We have a medium sized garden, but with only a few spots that get sunshine all day long, we want to make the most of the areas in shade too! Many herbs really do prefer the shade, or even to grow indoors. I have put together some ideas for you all and hope to inspire you to get into growing and eating your own shade loving herbs!
Herbs that are soft leaved often do not like the draining quality of direct sunlight all day long. Preferring the coolness of the shade alongside the increased moisture that this will offer. Herbs like Sorrel, Mint, Parsley, Coriander/Cilantro, Lemon Balm, Chives, Lovage, Tarragon will grow in partial shade.
Let’s look at the definition of different shady conditions first.
What Type Of Shade Conditions Do You Have
Full Sunlight = 6 hours or more of full sunlight a day. It does not have to be a solid block of sunlight but at least 6 hours in total. Some sneaky herbs like basil and dill love full sunlight, even though you may expect them to be harmed by the intensity.
Partial Sunlight = between 3-6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Remember during different times of the growing season the sun will be in different positions. That is one reason we love growing in containers as we can move the herbs to suit the conditions.
Partial Shade = dappled sunlight throughout the day in a spot that could be beneath a tree canopy. Alternatively it could be an area that does receive full sunlight for between 2-4 hours a day, a warm windowsill would fit this scenario very well, although it may not always be in our kitchen!
Full Shade = an area that receives less than two full hours of sunlight a day. Very few herbs will thrive in this environment, but please think about times of year, as this spot could be very handy for starting ginger seeds off in, or for allowing overwintering with protection from heavy winds and rain.
When we talk about herbs that will grow in the shade we are looking at Partial Shade conditions. Some of these herbs do indeed thrive in partial sunlight or even full sunlight so don’t be limited by this list and feel that you might run out of shady spots in your garden!
Shade is just one condition to take into consideration and you must be prepared to dig deep for the irrigation of your soil is key. If you are planting into the ground there must be adequate drainage to allow for heavier rainfall without leaving your roots in soggy soil for days at a time. If you are planting in pots make sure to add plenty of drainage holes and grit to the soil content.
9 Of The Best Herbs To Grow In Partial Shade
- Mint will grow well in so many different settings but it loves partial shade. Heavy and harsh sunlight can wilt the leaves leaving spots and killing off the taste.
Sow from seed, cuttings or even from the roots. Mint wants to live and can easily out grow any flower bed. So be warned and only grow mint in pots or containers.
You will find a lot of different varieties from pepper mint to apple mint and everything in between, so make the most from specialist sellers who sell the fun stuff like Sarah Raven’s Chocolate mint which makes an amazing herbal tea!
Mint goes well with lamb and as a garnish for many other dishes. It is also a base component of many summer cocktails. We do love to grow a cocktail herb garden, as well as a herbal tea garden!
To harvest mint leaves just pinch out the fresh growth. This will encourage new growth and by pinching out at the top of a node it encourages a bushier growth. This is important as mint is a perennial and will last you a lifetime, so you do not want a straggly herb! If you plant it in full shade, you may produce a straggly plant that is forcing its way to any sunlight. This means a lower leaf count, and that is what we are going to be eating!
Thyme can handle direct sunlight but will also thrive if planted in the ground and grown as ground cover. We have planted at the base of rosemary, meaning that the rosemary has the same watering and drainage needs, but that it will grow to around 4-5 feet tall and start to produce dappled sunlight for the thyme.
Thyme leaves can be harvested all year round as thyme is a perennial. We also grow thyme in pots as it trails and forms a nice cascading feature. We pair it with chamomile and oregano, due to the watering needs and their ability to be drought tolerant.
Sorrel can be grown from seed in early Spring in a heated propagator and then moved outside once the fear of frost has gone. It is a perennial and you will enjoy a few leaves at a time as they have a lemony/spinach taste. They are strong in flavour and will overpower many a dish if not used sparingly. Use a cut and come again method to ensure that your plants live.
Sorrel leaves contain the same active ingredient as rhubarb leaves and as such should be eaten sparingly by those with certain health conditions like kidney stones.
We use sorrel in place of spinach and eat it in egg dishes and salads. Basically the kids prefer it to spinach, but we still use it sparingly.
We grow lovage from seed and have found great success in beds with partial shade. Which is great as this giant perennial can grow to around 6 feet in height, so it works well towards the back of a flower bed.
It has a real architectural splendour and the flowers attract many beneficial insects to your garden. It is also a harder herb to get hold of in the supermarket, so growing a plant that can be harvested most of the year is fabulous.
All parts of the plant are edible, however we like the perennial nature of lovage so do not eat the roots. We harvest the leaves as we want to eat them and make sure to eat them quite quickly as it is prone to wilting if left to store in the fridge.
Lovage is great in salads and has a taste a little like celery, so mix it with sorrel and a few other herbs for the best results. It can be used in soups, stews and casseroles to add a healthy but salty flavour.
- Parsley is soft leaved and will be a great biennial in any herb garden, however harsh daylight will wilt and dry out the leaves. Meaning that parsley will enjoy a shadier spot. It still gets that brilliant crisp flavour from sunlight and likes to have dappled sun for preference. We find that our parsley grows well in a pot that we can move around if needed. So keep a strong eye on your plants.
No need to be fancy with parsley and growing on from a supermarket bought ‘living plant’ can be an extremely cost effective way to start off your crop. By growing this biennial in pots you can easily overwinter it and have a bumper crop for the following year.
