How Much Sun Do Tomatoes Need?

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Are you thinking about adding tomatoes to your garden? Have you grown tomatoes in the past, but haven’t had the greatest success? Tomato plants are a staple in most gardens, but proper care is so important to ensure a large harvest.  

One of the first things you need to figure out when planting tomatoes, is where you are going to put them in your garden. Before you decide where you will be planting them, you might wonder how much sun do tomatoes need? 

Tomatoes grow best in full sun, meaning they need between six and eight hours minimum of direct sunlight per day, but eight to ten hours is even better. Less than this and the tomato plant will not be as productive as what it could be. 

Tomatoes are arguably the most popular vegetable grown in household gardens, and with so many different varieties, home gardeners are bound to find one they can enjoy. To learn even more about tomatoes and the amount of sunlight these plants need. 

How Much Sunlight Do Tomatoes Need? 

Whether you are learning the ropes on how to plant tomatoes or just want your plants to be better producers, there is always something you can learn to benefit your garden. In order to plant good producing tomatoes, you need to put them where they will be able to get enough sunlight. 

Sunlight is crucial for most garden plants, with some requiring more than others. Tomatoes grow best and dare most productive when planted in full sun. They require between six and eight hours of direct sunlight to be at peak production. If possible, eight to ten hours of direct sunlight is even better for your tomato plants.  

Tomato plants, like many other garden fruits and vegetables, don’t do well in shade. We recommend not putting these plants where they will have mostly shade. 

When tomatoes do not get adequate sunlight, they are not as productive and their growth will be stunted. They will likely appear leggy, meaning they are not able to support themselves and fall over easily. They will not look as full as a healthy plant that gets the adequate amount of sunlight.  

The plant is also prone to poor fruit set when there is too much shade. Fruit set is the process of the flower forming into the fruit following pollination. There are other reasons for poor fruit set, but when you are trying to figure out what the issue could be, start by checking that the plant is getting the hours of sunlight they need.  

Keep these plants in the sun to ensure you get the best producing plants possible. Six hours is the minimum number of hours for your plants, so find a place where you plants will get at least this much.  

Can Tomato Plants Get Too Much Sun? 

We talked about tomatoes being sun loving plants, but is there such a thing as too much sun? Tomato plants love getting sun. While six to eight hours is great, up to ten is even better. But the harsh sun in the hottest weeks of summer does cause some problems.  

The harsh afternoon sun is much harder on the plant than morning sun. Many avid gardeners look at placing their tomato plants in an area where they get a more eastern exposure.

This provides the plants with the morning sun ensuring they get the hours of sunlight they need, while not being so hard on the plants.  

By doing this, the plants have more protection from the sun in the afternoon, whether it is a building or some trees to provide a level of shade. If you have no choice but to plant your tomatoes out in the open, there are options to reduce the risk to the plant. Install a shade cloth, using nursery fabric or burlap to offer your plants protection during the hottest portions of the day.  

Too much sun may cause the soil to lose water through evaporation and that does cause drooping and wilting of the leaves. Tomatoes require approximately one inch of water per week, and if you grow tomatoes in pots, rather than directly in the ground, you will likely need to provide them with water daily.  

For tomatoes planted directly in the soil, add a two to three inch layer of mulch to help keep the moisture from evaporating. This will also keep moisture levels consistent in your soil.  

While your plant is at risk when the sun is at its hottest, the actual fruits on the plant also could develop problems if they are exposed to long term, direct sunlight.

This problem is called sunscald.

This happens when the fruits are green or just starting to ripen and get too much of the direct sunlight. If this has happened to your tomatoes, you will notice large blistered areas, light in color on the sides of the fruit that face the sun.

Most commonly, sunscald is most prevalent during extended stretches of hot and sunny weather. Tomato plants that have lost their leaves, due to disease or insects, will have this problem more often as the leaves protect the fruit.  

Tomatoes with sunscald are not edible. Other common garden plants are also at risk of their produce developing sunscald. Some of these include peppers, watermelon, summer squash, and muskmelon, but there are many others.  

The summer heat also degrades the tomato fruit faster. The best time to harvest your tomatoes is when the daily temperatures are 75 degrees. As temperatures increase the fruit will get soft faster and the quality begins to diminish   

Can Tomatoes Still Grow In The Shade?  

Tomato plants like sun, but if your yard is particularly shady, you might wonder if your tomatoes could still grow in shade.

Your tomatoes will not be as productive and will not grow as large as those plants you place in the full sun they require. If your plant isn’t getting what it needs, in this case sunlight, they will not be healthy plants.

It is unlikely you will get much, or any fruit if your tomato plant is planted in shade and your plant will not be a healthy one. We cannot recommend planting your tomatoes in the shade because they need to be planted in full sun.  

Is Morning Or Afternoon Sun Better For Tomatoes? 

If you are starting out with gardening, you might think sun is sun. Light is light for your tomatoes or any other plant. But this isn’t exactly true.

The afternoon sun is hotter and harder on your plants, where a morning sun, provides your plant with the sunlight it needs but isn’t so harsh. Tomatoes benefit from the morning sun, more so than the afternoon sun. 

When you look for a location, try to plant your tomatoes in an eastern facing location where they will get the six to ten hours of morning sun and some protection from the afternoon sun.

If possible, establish your garden where morning sun is more plentiful, and your garden will have a better chance of thriving. You won’t have problems like wilting or the ground drying up as we discussed above.  

What Happens If Tomatoes Don’t Get Enough Sun? 

Think about you not getting enough of the vitamins or minerals you need to function. Your body will not work right, things slow down and you don’t feel great. Tomatoes who don’t get enough sun, react in a certain way, even if they can’t tell you. 

You will know if your tomato isn’t getting enough sun, by the lack of leaves, very spindly stalks that cannot support themselves. There will also be a lack of tomato fruits for you to harvest. Overall, your plant will not be healthy and it will show.  

Can Tomatoes Still Grow In The Shade

What Else To Look For When Selecting A Location 

Location is such an important part of any gardening. Sunny versus shady locations make big differences in plants, but there is more to it than that. When you are looking to establish a garden to plant your tomatoes soil and drainage must also be taken into consideration. 

The pH level of the soil will be a determining factor in where you want to put your tomatoes.

Tomatoes like soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7. Good soil for tomatoes has a high concentration of organic material so adding compost will definitely help. While tomatoes aren’t too picky when it comes to soil type, they definitely do better in a garden loam.  

You’ll also want to select a location with good soil drainage.

The last thing you want is the roots of your tomatoes sitting in waterlogged soil, for long periods of time.

This will lead to disease in your plant.  

If you don’t have good conditions like mentioned here, don’t worry because you can plant tomatoes in containers. Quite often tomatoes are planted in containers when there is a lack of space or poor soil conditions. 

Just make sure you are giving the tomato in the container enough water and sunlight. if you are worried about your plant in the heat of the day, the container can be moved for protection against that harsh afternoon heat. 

Wrap up

Tomatoes grown in your own garden are so much more flavorful than those you find at your local grocery store. Whether you are eating them fresh out of your garden or preserving them for use during the winter, you won’t be sorry you added a few tomato plants to your garden.  

Finding the right location is just the first step in successfully growing tomatoes. It sets up the whole season, being the building block for a great year. 

To help ensure you get the most out of your plant, full sun is required. Your plant will be healthier, thriving in conditions it not only likes, but needs, and you have a better chance for a high yield. A minimum of six to eight hours will give your plant what it needs to thrive.