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growing in the Shade  RSS feed

 
                            
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My particular archnemisis is shade. We abut forest to the south, on a steep upward slope. The sun barely clears the top of the canopy in the summer in parts of the yard - other parts get no direct sunlight at all, ever.

Let's say you were stuck with the shade conditions and can't move the trees. What would you do?

Chickens? Mushrooms? Any other ideas?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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If it is dry shade it will be very difficult to grow anything without irrigation.  With moist shade, there are more possibilities.

http://www.pfaf.org/user/cmspage.aspx?pageid=90

http://www.pfaf.org/user/cmspage.aspx?pageid=91

I'm sure folks here who have more experience with woodland gardening can give more suggestions and links. 

 
                              
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what part of the world are you in?  Average humidity?  Rainfall?  Ponds?  What kind of trees are on your property?
 
Paula Edwards
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The closer you are to the equator the better the shade is.
If you are far away the shade is a big problem.
 
tel jetson
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been browsing a medicinal herbs book the last couple of nights.  there are a lot of herbs that grow well in the shade, both dry and moist.

a favorite shady food is ramps (Allium triococcum).  doesn't do well in the shade of conifers, though, just angiosperms.  wasabi (Wasabia japonica) likes moist shade.

there are a lot of things that will grow for you, they just aren't going to be your familiar fruits and vegetables.

Burnt Ridge Nursery put together this pdf that has some more suggestions for shady conditions, though I think their list is limited to plants they sell.

I would add alpine and musk strawberries (Fragaria vesca and moschata respectively).  they don't fruit heavily in shade, but they grow fine and produce some fruit.

don't despair.  you have more options than you might think.

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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ediblecities wrote:
The closer you are to the equator the better the shade is.


I've found my gardens do better here with some shade.  I'm not super close to the equator, but close enough, I guess!  30 degrees north latitude.   
 
                            
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Definitely moist. Live in W. Massachusetts. Zone 5a.

I have some partial shade places I will try my hand at lettuce and such. But mostly looking for total shade/dappled. I have irises that are doing good (I prefer to grow food, but I do enjoy my MIL's lovely gift of irises dug from her yard). Mushrooms grow naturally in my yard - I see at least 3 different species with my poor eyes. But no idea what they are, and unsure if I can trust my eyesight enough to properly identify them even with a book (I'm legally blind).

The trees that provide the shade are not on my property but on adjacent properties - I'm in a 1/10th acre urban plot, and the property to the south of me is a few acres of woodlot. The wood stand is mixed but I'd say predominately maple, medium maturity. Because of the mountainside slope, they may as well be redwoods because they tower over my little property.

There is a part in the shade where we have managed to make grass grow. But even that is truly in the shade, only dappled sunlight and never really direct sun. I could attempt some leafy things ther and see how they do. The rest of it is basically forest floor. The "back 40" (LOL!) we don't even rake, we just let the leaves pile there as pure forest floor. I am thinking chickens there, but for some reason I seem reluctant to take the leap to livestock. Well, I guess I just have to get over it
 
                            
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Reading through those pfaf links now... wow, I have never even heard of most of these things. Makes me wonder how I could try to taste some before planting, to see if I like them.
 
Josh T-Hansen
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
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Although I haven't tasted them, my recommendations are ramps, fuki, and fiddlehead ferns.  I found the links helpful, but definitely cross reference the plants listed because I think some of them are only good in partial but not full shade.  Those shading trees would make nice mushrooms...
 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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EWO, maybe it would work for you if you could have an experienced mushroom forager come help you identify the species you have growing, note the characteristics you can identify with your other senses—smell and taste are often indicative, and according to my books, it's safe to chew and then spit out a small piece of mushroom to identify flavor characteristics—and crucially, if there is an edible species, let you know if there are any dangerous species growing in your area that could be easily confused with your edible ones. You could have the person come visit every so often just to make sure nothing new has appeared.

Alternatively you could try growing some mushrooms that you can easily distinguish from the other species growing locally—enoki and lion's mane come to mind because they're so distinctive, and tasty. You'll notice if your colony starts to be taken over by a fungus with a very different shape and texture.

