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How to Create Shade in the Garden

If you garden in climates where the summer sun is intense, it’s best to provide afternoon shade for many vegetables in the garden. Adding shade to your garden is like putting “sun screen” on your plants. Wondering how to create shade in the garden? Here are my favorite ways to add shade and help your garden survive during the hottest months of summer.

How to create shade in the garden

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3 reasons to provide afternoon shade

  1. Morning sun provides plenty of energy through photosynthesis without the excessive heat stress of prolonged all-day sun exposure.
  2. Providing shade for plants can lower the amount of moisture loss through transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves).
  3. Most vegetables are stressed when temperatures are above 100℉. Shade keeps direct sun off foliage, and the shaded area can be about 10℉ cooler than areas without shade. 
Transpiration diagram
How to create shade in the garden
How to create shade in the garden

Which vegetables need shade

Which plants need shade in hot climates

Extend the season 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. 

Which plants need shade in hot climates

Which vegetables do not need shade

Luckily some vegetables tolerate and even thrive during the summer. The listed vegetables do well with full sun and do not require additional shade. 

Which plants like full sun in hot climates

5 ways to create shade in the garden

Thoughtful garden design, shade cloth, sunflowers, umbrellas, and vining plants all can be used in different ways to provide shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and any other vegetable that needs some relief from the sun.

Tomatoes often benefit from added shade in the summer garden

A tip to remember: Although summer gardens in hot climates need shade in the hottest months of the year, the sun 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.

1. Create shade in the garden with 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.

Northern Exposure Shade Definition and Diagram
Southern Exposure Shade Definition and Diagram
Eastern Exposure Shade Definition and Diagram
Western Exposure Shade Definition and Diagram
How to create shade in the garden
How to create shade in the garden

2. Create shade in the garden with shade cloth

How to create shade in the 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. 

Shade cloth comes in different coverages. A percentage of 40-60% shade cloth is good for vegetables during the summer.

Which percentage of shade cloth to use

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

Attach shade cloth to existing trellises with zip ties. At the end of the season, it’s simple to remove the zip ties, roll up the shade cloth, and store it away. When the summer heat comes again, re-attach the shade cloth with new zip ties.

How to create shade in the 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.

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

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.

Sunflowers are a great way to create shade in the garden / Add shade to a hot summer garden

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. 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 are a great way to create shade in the garden / Add shade to a hot summer garden

5. Create shade in the garden with vining plants

Consider planting sun-loving vining vegetables (Armenian cucumbers, malabar spinach, hyacinth beans, etc.) purposely 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 vining plants on south or west-facing trellises that will shade other plants. 

How to create shade in the garden / Add shade to a hot summer garden

What do you want to learn next?

How to create shade in the garden
How to create shade in the garden

Luis B

Thursday 11th of August 2022

I need to find a place where to buy shade cloth to protect my plants

Angela Judd

Tuesday 16th of August 2022

I use this shade cloth from Amazon:

Ash lain

Monday 5th of July 2021

New gardener here. Was thinking of using some very tall, skinny planters to grow bamboo for shade. Do you have any experience with bamboo in the Phoenix areas?

Monica Ballyurban

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

@Angela Judd, I live in Northern California (Woodland, CA) just 30 minutes South of Sacramento (1.5 hours North of San Francisco). I planted my green/yellow variegated stem running bamboo 5 years ago, and it only starting shooting up multiple canes about 2 years ago. My white/green variegated leaf clumping bamboo took the entire 5 years to send up its first tall stalk (I had a short one come up about 2 years ago). This is the important part with running bamboo: don't let it get out of control. Mine started sending up canes during the first 100F days, BUT only for 2 weeks. They grow at least a foot a day (the length of the segment between the branches). The new shoots are hard to find sometimes: they are covered in a mottled black papery leaf covering, with an extremely sharp point. At first you might think it is a strange snake standing upright, or a fat round sword. A bit spooky at first glance! They are easily broken at the base, so if a spear grows where you don't want it to, just snap it at the bottom, it will not grow back. I had to take out about 10 a day, for those 2 weeks. Then the growth cycle stopped. The ones I decided to let grow, to provide shade in strategic locations in my yard, just kept getting taller and taller and taller, and when they stopped their vertical growth, they started leaving out on their branches. My garden looked like it had giraffes in it for a while! Every year, the canes will come out thicker. They like water. They lean a bit eventually from the weight of their upper most branches and leaves. They are lovely. At pre-dawn, on a cool spring or early summer day, each and every leaf has a dew drop on it, coming up through the plant from the roots (just like well watered corn does), and I can hear them fall like raindrops! When the rising sun shines on the droplets of water dangling at the tips of each leaf, it is like thousands of diamonds glistening. It is pure magic. Highly recommend everyone see this phenomenon at least once in their life! :)

Angela Judd

Monday 5th of July 2021

Hi. You are the second person today to ask me about growing bamboo. Unfortunately, I haven't grown it. Sounds like I need to learn how to.