Spring-planted lettuce. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Spring-planted lettuce. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Get It Growing: Ask the Master Gardeners

A question from a resident of Sequim who lives at low elevation: I have a raised bed garden on the west side of the house where it doesn’t get sun until the afternoon. What vegetables and herbs can I grow there?

Answer: Evaluating the sun for a particular site is an important aspect to consider when choosing what to grow in your vegetable garden. In doing so, it’s important to observe, or calculate, the amount of light a site will get during the time of year in which the plants will be growing. This includes how much the garden site is shaded by other plantings or structures.

Most vegetables and herbs need at least six hours of sunlight to develop, bloom and produce. The timing and quality of that sun also plays a role in crop selection and placement.

If you have a very shaded site, less than four hours of sun a day, you will be limited in what you can grow. The first choice would be to relocate your raised bed planters to a more suitable location. If that is not an option, there are many cool season crops to consider.

A shady bed may be the perfect place for a salad bowl garden full of spinach, lettuce, kale, bok choy and arugula. All these should grow well out of the full sun.

Add a few herbs such as chives, parsley and thyme and you have a lot of options. Beets will grow in shady gardens and mature smaller and sweeter than usual.

Mint will also grow well, too well in fact, plant it only if you have a dedicated bed to offer because it’s invasive.

On the other hand, an unobstructed west facing garden in the Pacific North West can receive a considerable amount of hot afternoon sunlight in the summer months.

Afternoon sun is not an ideal condition for some of the cool season crops such as lettuce, spinach, peas and certain annual herbs like cilantro. These plants prefer morning sun and may wilt or bolt with too much heat. That does not preclude growing these crops in a west facing garden, it just means choosing the right time and placement.

When growing cool season crops, consider planting them on the north side of taller plants to provide some shade during the warmest time of the day. A bean trellis, tomato plants or even zucchini plants will start small in the early growing season, allowing more sun, but provide shade in midsummer as they grow.

For successive planting crops such as lettuce, arugula and kale (where seeds are sown every few weeks), avoid reseeding in the hottest time of the year. Plant in the spring and fall when soil temperatures are lower and the sun is not so intense.

Warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and even corn will thrive with as much warm sun as is available. Other crops such as squash, onions, green beans and cucumbers also do well with afternoon sun.

The consideration when growing warm season crops is to make sure the soil is warm before planting or transplanting into the raised bed. Buying or growing started plants is the best way to have success.

Once the soil temperature is about 60 degrees and nighttime temperatures into the 50s, it’s time to transplant into a raised bed. Starting any sooner in a cool, unprotected bed will not help and may even hinder growth.

For a west-facing garden plot, wind may be another consideration. The prevailing west winds can not only damage plants they can dry them out. In windy areas, consider planting or building a wind screen to mitigate damage.

An excellent resource about vegetable gardening, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington,” which can be downloaded free at pubs.extension.wsu.edu (enter SKU: EM057E in search).

Susan Kalmar is a Clallam County Master Gardener volunteer.

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