Heirloom Expert: Establishing a New Garden

Need tips on how to start a garden in a slightly shady place?

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Photo courtesy fotolia/blackzheep

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Our young family is moving to a new house. I gardened in full sun and want to continue at the new place but it’s kind of shady. How much sun do I need to grow flowers and vegetables? We have a 2-acre lot with a couple of maple trees in front and some other types in the back. In the front there’s an area which gets the sun starting in the morning until about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In back, the sun begins in the early afternoon and is gone when the sun sets—that’s where I want to grow vegetables. What do you think? I’m an organic gardener, my kids love the fresh veggies, and I want them to eat the best stuff they can.

There’s nothing better than gardening with your children. Mine are grown and out of the house (hurray!), but they still long for my garden produce they grew up with when they return for dinner. I always had a little plot for each of them, so they’ve been connected to the garden for their whole lives. Nothing makes me happier than when they ask for the special treats we used to grow together.

Before we talk about the light levels, let's address building your new gardens. Adding lots of organic matter will give you a green thumb, that’s all there is to it. Dump a few truckloads of compost or well-aged animal manure where you want to plant and work it into the soil.

In the front, stay away from those maples. They have shallow roots and will take all the water and nutrients from the soil, leaving nothing for your plants.

The sunlight in the front sounds perfect for many plants. Morning sun is the easiest on most varieties. Think about growing shade-loving flowers there, outside the drip line of the maples. If it were me, I’d start putting in some perennials and supplement the area with annuals for color until the perennials take over. Things like coleus, flowering maple, impatiens, begonias, caladiums and others will give you a good start. Perennials like hosta, bleeding hearts, heuchera, and astilbe are just a few which would love a little morning sun.

Most vegetables love all-day sun, but don’t worry—your back area has enough to grow all of them. The plants won’t look the same as those grown with 12 hours of sun, but they will produce.

Tomatoes will be tall and leggy, but will give you plenty of fruit. Peppers, vine crops, cole crops (like cabbage) will all be fine with afternoon sun. Some of the cool-loving crops like leaf lettuce will be better early and late in the season as they will struggle a little bit under the mid-summer, afternoon sun.

Experiment with varieties to see what works best. Successes and failures are just some of the life lessons a garden will teach you and your children.

Doug Oster, contributing editor


Doug is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener (www.Post-Gazette.com/GardeningWithDoug) and co-host of The Organic Gardeners radio program on KDKA.