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How to Create Shade in the Garden

If you’re in a climate with intense summer sun, you may want to provide shade during the hottest months. This is similar to applying “sunscreen” on your plants. If you’re wondering how to create shade in your garden, this blog post gives ideas for some practical ways to create shade in your garden.

Adding shade to a hot summer garden can help your garden survive and thrive. This article also covers which vegetables need shade and which can grow in full sun. Finally, we will cover what type of shade cloth is best and other ways to add shade to your garden. So let’s get to it – all about adding shade to the garden.

If you’re looking for the link to the shade cloth I use, here it is 50% White Shade Cloth.


Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


Why is it important to add shade in hot summer climates?

1. Adding shade protects plants from the scorching sun.

Sunscald on a pepper
Sunscald on a pepper

The morning sun provides plenty of energy through photosynthesis without the excessive heat stress of prolonged all-day sun exposure.

Sunscald on a tomato
Sunscald on a tomato

In sweltering heat, direct sunlight can cause wilting, sunburn, and even death in some plants. Most vegetables are stressed when temperatures are above 90℉ (32.2°C). Shade keeps the direct sun off foliage; the shaded area can be about 10℉ (6°C) cooler than areas without shade.

Winter squash wilted from loss of moisture during the afternoon heat
Winter squash wilted from loss of moisture during the afternoon heat

2. Adding shade conserves water.

A shaded garden helps retain moisture in the soil, reducing the need for frequent watering. Providing shade for plants can lower the amount of moisture loss through transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves).

A shaded garden helps retain moisture in the soil, reducing the need for frequent watering. Providing shade for plants can lower the amount of moisture loss through transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves).

Wilted summer squash from loss of moisture during the afternoon heat
Wilted summer squash from loss of moisture during the afternoon heat

3. Adding shade creates a comfortable outdoor space.

A well-shaded garden benefits plants and makes spending time in the garden more enjoyableSpending time in your garden daily is essential, and the shade benefits the gardener and the garden.

A well-shaded garden benefits plants and makes it more enjoyable for you to spend time in the garden. Spending time in your garden daily is essential, and the shade benefits the gardener and the garden.

When should you add shade to your summer garden?

The best time to set up your shade cloth is when temperatures consistently climb above 90°F (32.2°C), and keep it on until temperatures get below that. At this point, most plants tend to enter a dormancy-like state to conserve water and protect themselves from heat stress.

For me, in the low desert of Arizona, this usually means using shade cloth from mid-May to early October.

A tip to remember: Although summer gardens in hot climates need shade in the hottest months of the year, abundant sunshine is an advantage during cooler months. Because most fall and winter gardens need full sun, it’s best to add temporary (not permanent) shade to the garden for the hottest months of the year.

The best time to set up your shade cloth is when temperatures consistently climb above 90°F (32.2°C), and keep it on until temperatures get below that. At this point, most plants tend to enter a dormancy-like state to conserve water and protect themselves from heat stress.

Which vegetables grow best with afternoon shade?

When planning your vegetable garden, it’s important to take into account each plant’s sunlight preferences to ensure a thriving and productive garden. While all vegetables can benefit from some afternoon shade in hot summer climates, certain plants are particularly sensitive to the sun’s intense rays and should be given extra shade if you live in a hot climate.

When planning your vegetable garden, it's important to take into account each plant's sunlight preferences to ensure a thriving and productive garden. While all vegetables can benefit from some afternoon shade in hot summer climates, certain plants are particularly sensitive to the sun's intense rays and should be given extra shade if you live in a hot climate.

Light-sensitive crops include ginger, turmeric, strawberries, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, garlic, blackberries, artichokes, and chard.


Extend the season for some crops with shade

Many vegetables do not like the extreme heat of an Arizona (or other hot climate) summer. Provide shade for the listed crops as temperatures begin to heat up to extend the harvest. Adding shade can extend the growing season for certain crops allowing them to produce for a longer period, even when temperatures begin to climb.

Many vegetables do not like the extreme heat of an Arizona (or other hot climate) summer. Provide shade for the listed crops as temperatures begin to heat up to extend the harvest.  Adding shade can extend the growing season for certain crops allowing them to produce for a longer period, even when temperatures begin to climb.

Some crops that benefit from season-extending shade include kale, radishes, potatoes, cilantro, carrots, cucumbers, beets, peas, lettuce, spinach, and beans.


Which vegetables do not need shade?

Fortunately, certain vegetables can withstand and flourish in the summer heat without the need for extra shade. These vegetables thrive in full sunlight.  However, it is important to note that during the hottest times of the day, all plants can benefit from shade in extremely hot summer weather.

