The Beauty and Brains of Shade Gardening

Many neighbors are interested in growing their own food on their property and in the public right of way. Trees and veggie gardening can be great friends – and very smart for Portland.

Last year many neighbors lost plants and had low production in the face of extended, extreme heat. This year seems to be shaping up similarly. In the dry season, public water consumption sores locally and the cost of providing and purifying water is high. Often home gardeners question the sense in backyard plots, when it comes to paying the costly water bill that comes with maintaining a garden plots. Commercial growers in the PNW grow food for much less money because they typically have wells, fertile landscapes, and the advanced infrastructure/education to handle climatic extremes.

This is where trees can come to the rescue. Growing food at home in the full/partial shade of a tree can cut water costs 50% and more. When crops are grown in shade, they can be planted later in the season or 2-3x times a year because scorching is tempered. South-facing gardens in particular can significantly benefit from a touch of shade to conserve moisture and regulate the extreme heat and dry periods in our area.

Dappled shade from a nearby tree is the best. You can get this by trimming low hanging branches in spring or fall to create this type of shade. In areas that are densely shaded, red or metallic reflective Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 4.05.00 PMplastic mulch around crops will increase heat and reflect light up to plant leaves. Tomatoes and peppers LOVE this treatment. This reduces insect damage, cats/animals in bed, and water evaporation. Research says this treatment doubles crop production by increasing photosynthesis from the underside of leaves.  hqdefault

In general, shade gardening is great for crops grown for leaves and roots, rather than large fruits (squash, slicing tomatoes, etc). In Montavilla successful partial shade loving crops include cherry tomatoes, sweet peas, strawberries, rhubarb, currants, raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries, chard, chives, lemon balm, original, cilantro, marjoram, kale, lettuce, mustard, spinach, carrots, beets, radishes, and other root veggies. Most of these veggies only require 2-4 hours of sun or consistent dappled shade.

Now lets not forget that plenty of crops also grow ON trees. There are many dwarf fruit and nut trees that are suitable for street tree planting and yards that grow only 4-5 foot tall — almond, apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, and peach. These trees have been naturally breed over the last 20-50 years and the most recent varieties exceed larger varieties in flavor. They tend to be short and dense with twice as many fruits per branch, which means they are also gorgeous spring flowering trees. read more:

If you aim to eat all your fruit, veggies and herbs fresh-picked, our very own Montavilla Farmers Market supplies crops you don’t grow at home fresh-picked on Sundays during the growing season!


2 thoughts on “The Beauty and Brains of Shade Gardening

  1. Remember that the sewer part of your Portland water & sewer bill is based on winter consumption, and so watering in the summer will impact the water side of the bill, but not the sewer side, which is the greater part of the bill.


    • Yes, you are correct. I had not considered sewer, but checked and the winter rate is calculated based on average water use Dec, Jan, or Feb – April. So, folks who start plants before May, particularly those with mini greenhouse and plastic pup tents, watering before May will additionally increase the sewer portion of your monthly bill year round.


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