Maximizing the sun you do have might also be an option. I've had ideas for sun-wells for gardens that I've never had the opportunity to try—in theory you could bring more sun into shady areas with mirrors, lenses, and even fiber optics. While I've never heard of anyone actually trying this, I have heard that the metal gazing balls that used to be common in gardens actually served to reflect a bit of sunlight into areas where plants struggled in the shade, so it makes sense that bringing sunlight in with an elevated lens and fiber optics could bring some benefit to plants in deeply shaded areas. You would lose some intensity and maybe some of the spectrum, though—I doubt you could ever really make a sunny garden in deep shade with this technique, but you might be able to step from deep shade to dappled sun or dappled sun to shady edge. If you can find a spot on your property somewhat above the ground where a well-placed reflective surface would capture sun, it might be worth experimenting with.
 
Leif Kravis
Posts: 78
Location: Toronto Canada
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Ramps and fiddleheads are good but ephemeral, the usable  production is brief about a week for ramps and fiddleheads both, id suggest trying currans, or something with a longer season, also paw paw, as they like full canopy shade
ß
 
Travis Philp
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Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
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many herbs are shade tolerant. Elderberry, currants & gooseberries, and pawpaw all do well in the shade. To an extent so do cherry tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries.

I've seen ramps and fiddleheads in about as shady a situation as you could ever find and they did well. I think the key with ramps especially though, is that they need to be in a deciduous dominated forest, since they make use of the light exposure that hits the forest floor before the trees leaf out. I've seen fiddleheads in shady evergreen, and deciduous forests, both doing well.
 
                            
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I must say I am very impressed with the answers here. This is not the first time I've posted questions about shade, plus I have asked some gardeners in person. I have never gotten much more than a shrug, since our major food crops pretty much all like full sun.

I will ask around to see if I can collar a mushroom expert. The idea of harnessing my yard's natural mushroom production appeals to me. Obviously my yard is well suited for that, why mess with a good thing? It's just too bad there is some potential danger involved, but an expert could really help.

But not just mushrooms alone - I like the other ideas too and will research further. The idea of some sort of fruit/berry would be amazing.
 
                              
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Another vote here for mushrooms.  I bet in your climate you could grow all sorts of mushrooms.  You can fetch a good price from some of them and they're good for you.  By dried weight I believe oyster mushrooms are 30% protein.  Depending on what type of trees you have on your property you could grow some wood loving fungi.  Mmmmmmmmmushrooms.

How about tea or apios americana?
 
                                      
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I have a similar situation, except that my difficulty is that I don't want to cut down my trees.  My property is a second growth recovered forest of Oak and Hickory.

I don't know anything about Mass, but here in Missouri, almost everything I grew out in the full sun grows in the shade as well.  For those plants that didn't do quite as well, I found that raising the beds helped a bit.  I grew just about double the food plants in my full shade garden here than in my unshaded garden in Utah. 

It's a funny thing, the best production I every got out in the full sun was because I created half a day of shade for the plants under those taller species.  Never thought of it before, but there it is.
 
Paula Edwards
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I never tried it but I would try to grow mushrooms there. The advantage would be that you get much more on the space.
I'm not sure on which latitude you live, but it seems to be quite in the North. While chicken need shade they need sun and warmth too, they come from Africa. However, a garden is not complete without chicken. If you have children, with 8 or so they can care for them.Ramps is very good.
Sometimes it  helps a lot cutting out lower branches to lighten the soil up.
We have got some big trees, and I think of growing some nut trees in their shade and maybe cutting out the bigger ones when the nut trees are grown. However - these trees are huge and getting someone to cut them is expensive and might smash everything what's underneath. Cutting it your own is maybe dangerous.
 
                            
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@ Cloudpiler - "I have a similar situation, except that my difficulty is that I don't want to cut down my trees. "

I didn't bother to mention this in my post, but I feel similarly. Our neighbors to the west are willing to let us cut their trees, and that would give us enough sun for some conventional annual crops in parts of our yard. My husband is raring to go. I am wracked with spasms of guilt about it. Three years ago we had about 7 trees on our own property and my husband had them all taken down, and I still mourn the loss though I completely admit they were causing problems for our home (some were crowding our roof, for instance. And our yard was subject to a fair amount of erosion since our immediate back yard area was simply dirt, with nothing growing there, not even some heavy-shade plugs we planted once).

