- An 8-10 inch pot with a peat based potting soil is great for chives, with seeds placed 2 inches apart, lightly covered with soil
- During germination, the soil should be moist. Once mature, water once the top ¼ inch of the soil is dry
- You can start to harvest within 60 days of planting. Use the cut-and-grow-back method, cutting half of the bunch at a time an inch above the soil line. It will continue to grow back
- Parsley is a great companion plant for chives, but don’t plant your chives with spinach!
- Flat leaf parsley is best for flavor, and the Italian flat leaf variety is rather popular
- Parsley is hardy to cold, but slow growing. Because of that, it is best to plant your seeds a month before the last frost. For Bay Area residents near the coast, this would be late January
- Once your plants are growing, 70 degree soil is optimal. If it is getting over 80 degrees multiple days in a row, you may want consider bringing your plants inside
- Parsley prefers moist but not saturated soil
- In milder climates, parsley will continue to grow for most of the year
- When harvesting, make sure to look for leaves that are still tender. Rough, older leaves have less flavor - it is best to prune these leaves
- Mint loves to grow, so containers are a great way to keep the plant in check, even if you have ample space and a permanent garden
- A 12-16 inch pot with moist well-drained soil is good for mint, but it is happiest when there are a few inches of compost layering the top
- Mint can handle both full sun and part shade
- Pinching off flowers and longer stems will encourage the mint plant to maintain a rounder bush, instead of trailers that will roam your backyard. Pinching right above a set of leaves also encourages growth - and that is the best way to harvest this herb
- If you are planting multiple herbs, it is best that mint does not share a container with parsley - they do not grow well together. Mint and lettuce are great companions, so those would be good to grow together
Amazing how many edible plants can handle partial shade conditions, and there are even more out there. Is there a particular vegetable or fruit that you have successfully grown in shady conditions?