15 Garden Herbs That You Can Grow in The Shade
Have a few shady spots in your yard or garden that need some perking up? Want to maximize your square-foot space under the shade of your tall garden tomatoes? Discover new herbal flavors that take your cooking to the next level, grown right outside your kitchen window. Gardening expert Sarah Hyde offers 15 herbs that can grow well in part shade.
Shade can be one of the most challenging factors in gardening, especially if you’re in a concrete jungle with hard and fast sunlight hours, or near tall trees that just keep getting bigger each year! Thankfully, the plant kingdom has had millennia to deal with this same problem and has generously come up with solutions!
While there are many vegetables that can grow in the shade, there are also a variety of different shade friendly herbs that can be planted in gardens that don’t get quite as much sunlight. These herbs can also provide other benefits, especially as companion plants that keep away pests.
This article will focus on herbs that do well in the part-shade category. Don’t worry, most of these herbs listed will also do just fine in part-sun too. So, let’s jump in and take a look at some of the top herbs you can plant if your garden doesn’t get quite as much sun!
Before we jump right into some of the top herbs for a shady area of your garden, let’s examine a few important considerations. Each of these factors should be something you consider before starting to plant herbs in a shade garden, just because certain herbs will do better than others depending on their sunlight hours, or the type of shade they recieve.
Before planting any herbs (or any plant for that matter), observe your garden during the growing season to see roughly how many hours of sunlight it receives. Knowing this will help you better select the right plant for the right place.
Also, not all sunlight is equal in intensity. Morning sun is less hot than afternoon sun and is great for drying morning dew off plants. The afternoon sun can be scorching, so heat-loving plants thrive with it whereas more sensitive plants may wilt under its intensity.
Types of Shade
Sun, part-sun, part-shade and shade are defined by hours of sunlight a spot receives. Shade hours can be a bit hard to measure to the minute since the amount and intensity of the sun changes throughout the year.
- Total shade is less than 4 hours per day sunlight. Very few vegetable and herb plants grow in total shade. If this is your gardening situation you may struggle to grow the plants you want without supplemental lighting.
- Part-shade is 4-6 hours of sun, with it mostly being less intense, morning sun.
- Part-sun is 4-6 hours of sun, with most of it being hot midday or afternoon sun.
- Full sun is 8 or more hours of sunlight a day. (You may see sources that define this as 6 or more.)
Naturally, partially shaded sites are not as warm as full sun growing areas. Heat and sun loving plants are generally not the best choice for part-shade. Even for herbs that tolerate partial shade, you may see them grow leggy (tall stems) and fail to thrive, which indicates they are getting too much shade.
Since the reduced sunlight and warmth reduce plant’s transpiration (losing water from the leaves through photosynthesis) you most likely will need to water the plants less. Soil will stay wetter for longer. Test the soil with your finger before watering.
When harvesting your herbs, it is best to wait until the plants have dried from morning dew or after rain. This helps reduce the spread of disease and fungi. In part-shade, this may mean your prime harvest window is short.
If you find your herb garden is in total shade and nothing will grow you may have to get creative. Observe the trees surrounding your growing area and trim back if possible to access more sunlight. If you are limited by buildings you may have less choice on how to improve the sunlight access.
Growing herbs in containers might be a solution, and fortunately most of the herbs listed here do just fine when grown in containers. Container growing allows you to move them to the sunniest spots on your patio throughout the growing season. As a last resort for sunlight, grow containers inside by your sunniest window and add a few hours of supplemental lighting by using a table lamp and grow bulb.
Bee balm, also known as wild bergamot, will wow you with a spicy scent and showy blooms. Flowers may be lavender, white, or burgundy depending on the cultivar. This mint-family plant has a wide range throughout the United States.
Bee balm will attract a plethora of pollinators to your garden including bumble bees, swallowtail butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bee balm likes drier soils and can grow well in part shade. Medicinal benefits are wide ranging from soothing coughs to relieving nausea.
Add a bit of charm to your garden with the petite blooms and sweet smells of Roman chamomile. Roman chamomile is very similar in appearance to common chamomile, but it is low growing and spreads with creeping rhizomes.
Hardy in zones 5-8 and tolerant of light foot traffic, Roman chamomile can be a good choice in less sunny corners and along garden paths.
Chervil is grown as an annual herb that is occasionally called French parsley. The light green plant grows about knee-high and resembles thick carrot greens (it is a member of the carrot family). Chervil’s mild anise flavor is excellent added to salads for a unique taste. Dried leaves make a great addition to your homemade herbs d’ Province.
An essential herb for cooking, chives are fantastic for soups, and breakfast dishes. Harvest chive leaves all season long fresh, or dry to be enjoyed all year. Bright purple blossoms brighten up the partly shady parts of your garden and lend a beautiful, mild-onion flavor to salads.
They are easy to grow once established and tend to be one of the first green growth in the garden in the spring. The attractive bunching habit makes a decorative border that also helps repel pests from other vegetable garden plants. Chives are hardy in zones 3-9 and will self-seed, expanding a bit every year.
Want an herb that does double duty in the kitchen as well as a cut flower? Garlic chives provide a fresh pop of subtle-garlic flavored greens, and mesmerizing star-shaped white blooms that last in a vase. You may find yourself planting these gems more for the flower than the herb!