Unfortunately, human needs are frequently counter to the habitats we live in (partly due to our population issues I guess). I live on the forest edge, and our "needs" require that we push the forest back. Destroying the habitats of other species as we do it. Changing the landscape as we do it.

Like your property, our forest (like all forests in the northeast, and maybe in the USA even?) is reclaimed. I know very little about trees but I'm guessing these are about 50 year old trees. Not brand new but hardly a majestic, virgin forest.

I would not feel so guilty if I had more land. I would take down trees, but if I had more land I would steward the forest and make sure it kept growing. But I'm not taking down timber for firewood or to build things and planting new (a sustainable cycle if done correctly), I am pushing back the forest away from my home and not replacing it. And there's not  much I can do - I can't realistically just move to another yard. (Actually, I tried - put the house on the market with the intention of buying a few acres, but the economy has depresssed the value of my property to below what I owe on it).

==

@ ediblecities - "While chicken need shade they need sun and warmth too, they come from Africa."

Well, they do need sun and warmth but breeds have been domesticated for a long time and some varieties are quite cold-tolerant unlike their ancestors. I don't have reservations about chickens on my property in terms of the shade - frankly, they would probably wander out to the sun  sometimes. They are forest creatures as well. Warmth is not an issue, I live in Massachusetts but not the Arctic. I'd have cold-tolerant varieties if I had them. However, my main concern right now is that there are two new free-range dogs in the neighborhood. And since I'm in the city, SSS is not going to go over here.

"Sometimes it  helps a lot cutting out lower branches to lighten the soil up."

Good point, but my main issue is actually not tree and root proximity but merely the shade that they project. The trees are steeply upslope from me (and on the southern side) so they tower over my yard even if their roots aren't really invading it much. One deeply shaded area I have is probably 30 feet away from any tree, and 50 feet away from the main canopy, but still thrust into total shade due to the slope and orientation.

"Cutting it your own is maybe dangerous."

Maybe, but we don't intend to rely on everyone else for everything anymore.
 
                                      
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If the neighbors do not mind if you remove the trees, perhaps they might not mind if you thin the branches.  However, if the stand is too dense, even this will not work.  My own trees are spaced uniformly throughout the property.  Some are simply too large and spreading to admit much light.  I taken out tree so that no single tree is touched by the branches of another on any more than one quarter of its surface.  This practice strengthens the trees and provides light edge.  I then trimmed the lower branches up fifteen feet.  Finally, I carefully trimmed out branches to open up the tree and admit light to the ground.  It is tedious, and frankly, if you are not accustomed to working with trees, can be dangerous.

Before making the above alterations, the north side of my house was shrouded and never saw any sunshine during any part of the year.  By opening up the canopy I now grow blueberries, cranberries, lingonberries, salal, bracken fern, black cohosh, ginseng, kinnikinik, raspberries, strawberries, comfrey, radishes, turnips, all kinds of lettuce, spinach, kale, onions, leeks, beans, peas, tulips, dahlias, spearmint, peppermint, lemonbalm, sage, wormwood, and clover, all in one guild around the dripline of a cluster of Scarlet Oaks.  I did not cut down the Oaks, and the house still casts its shadow, but I grow plants in abundance.  I cannot grow lawn or roses.

I use this example because I am growing these plants directly below the trees, not thirty or fifty feet away.  Sunlight finds its way through the branches, but there is never any direct sunlight on the area because of the neighboring trees.  The benefit of the trees in providing shade , fertilizer, water, beneficial insects and animals, and reducing photosaturation, and so forth, I believe, allows the plants to thrive with less sunlight.   

I do not know your site, but if it is downhill and north of the trees, have you considered that much of the problem may be attributable to the contour itself.  Swale and berm, along with at least some modification of the tree cover, may be all that you need to create a full-dapple (once in a while at least) environment.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Go for a walk in the forest and see if anything is growing under the trees. If it is, check the species and potential uses. If you don't like it, pick a relative or similar plant that you like better.
 
                                      
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Good point.  Now go to the forest and take special note of those places here and there where even a little light finds its way to the floor.  I don't mean where a big tree has fallen and opened up a great big edge.  I mean just where a smidgen of light tickles the surface.  Notice what great diversity explodes even in those minimal light zones.  How is that possible?  I think it's because of the interactions and associations, in Radionics we call them "entanglements", between the various species. 

