Most expert gardeners will tell you that tomatoes need to be grown in the sun. In fact, ideally, they should have at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. But what about if your garden just doesn’t get enough sun throughout the day? Should you give up on growing tomatoes?
Tomatoes can be grown in the shade, but you will get a lower yield, and the fruit will take much longer to ripen. In addition, your plants will be quite leggy because they’ll be reaching up to find the sun.
Let’s look at the disadvantages and some advantages to growing tomatoes in the shade and what you should expect. Plus, we’ll give you a list of tomatoes that should grow reasonably well in a shaded garden.
Disadvantages of Growing Tomatoes in the Shade
Even though it is possible to grow tomatoes in the shade, there are a few disadvantages that you’ll have to deal with. But, if your garden doesn’t have a nice sunny spot to grow tomatoes, these are things you’re just going to have to live with. At least you’ll be able to grow some delicious juicy tomatoes even though you don’t have the perfect conditions.
- Your plants will be leggier. This means that there will be more gaps between each leaf as the stem of the plant stretches up to try and find some sun.
- Your yield will be lower. This is because you will end up with fewer flowers because the plant is not getting quite enough energy from the sun.
- The fruits will take longer to ripen. All plants, including tomato plants, use the energy from the sun to feed the growing parts of the plant. Therefore, if your tomato plants aren’t getting any natural sunlight, their energy production is reduced, and this means that the plants have less energy to devote to the development and ripening of the fruit.
- Your plants will be more susceptible to fungal diseases. The primary reason for this is that the leaves of the plants won’t dry as quickly as those grown in the sun. And as we know, moist areas are a haven for fungal diseases. To avoid this, keep your plants well-pruned to assist in airflow around the plants and water only at the soil level so that the leaves don’t get wet.
For these reasons, many shade gardeners find greater success with cherry tomatoes. These varieties are often very prolific producers. Plus, the smaller fruits ripen a lot faster than large tomatoes. Therefore, you should still get a decent harvest if you grow these smaller tomatoes in your shady garden.
You can successfully grow larger tomato varieties, but you should definitely avoid the large beefsteak ones because they just won’t ripen in time before the colder weather starts to set in.
Advantages of Growing Tomatoes in the Shade
Just as there are disadvantages to growing tomatoes in the shade, there are also a few advantages.
- Increased pollination. In the peak of summer, very hot temperatures can cause limited pollination because the heat often leads to pollen sterilization. That’s why keen gardeners who grow tomatoes in hot climates will often provide some shade to their tomato plants as a protection against the burning midday and afternoon sun.
- Your plants are less likely to wilt. As you may know, tomatoes can be quite thirsty and will wilt readily when exposed to high heat and drying conditions. Those grown in the shade won’t need quite as much water because soil water evaporation will happen at a slower pace.
- Shade-grown tomatoes don’t suffer from sun-scald. When the sun is at its hottest, plants grown in full sun will curl their leaves in order to slow down moisture evaporation. This, in turn, exposes the developing fruit to the full power of the sun. This intense sun exposure can cause white spots on the fruits known as sun-scald.
Tomato Varieties you can try Growing in the Shade
As we’ve already mentioned, cherry and grape tomatoes are ideal for growing in the shade. You can also try some determinate and bush varieties that produce slightly larger tomatoes. It’s even possible to grow some paste tomatoes in the shade.
In general, you want to select varieties that have the least time to harvest, such as those designed for growing in colder climates. The less time the fruits are said to mature, the better chance you’ll have to produce some ripe and edible ones in your shady garden. Just remember to add around another 14 days to the time that these varieties normally take to mature.
Here’s a list of tomato varieties that you can try that we’ve grouped into types.
Cherry & Grape Tomatoes that can be grown in shade:
- Black Cherry
- Golden Sweet
- Isis Candy Cherry
- Juliet Hybrid
- Principe Borghese
- Vernissage Yellow
- Evans Purple Pear
- Cherry Cascade
- Jaune Flamme
- Sweet Million
Paste Tomatoes that can be grown in shade:
- Mama Leone
- San Marzano
Classic Tomatoes that can be grown in shade:
- Arkansas Traveler
- Belize Pink Heart
- Early Wonder
- Golden Sunray
- Green Zebra
- Violet Jasper
Smaller Beefsteak Tomatoes that can be grown in shade:
- Black Krim
- Cherokee Purple
- Gold Medal
- Paul Robeson
- White Queen
This is just a small selection of tomatoes that should grow reasonably well in shady conditions. Just be prepared that you’ll get smaller yields, and the fruits will take longer to ripen.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes in the Shade
- If you’re growing tomatoes in the shade, try to choose a spot that gets at least a little dappled sunlight.
- Midday or afternoon sun is best for shade-grown tomatoes if that is at all possible.
- If you’re growing your tomatoes in a pot on a balcony or indoors on a windowsill, invest in a grow light and turn this on for 8 hours a day.
- Make sure that your plants receive enough water and nutrients for healthy growth since they’re missing out on the required sunlight.
- If some of the fruit has started coloring but is not fully ripe and you’re expecting a frost, harvest the fruit and bring it indoors. Leave these on the kitchen counter or a bright windowsill for a few days, and they should ripen further.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can tomatoes grow without direct sunlight?
Tomatoes can grow without direct sunlight, but you need to choose your varieties carefully and ensure that you provide enough nutrients and water to keep them healthy. It’s even possible to grow tomatoes indoors if you can provide them with a grow light.
What tomatoes grow best in the shade?
If it’s your first time growing tomatoes in the shade, you’re better off trying the smaller varieties such as cherry and grape tomatoes. These will still ensure a reasonable harvest.
How much sunlight do tomatoes need per day?
Ideally, tomato plants should receive around 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily.
Can tomatoes have too much sun?
Tomato plants that are exposed to the very hot midday and afternoon sun can suffer from sun-scald if the plants aren’t getting enough water. Also, an overabundance of really hot sunlight can affect pollination and reduce yields.
What temperature kills tomato plants?
Tomato plants cannot handle temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).