Garlic chives have a similar growth habit to chives (slow-spreading bunches) but plan for them to grow taller. Tell the two chives apart by their leaf shape: garlic chives have wide, flat leaves, while regular chives are narrow and round.
Regular celery is a challenging crop to grow for most gardeners. Cutting celery is just like garden celery, only smaller. It’s easier to grow and has no problem growing in part shade. Use cutting celery’s leaves to add fresh celery flavor to soups and pasta or bean salads.
The plants resemble flat-leaf parsley and are grown as an annual. Harvest the leaves all season long for fresh celery flavor in all your cooking.
Do you have total shade and struggle to get herbs to grow? Ginseng is native to North American and naturally grows in wooded areas so it more easily adapts to your shady garden. Ginseng has been known to have vast medicinal qualities.
Planting ginseng in cooler microclimates such as an east or north-facing slope mimics its natural habitat. Ginseng is considered endangered in some states, so purchase seeds from reputable suppliers who practice legal propagation and seed collection.
Lovage will add unique interest to your partly-shady garden with a ruffled appearance and dark green celery-flavored leaves. The flowers and seeds are also edible. Plan to give lovage plenty of space, since the plants will grow 4 feet tall (even taller in optimal conditions) and 2 feet wide. It can be grown as a perennial in zones 4-8.
Classic mint is a shade gardener’s best friend and possibly worst enemy. Mint is an easy-to-grow herb with a refreshing, pungent scent and attractive purple blooms. Even a small mint patch will yield enough leaves to make enough fresh or dried mint tea for yourself and all your friends.
You’ll love popping a fresh leaf into your mouth every time you are in the garden. With very few pests, mint can be rewarding to grow in part shade. However, mint spreads generously so it may become a problem and hard to eradicate.
Once established, the roots are tenacious and difficult to remove (especially from wet areas). Before you plant mint, make sure you are willing to let it spread, provide a natural, dry barrier like a path or rock wall, or plant it into a container in a shady area that limits its aggressive roots.
Oregano is an essential herb in the kitchen for cuisines throughout the world, so it is an excellent choice for the part-shade areas of your garden. It has a strong flavor, grayish-green leaves, and delicate white blooms.
It also grows well in pots, which help contain the sprawling growth. If planted in the ground with ample space, expect plants to grow about 2 feet tall and 18”-24” wide. If you are in zones 4-9, oregano will come back each year.
Sage is as beautiful as it is medicinally useful and can tolerate part-shade. Long, soft dusty green leaves grow on woody stems to reveal purple blooms late in summer. Since it is hardy in zones 4-8 and has very few pest problems, it is an excellent choice for any garden.
Plant it to add height and color to your herb patch, since it will grow up to 30” tall. Beneficial insects and pollinators are also attracted to sage’s beautiful spike of blooms.
Looking for a new herb to add to your part shade garden? Try saltwort, a traditional Japanese herb. Despite an unappetizing name, saltwort lends a crunch and mild flavor to salads.
Saltwort’s fern-like leaves resemble dill but have a shorter growing habit, only growing up to 18” tall. Sow continuously throughout the season and harvest often to keep a supply of the tender young leaves.
The feathery, vibrant green leaves also work as a soft element in garden design. Saltwort will grow up to 18” tall if unattended or harvested. Many wild plants share the same common name, so look for seeds labeled with the scientific name Salsola komarovii.
Grow your own sweetener this summer! Stevia is an annual in most of the United States that can grow well in part shade. With a low-growing habit, it works well next to taller vegetable crops like tomatoes or trellised cucumbers. One thing to note is you’ll have to start your plants early inside or purchase starts since stevia takes 100+ days to mature from seed.
Thyme is a staple in the herb garden, grows well in part shade, and has a pleasant scent that is purported to also keep pests away from your other vegetable crops. An endless number of recipes call for thyme, fresh or dried. To dry, clip stems throughout the growing season and air dry out of direct sunlight. Fill your spice jars with dried thyme that has significantly more flavor than store-bought thyme.
All types of thyme can grow in part shade. Summer thyme is the most pungent and best for culinary use. It is perennial in zones 6-8. Choose German winter thyme for a more hardy perennial in zones 5-8.
Lemon thyme has a fun, variegated leaf color and distinct lemon flavor and will thrive in zones 5-9. Creeping thyme grows as a semi-drought tolerant ground cover in zones 5-8, and can still be used in cooking though may be more difficult to harvest in quantity.
You may have heard of valerian in herbal teas, or as a remedy for relaxation. The root is the part grown for medicinal value, though the showy, fragrant white flowers borne on tall stalks attract pollinators. It is also deer resistant and tolerates part shade. Allow it ample space, since it will grow up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and will be perennial in zones 3-9.
Be aware that valerian spreads readily by roots and seeds, and is listed as a noxious weed in some states. Before planting, check your state’s Department of Natural Resources noxious weed list. Similar to mint, plan to grow valerian in a large container or area with a dry border such as a walkway. Valerian favors wet conditions, though it will spread in most soil types.
Shade in your garden does not mean you can only grow decorative hostas! Fortunately, many useful and beautiful herbs are adapted to grow in part-shade. By observing what type of shade you have and choosing these herbs listed that grow in part-shade, you can expand the possibilities of your herb garden. Discover new flavor combinations and stock your cupboards for winter with homegrown, pungent dried herbs.