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A north facing home can put a damper on your dreams of fresh, garden grown vegetables, but it doesn’t have to. If you are limited to a northern growing site you can still start a vegetable garden by selecting vegetables that thrive in the lower light conditions. Containers also allow you to take advantage of the space available, even if it isn’t an optimum location.

Sunlight and Temperature The minimal sunlight in protected north facing locations often results in a cooler microclimate, since temperatures won’t warm up to the same levels as in a south facing location. The amount of sunlight varies between north locations depending on nearby buildings and shade structures. Study the area over several days or weeks to determine the average amount of light received. Most vegetables require at least some direct sunlight, even if only two or three hours. Bright light, although indirect, all day long may also suffice for non fruiting vegetable varieties.

Vegetable Varieties Cool season vegetables can typically thrive in low sunlight north facing containers. Leafy greens, including spinach and lettuce, can produce in areas that receive indirect light all day, although they won’t produce as abundantly as those grown in sun. Cabbage and its relatives, such as broccoli, produce best when they receive at least two hours direct light. Some root vegetables can also grow in a partially shaded north facing location, such as potatoes, radishes and carrots. Few plants will produce at their optimum in a north facing location, so you may need to plant more to reap the same size harvest as your would from a sunnier location.

Container Considerations The size of the container depends on the type of vegetable. Selecting dwarf and small growing varieties allows you to use 2 gallon pots. Hanging planters may allow you to elevate the plants above shade elements so they receive more sunlight. Use planters that have bottom drainage holes, otherwise soggy soil in the root zone can kill the vegetables. A well drained potting mixture, such as one containing peat moss and vermiculite, further aids drainage. Soil may also remain cool for longer in shady north growing sites. A darker colored container absorbs and retains heat better, and many vegetables require warm soil for healthy growth.

Basic Care Caring for north facing vegetables is similar to caring for plants in sunnier sites. Since the soil dries more slowly, the plants may only require watering two or three times a week instead of daily; the size and material of the container will also play a part in how often watering is needed. Leggy growth may also occur as the plants stretch toward the nearest bright light. Rotate the containers every two or three days to prevent stretching and encourage full, straight growth. More fertilizer will not encourage fuller growth. Use a soluble fertilizer formulated for the type of vegetables you are growing. Apply it at the label recommended rate once monthly. Since the containers are usually watered less in north facing areas, the nutrients don’t leech out of the soil as rapidly so more frequent feeding isn’t necessary.

References (2) Colorado State University: Vegetables for the Shady GardenUniversity of California: Container Gardening

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