These Healthy Herbs Great for Shady Gardens

by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center

There is nothing quite like biting into a fresh tomato warmed by the afternoon sun. Herbs are the same way, best picked fresh from the garden, the flavors are just better.

Herbs prefer gardens that are blistering hot to part sun. That means the spot should receive at least six hours of direct sun each day.

Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball of your plant. Mix mulch with your native soil at a 50/50 ratio to better improve the soil’s drainage and add beneficial nutrients. Fill the hole halfway with your blended soil. Fill in around the sides of the root ball. Tamp down the soil firmly to get rid of any air pockets. Water deeply to reduce transplant shock.


Many herbs can be planted year-round in local gardens like rosemary, lavender, chives, thyme and mint. Cool-season herbs can be grown anytime, but your best selection is found September through April — sorrel, borage and chervil.


This lesson came quite by accident years ago when planting the cutest herb garden in an area receiving less sun than realized. This new herb garden was planted and needed to figure out how to survive in the shade; survival of the fittest. Low and behold, the garden grew beautifully for years. Here are the six herbs that outshined the rest.

  • Shiso — This handy herb grows as an annual up to 2 feet tall and can be used in dishes just like basil or cilantro.
  • Lemon balm — It is heralded as one of the calming herbs and beautiful in appearance. Grows up to 2 feet.
  • Oregano — There many varieties from zesty to spicy and Italian.
  • Thyme — This low-growing perennial herb grows 3 to 7 inches. It makes a good groundcover heavenly on bare feet.
  • Parsley — A sun lover that doesn’t mind some heavy shade. Both the curly leaf and Italian flat-leaf do equally well. Grows well to about 1 foot.
  • Corsican mint — Yes, Corsican mint likes the sun but behaves well in light shade. It grew a bit shorter in the shade to about 4 inches. Aside from pulling their weight in the kitchen, these herbs can take the place of the more common shade plants like vining ivy.