To overwinter parsley, make sure to give it a good haircut before the first frosts. Trim back down and bed in with a good mulch. As we grow a mix of parsley in the ground and in pots we bring the pots into the shelter of our poly tunnel to prevent the harsh effects of frosts. The ground sown parsley may not always survive the effects of pests and that is why people tend to treat it as an annual.
- Coriander / cilantro
Coriander has soft leaves that will die in full sunlight. This herb divides our family. I personally have the gene that makes it taste like soap. Everyone else loves it pilled on to curries and chilli’s alike. It has a refreshing flavour to them. They are wrong, but there you are.
We do grow coriander and I have mainly used store bought plants and then divided to grow more herbs from that one. It is easy to achieve and you will need to ensure that you position it in a pot or raised bed with plenty of drainage and a rich soil.
Tarragon is a lovely herb to grow to go with all sorts of fish and vegetable dishes. We use a lot of tarragon to perk up a sauce with a more earthy, aniseed type of flavour. We do grow both Russian and French tarragon and have noticed that the Russian is far hardier, but will not tolerate harsh sunlight. Even with adequate drainage tarragon leaves are long and slender, so loose a lot of moisture during those long hot summer days.
With tarragon you can grow Russian from seed, but the French really has to be grown from plugs to allow the characteristics of the parent plant to be reliably passed on. It is an absolute must to buy from reputable online nurseries and you will benefit from that initial outlay as tarragon is a perennial that can be divided. Our plugs took around 8 weeks to fully establish and become large enough to sub divide a few weeks after that.
Tarragon is great in pots, and will be moved around the garden as a result.
- Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is from the mint family and proves to be a very useful herb in teas and cocktails! We grow from seed and then plant on with other similar herbs in a lovely container display. Make sure to not expose it to too much sunshine as it will die off very easily as a young plant.
Give it plenty of mature compost rich in humus and with plenty of drainage! Just be aware it is from the mint family and can behave accordingly! It can and will invade a flower bed, putting out runners under the soil, so you can’t detect them! Then just popping up all over the place! Even the destructive power of our free ranging chickens is no match for mint or lemon balm!
It can be harvested throughout the year, but new leaves don’t grow so strongly during and after the flowering period. It produces beautiful little white flowers and is a real favourite of pollinators.
Use the lemony leaves in place of lemon to perk a dish up! Stirring a few handfuls of chopped leaves through a couscous dish or in place of parsley can really lift a dish. We love the leaves on stews as you are dishing them up.
Chives will often do well in direct sunlight until early Summer time and then when the sunlight becomes too harsh they will really die off. They should be a cut and come again perennial and if overwintered correctly can bring you a lifetime supply of stems and flowers. So it is perfect to plant in pots and move at different times of the year.
This is really about partial shade as chives will thrive with sunlight. The afternoon sun is the harshest in the UK and this is where we can avoid our herbs getting sun damaged.
Chives taste great in soups, stews and salads. The stems are most commonly used, but if you allow them to flower the blossoms go so well in salads and make a rather posh grown up cocktail as well!
From the allium family, chives make a good substitute for onions if you are cooking a dish with a younger child who isn’t that good at chopping yet! Nothing puts ours off more quickly then crying when trying to prepare dinner!
Herbs That Love Partial To Full Sunlight
Herbs like basil and dill would appear to be tender herbs. However they do not act in this way when it comes to sunlight hours. yes they need plenty of water. Yes they need good irrigation. But when all of those things are present they then need plenty of sunshine. We manage very easily to grow basil on the windowsill, but cards on the table, not in the kitchen. We grow our basil in the lounge as it gets the most sunlight.
- Lavender really benefits from plenty of sunlight. Full sunlight is best if possible. When the afternoon sun is up, that is not the time to harvest this aromatic herb. It will be best to collect first thing in the morning before those essential oils have had a chance to be zapped up by the sun. We use lavender in our cooking and for making scented pouches to go with wheat heat packs. Make sure to plant in well irrigated soil, the quality of which is not that important as lavender will still thrive in poor soil. But irrigation is key!
- Rosemary will love 4 hours or more of sunlight a day. As a woody perennial it can be quite drought tolerant, but will benefit from free draining soil with a liquid fertiliser every now and then! Rosemary can be harvested all year and is a perfect herb to propagate and give on as a gift to a loved one! We have a little seed swapping alternative in our local area and swap younger plants instead, so get propagating rosemary! It also goes so well with so many dishes!
- Sage will grow in partial shade, but it can be so slow! So position it in full to partial sunlight instead. Sage can be grown from seed or division of a larger clump. Realistically it takes around two years from seed before you can harvest any great quantity. It is a perennial and will give you a lifetime of gorgeous almost furry leaves with a rich earthy aroma. Fantastic with the classic sage and onion stuffing, we love a cup of herbal tea using sage leaves as well!
- Fennel as a herb loves sunshine and is also a perennial. It will grow to a lovely statuesque height and is the perfect backdrop to any flower bed. Make sure to protect young plants against frost and then to overwinter correctly. Pinch out flowers if you want to extend the growing season, however they are gorgeous! The fennel flavour can be used in stews and casseroles alike, but also herbal teas! Aniseed and a few mint leaves creates a relaxing refreshing cuppa.
- Oregano/Marjoram are perfect in full sunlight. As long as you have good drainage and a regular water supply these drought tolerant herbs will thrive. You can harvest the leaves easily throughout the growing season and they will dry very well too. Both oregano and marjoram will grow in partial shade, but they really do shine in partial to full sunlight!
What Next & Further Reading
- Crops That Thrive In Soggy, Wet Soil
- 12 Drought Tolerant Herbs
- What Herbs Regrow After Cutting – Cut & Come Again