Fortunately, certain vegetables can withstand and flourish in the summer heat without the need for extra shade. These vegetables thrive in full sunlight. However, it is important to note that during the hottest times of the day, all plants can benefit from shade in extremely hot summer weather.

Fortunately, certain vegetables can withstand and flourish in the summer heat without the need for extra shade. These vegetables thrive in full sunlight.  However, it is important to note that during the hottest times of the day, all plants can benefit from shade in extremely hot summer weather.

Here are some vegetables that do well in full sun roselle, luffa, corn, peanuts, yardlong beans, melons, black-eyed peas, sunflowers, grapes, okra, Armenian cucumbers, basil, amaranth, sesame, and sweet potatoes.


How to create shade in the garden

Gardening in a hot climate means learning to work with sunlight effectively. “Full-sun” directions for other locations may not apply in Arizona’s low desert or other hot climates. Providing shade for your sun-sensitive veggies is essential, and there are many creative ways to do that. Here are a few of my favorite methods:

Providing shade for your sun-sensitive veggies is essential, and there are many creative ways to do that. Here are a few of my favorite methods:

1. Create shade in the garden with a thoughtful garden design

Gardening in a hot climate means learning to work with sunlight effectively. Full-sun directions for other locations are not applicable in the low desert or other hot climates. 

Notice which areas in your yard receive morning sun and afternoon shade naturally. These spots are prime real estate for any plants, but especially a summer garden. Use these areas in your garden for vegetables that need shade. South or west-facing parts of your yard will probably need added shade.


2. Create shade in the garden with shade cloth

If your garden area is in full sun, consider adding shade cloth. Don’t think of completely encasing the garden, but providing some relief when the sun is at its highest. The area should receive some sun during the day. The variety of colors and percentages in shade cloth allows you to customize the light that reaches your garden.

If your garden area is in full sun, consider adding shade cloth. Don’t think of completely encasing the garden, but providing some relief when the sun is at its highest. The area should receive some sun during the day. The variety of colors and percentages available in shade cloth allow you to customize the amount of light that reaches your garden.

Using a shade cloth is a game-changer for me. It’s an easy, adjustable solution to protect my delicate veggies from scorching sunrays while allowing enough sunlight to grow.


Which color shade cloth should I use?

When choosing a shade cloth for your garden, consider the temperature differences between night and day as well as the average temperature in your area to determine which color is best suited for your needs.

White shade cloth reflects light & heat. Cools better. Allows for flowering plants to produce. This is the type I use in my low desert Arizona garden.

White shade cloth reflects light & heat and cools better. Allows for flowering plants to produce. This is the type I use in my low desert Arizona garden.

Black shade cloth absorbs heat. Blocks light. Best for cooler climates.

Black shade cloth absorbs heat. Blocks light. Best for cooler climates.

Aluminet shade cloth reflects light. Increases full spectrum light. It can act as a thermal blanket, protecting plants from wide temperature variances from day to night.

Aluminet shade cloth reflects light. Increases full spectrum light. It can act as a thermal blanket, protecting plants from wide temperature variances from day to night.

If you’re looking for the link to the shade cloth I use, here it is 50% White Shade Cloth.

Source: Bootstrap Farmer’s Guide to Shadecloth


Which percentage shade cloth should I use?

Shade cloth percentages indicate how much light is blocked, typically ranging from 30-50%. Here's a guideline for choosing the right percentage:

Shade cloth percentages indicate how much light is blocked, typically ranging from 30-70%. Here’s a guideline for choosing the right percentage:

  • North of the 40th parallel (Northern States): If your garden is located in this region, a 30% shade cloth is recommended. This provides enough protection while allowing ample sunlight for your plants’ growth.
  • South of the 40th parallel (Southern States): Opt for a 50% shade cloth for gardens in hotter climates. This higher percentage helps keep plants cool and prevents sun damage during intense heat.
  • Succulents & other light-sensitive plants: 60-70% shade cloth.

Source: Bootstrap Farmer’s Guide to Shadecloth

Shade cloth percentages indicate how much light is blocked, typically ranging from 30-50%. Here's a guideline for choosing the right percentage:

How far away should the shade cloth be from plants?

Do not allow the shade cloth to touch the plants; 2-3 feet clearance is best to allow air to circulate around plants. 

Do not allow the shade cloth to touch the plants; 2-3 feet clearance is best to allow air to circulate around plants. 

What is the best way to attach shade cloth?

Attach shade cloth to existing trellises with zip ties or carabiner clips. At the end of the season, removing the clips, rolling up the shade cloth, and storing it away is simple. When the summer heat comes again, re-attach the shade cloth.

