If your garden spot is shady, do not give up on growing herbs. There are many herbs to flavor your meals and grow in shady places. Knowing this may be useful because we all associate herbs with the sun, and we may not always have a sunny spot to plant in.
Most of our favorite culinary herbs are plants we connect with beautiful Mediterranean hillsides. Cliffsides overlooking the sea and fields of Provencal lavender are on our minds when we plan a fresh meal with herbs from our own garden beds. Sunny days are the operative element when we think of growing our own food.
“Not my herb garden!”
Mediterranean Climates-Important But Not Common
Mediterranean climates around the world encompass only two percent of the global land mass, but the “combined vascular plant flora of our Mediterranean climates comprise slightly more than two percent of all the plant species in the world.” (Source) These are ecosystems important to us all.
They Are Rare Biodiversity Hot Spots
Only five areas in the world offer true Mediterranean climate conditions of mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. They are:
- The Mediterranean Basin itself
- Central Chile
- The Cape Region of South Africa
- Southwestern and Southern Australia
But We Can’t All Live In A Mediterranean Climate
But we can’t all live in a Mediterranean climate, and a perfect environment is not given to any gardener or cook. We all need to adjust to the kitchen and the garden we have, and we still want beauty and taste! How to get it?
“How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned
but in herbs and flowers”-Andrew Marvell
A Pleasant Surprise for Both the Garden and the Kitchen
The pleasant surprise is that many of our favorite and most flavorful and aromatic herbs will adjust to the spaces we give them. We don’t always need perfect soil and beautiful sunny days to grow successfully and eat well.
We Don’t Always Need Full Sun For Our Herbs!
In some cases, such as in my small South Florida garden, full sun is not always available and sometimes not even always best. Here is what works for me. My garden is on a flat, hot, pondside space in narrow beds with no shortage of sun. We also have hot, wet, and humid summers, perfect for creating fungal diseases on the most perfect of herbs. We are in Hardiness Zone 10, and our torrid Hurricane season lasts for half of the year.
Frost-damaged herbs are rarely our problem; pests and diseases are our lot in garden life!
It is important to know your garden’s plant hardiness Zone: USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Just add your zip code.
One Option-Consider Using Containers
- Herbs are small, compact, and primarily small-rooted plants. Many are annual plants. They are ideally suited for growing in containers of any kind.
- I prefer the natural appearance, porosity, and relatively light weight of genuine terracotta containers. When I change plants, I scrub the planters with a weak bleach solution and reduce the chances of disease.
- Terracotta’s natural porosity means that it is easier to avoid that curse of all gardeners, the failure of the soil to drain, and this is a major cause of herb loss. We do use more water this way.
- You can use less water with plastic or glazed ceramic planters. Use the best quality potting soil and ensure that you do not overwater if you choose this route.
- We have a gardening neighbor who has decreed that only plastic containers will be used in her garden. She is celebrating her eighty-third birthday, and she can lift the plastic pots! Always do what works for you.
- Most of our culinary herbs are located near the kitchen. This is an important decision; conveniently located herbs get used the most in cooking.
- We like to gather containers of plants around a palm tree. This makes them easy to move between sun and shade as needed. In the most challenging summer season, this reduces rainfall soaking the plants a bit.
- Herbs do vary in their need for sun, shade, and moisture. We can keep herbs with different needs together, and the plants are convenient for pruning and harvesting.
- Culinary herbs perform best and yield the most when regularly pruned and harvested. Take a clean pair of scissors with you when you visit the garden every morning.
- Enjoy the beauty of the garden, and at the same time, look out for herbs for the day’s meals as you make your morning visit.
- Look out for trouble at the same time. Torn, discolored, damaged, or chewed leaves will lead you to early solutions before problems grow.
- Harvest as you cook or in the morning just after the dew is off the plants. Bring your cuttings indoors, wash and store them in a jar of water. (remove any leaves below the water.)
- Sterilize scissors and clippers used on plants.
What Herbs Will Grow In Partial Sun
Here is a list of herbs you can grow in partial sun. Let’s start by defining partial and full sun growing conditions.
- Full is typically defined as 6-8 hours of sun per day.
- Partial sun is customarily defined as 4-6 hours per day.
Measure The Sun In Your Garden
Measure the sun intensity in the place where you intend to plant several times throughout the day. Start as soon as the sun comes up and note the amount of sun. Repeat this every hour, all day. Write down when you are standing in full sun, partial sun, perhaps dappled sun, and shade. The aggregated results may surprise you! My garden constantly surprises me.
- Basil– is a tender annual plant and can accept partial sun. Especially if your basil bolts (ie, forms flowers and seeds before you have finished using the plant) or the leaves wilt, your plant will be happier in less sun. Here is how to harvest basil and what to do when you have a bounty of basil.
- Chives– are a perennial herb related to onion. One variety tastes like mild onion another is more like garlic. Try them both; they are tasty in many dishes and will tolerate lower levels of sun in your garden.
- Cilantro is a delicate, annual herb that grows and bolts rapidly. We love it in our fall, winter, and spring garden, and it performs much better in partial than full sun in our climate. It, however, does not appreciate our humid, stormy summers. Most gardeners find success with cilantro (coriander) in partial sun.
- Lemon Balm-is a herbaceous perennial and is naturalized in most parts of the world. Grow it for its lemony aroma in partial shade.
- Chervil– is the herb we most associate with spring and French flavors; it is a fern-like plant that prefers less than full sun and cool growing conditions. We love it in our springlike winters, but it does not reciprocate our affection in our wet summers.
- Mint– is a classic herb that prefers 4-6 hours of sunlight. In our garden, it accepts more hours of shade. It is a vigorous, useful perennial grower and a well-known bully in the garden. Keep it in containers, or you will be chasing it like a runaway dog!
- Parsley is a biennial herb and so useful that it is wise to plant at least one every year. It can be happy in full-partial sun. In our sunny environment, we prefer partial sun.
- Rosemary is the classic, full sun, low water, Mediterranean herb. Many gardens sport it as an aromatic hedge. It does, however, accept far less sun than you might expect. If part sun is what you have, don’t overlook rosemary.
Culinary herbs are far more accepting plants than many cooks and gardeners know. They are adaptable in the garden, delicious in the kitchen, and far more accessible and economical than the damp plastic bags in the grocery store!
For more information on growing and cooking with herbs read this.
Here are signs of too much and too little sun. Observe your garden and your plants every day, and you will catch problems while they are small.
Signs of too much sun: the leaves of the plant appear scorched and dry. Sometimes you will see what looks like a blister on the leaf, which eventually turns brown or appears to have a grayish margin. Leaves will be lost, and the stem cracked.
Signs of too little sun: the plant will become leggy, with long and thin stems, the leaves are small and far apart, and the plant may lean as it strives to reach enough sun to remain alive. With potted herbs, simply move the pots until the plant appears more healthy.
“Herbs are the friend of the physician and the pride of cooks.”
Here is a little useful information you might be able to use.