Not everything that makes a plant grow and thrive has to come from dirt and water and sun.  It's true, plants are good at making that trio work, but that doesn't mean it has to be that way, or that such a narrow environment is ideal or even desired.  I am simply amazed at what will thrive in the shade, once the system is working.  It takes time and work, but it's sure worth it when you want to preserve your trees.

I have a neighbor who couldn't believe that she would be able to grow a thing on her property.  She had recently moved to Missouri from Utah.  Way too many trees.  Not enough light.  So, her and her husband labored for a year removing every tree on the place.  Now she has a fesque desert.  Her garden gets loads of sunlight, water, and she literally dumps tons and tons of organic, humus rich stuff on it.  You know what, lb. for lb. she produces less than a quarter of what I produce in the shade.  Just before the frost they came to visit us and she was just about devastated.  She went home and ordered trees.  My heart broke for her.  The ones she cut down and burned up in great huge slag piles were such hard working farmers. 
 
Paula Edwards
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That's really interesting! On which latitude are you cloudpiler?
I am trying to get our vegetable garden in and it either rains or there is sun. If the sun shines I cannot work for more than two hours there. It's so much nicer working in the shade. And we didn't put any trees down, but there were no trees.
 
                            
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@ cloudpiler - your example is very interesting. I don't think I was able to communicate it very consciously, but that's exactly what I am trying to avoid. I don't want to just mow down the forest without understanding what I'm doing.

I have been putting out feelers to see if anyone in the area has knowledge of wild foods, possibly mushrooms in particular. I have already seen a good selection of books at my library as well about wild foods in the northeast.

Some of those trees are coming down anyway. My husband is chomping at the bit to get them. He even asked for a crosscut saw from his mother for Christmas this year. We'll be getting a wood stove so we won't waste the wood. It's all I can do to hold him back somewhat. I did get him to agree to get my input on which trees should come down. He probably sounds like he doesn't care about stuff like this, actually he does but we just don't see eye to eye on this tree issue. There's a bigger background on that, and ultimately he is trying to protect his family, but I still want to be extremely mindful of what we do.
 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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I thought of another possibility—creeping raspberry is a good shade-tolerant groundcover and it makes edible berries. Not many, especially in deep shade, but even in the deep shade you should get a few. They are very sweet.
 
Paul Cereghino
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for market, floral or xmas greens are a big understory product. 
Your forest can produce wood that can be fed to the mushrooms.  Maybe thin incrementally to create a sustained mushroom harvest... fungi perfecti is our local gem. 
Greens and roots will grow in lower energy environments than fruit.  I find shade dandelion greens less bitter (and perhaps less nutritious; as if that was an issue with dandelion). 
Also huckleberry are well adapted to shade (and wood)... Vaccinium parvifolium and V. ovatum.
 
Suzy Bean
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Just read an article in Mother Earth News, (Feb/March 2011) on best vegetables to grow in the shade. They distinguish how deep the shade is and give tips like painting the side of your house white if it is next to it, and using reflective foil or plastic on the veggie bed. They also say to use raised beds to keep the trees from wicking water away, and to remove low tree limbs. They then have a chart with various veggies (mostly greens) that require less hours (2-4) of sun per day. Mesclun seems to do the best needing only 2 hours and handling dappled shade well. Each veggie has growing tips next to it.
 
Brenda Groth
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there should be some dappled sun areas in your shade..look for them and mark them...but a lot of things prefer shade..like lettuces, peas, lots of berries prefer partial shade like blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries (i have some in sun and some in shade and the shady ones are much better than the sunny ones)..onions, chives, leeks, spinach, some cole crops prefer shade..why don't you GOOGLE "shade gardens"
 
John Polk
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Two fruits come to mind.  Huckleberries, and Pawpaws.  They both produce best as understorey plants in woodlands.
http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/default.htm
 
Jordan Lowery
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wild plums make excellent understory trees. and they can produce TONS of fruit. more than you can eat for sure. this is where chickens or turkeys come in.
 
Willie Smits increased rainfall 25% in three years by planting trees. Tiny ad:
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