Adding Shade to a Hot Summer Garden

Read this blog post for a detailed explanation of how I added shade to my garden.



3. Create shade in the garden with sunflowers

Add sunflowers around your garden to provide shade. Sunflowers are one of the easiest plants to grow from seed. Sunflowers grow quickly and, depending on the variety can offer shade to surrounding plants.

The Sundancer Sunflower from Renee’s Garden Seeds is my favorite sunflower for adding shade. It is a branching sunflower with endless blooms and a large plant that blooms all summer.

Add sunflowers around your garden to provide shade. Sunflowers are one of the easiest plants to grow from seed. Sunflowers grow quickly and, depending on the variety, can offer shade to surrounding plants.

Plant sunflowers on the west or south side of the garden for shade. Once grown in a garden, they often reseed and pop up year after year. Unwanted volunteers are easy to pull out. 

Add sunflowers around your garden to provide shade. Sunflowers are one of the easiest plants to grow from seed. Sunflowers grow quickly and, depending on the variety, can offer shade to surrounding plants.

At the end of the season, cut off the stem at the base of the dirt rather than pulling out the entire root system. The remaining root will decompose and add organic matter to the area. Sunflowers can be planted in the low desert of Arizona from February through July.


4. Create shade in the garden with umbrellas

Outdoor umbrellas offer good temporary shade. They can be moved and angled to provide afternoon shade where it is needed most. However, umbrellas often block 100% of sunlight; be sure to tilt it so plants receive some morning sun. As with any shade structure, be aware of strong winds and take down the umbrella before it tips and damages surrounding plants. 

Outdoor umbrellas offer good temporary shade. They can be moved and angled to provide afternoon shade where it is needed most. However, umbrellas often block 100% of sunlight; be sure to tilt it so plants receive some morning sun. As with any shade structure, be aware of strong winds and take down the umbrella before it tips over and damages surrounding plants. 


5. Create shade in the garden with plants

Consider purposely planting sun-loving vining vegetables (Armenian cucumbers, Malabar spinach, hyacinth beans, etc.) to provide shade for other plants that don’t tolerate full sun. Notice where in your garden you could utilize plants as shade. 

Consider purposely planting sun-loving vining vegetables (Armenian cucumbers, Malabar spinach, hyacinth beans, etc.) to provide shade for other plants that don’t tolerate full sun. Notice where in your garden you could utilize plants as shade. 

Heat-loving crops that may provide shade for other plants include roselle, luffa, amaranth, black-eyed peas, Armenian cucumbers, sunflowers, okra, hyacinth beans, and sesame.

Consider purposely planting sun-loving vining vegetables (Armenian cucumbers, Malabar spinach, hyacinth beans, etc.) to provide shade for other plants that don’t tolerate full sun. Notice where in your garden you could utilize plants as shade. 

Vining vegetables can be grown over artichoke crowns that go dormant during hot summers to protect them from the intense heat that might damage the crowns. Grow heat-loving plants on the south or west-facing trellises that shade other plants. 



Other ideas for adding shade:

Here are some pictures I took from my previous gardens or other gardens that have added shade. You may get some ideas or inspiration to implement in your own garden.


If this post about how to add shade to your garden was helpful, please share it:


Bob

Friday 22nd of December 2023

I can’t seem to find a white shade cloth in 10x10 or 10x20, any suggestions. Thank You

Angela Judd

Tuesday 26th of December 2023

Grower's Solution sells custom sizes.

Lisa Schaap

Friday 6th of October 2023

hi I would like to know what kind of posts you use to hang your shade cloth.

Angela Judd

Sunday 8th of October 2023

I used steel posts. All the details are in this blogpost: https://growinginthegarden.com/adding-shade-cloth-to-a-hot-summer-garden/

Donna

Wednesday 26th of July 2023

Apartment grower here- does anyone have any recommendations for plants that can be planted in containers to create shade? I tried morning glories and thunbergia this year but I don't think I used large enough containers.

Angela Judd

Wednesday 26th of July 2023

Sunflowers or sweet potato vine if you have something for it to climb.

ginger

Thursday 29th of June 2023

Enjoyed your shade cloth article very much. Have you found a way to anchor the cloth to withstand the monsoons? Or do you have to take them down? Thank you.

Angela Judd

Saturday 1st of July 2023

This held up very well throughout last year's monsoons. It certainly got blown around and I thought it might not make it, but it did great. We will see how it does on year number two.

Tsi

Saturday 10th of June 2023

We're doing as the old-timers (American Indians) did and planting mesquite. Light shade, sweet pods, and nitrogen. Velvet is best for the garden as it doesn't requite much pruning to keep it upright. Honey can turn into a problem as its branches droop. niio