Can You Grow Tomatoes in the Shade?

Do you have a shady spot in your garden where you’d like to grow tomatoes? Join organic farmer Jenna Rich to hear what she has to say about growing tomatoes in the shade.

grow tomatoes in shade. Close-up of a woman's hand showing a cluster of ripening cherry tomatoes that present a vibrant medley of colors, ranging from shades of green to deep red, nestled amidst the lush foliage.


You’re likely used to looking at a seed packet for the sun requirements of the crops you plan to grow in your garden. This is important when plotting out your space to ensure that everything has proper access to sun, shade, water, and protection.

Tomatoes are a main crop for many home gardeners and most varieties call for full sun. But what if you have lots of shade in your yard? Are you out of luck? Maybe not.

Let’s find out if you can successfully grow tomatoes in the shade

The Short Answer

Close-up of tomato bushes growing in a row in a sunny garden with ripe clusters of round cherry tomatoes with smooth shiny red skin among lush, green, glossy foliage.
Tomatoes thrive with morning sun for optimal growth and fruiting.

No, tomatoes will not successfully grow and produce in full shade. Tomatoes need four to six hours of full sunlight daily, which will only produce minimal growth and fruit. Variety-dependent, tomatoes will thrive with eight to twelve hours of sunlight a day. Morning sun shining east to west is the best and safest for gardens as this is when the sun provides the strongest sunlight at a high point. Morning sun also helps dry foliage wet from overnight dew or early morning watering sessions and kick starts photosynthesis. This allows the plant to focus on growth during the day.

The afternoon sun provides the energy needed as plants go into nighttime, but extra care should be taken if it’s harsh and direct. The riskiest sunlight time of the day is from 2 pm to 4 pm, especially in southern regions. Flowers may abort when temperatures are above 85°F (29°C). 

The Long Answer

While you can grow tomatoes in partial shade, they will not be healthy or successful. Tomatoes will thrive with proper access to water and nutrients, receiving full sun for eight to twelve hours a day. While some tomatoes will appreciate dappled afternoon sun in hot, dry climates, full shade will not result in successful plants or high yields of tomatoes. 

So why is the sun so vital to good tomato growth? 

Why Do Tomatoes Need Sunlight?

A close-up of a ripe tomato branch that boasts clusters of firm, glossy fruits of bright red color, their smooth skin reflecting sunlight, while the lush, dark green leaves provide a striking backdrop, featuring serrated edges and a velvety texture.
Sunlight fuels photosynthesis, essential for tomato plant growth and fruiting.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert energy from light, water, and carbon dioxide into chemical energy. The energy created during this process allows their roots to absorb nutrients and water. This, in turn, results in above-soil growth.

Two byproducts of photosynthesis are sugar and oxygen. Sugar for food, and oxygen, for us to breathe! Sunlight is required for tomato plants to push energy into producing flowers, resulting in pollination and fruit production.

Here are a few things you’ll see if you attempt to grow a tomato in a shady spot. 

Plants Will Become Leggy

Near the wooden support, the ripe tomato bush flourishes, adorned with a mix of ripe red and unripe green fruits, interspersed among the lush, dark green leaves.
Tomatoes stretch in the shade, striving for essential sunlight and weakening growth.

Tomatoes will do everything they can to get the sun they require. When grown in the shade, they’ll stretch and reach their limbs to get closer, resulting in leggy, weak plants

Little To No Flower Production

Close-up of a woman's hand showing a flowering tomato plant that presents delicate, yellow flowers blooming amidst lush, dark green foliage.
Insufficient sunlight leads to sparse flowers and fruitless tomato plants.

If the plant spends most of its energy trying to get the sun instead of the critical function of flowering, you’ll have a plant with a thin, scraggly stem with little flowers. No flowers mean no fruit! 

No Fruit

Close-up of tomato bushes in the garden, showcasing sturdy, upright stems adorned with lush, deeply lobed green leaves.
Disappointing yields result from tomato plants lacking flower and fruit production.

We’re all growing tomatoes to get, well, tomatoes. If your plant can’t devote energy to producing flowers and fruit, you’ll be one disappointed gardener. If you do see fruit, they may be small, few, or funky. 

Stunted Growth 

Close-up of a ripening tomato plant in a sunny garden, showing clusters of small, round fruits with shiny, thin orange skin and wilted, dry leaves.
Sunlight is crucial for robust tomato growth and fruiting success.

Like humans and animals, plants have basic needs, including water, healthy soil, ample space, proper nutrients and airflow, preferred germination and growing temperature, and possibly most importantly, sunlight. This helps them bulk up stems, develop strong root systems, grow tall and strong, produce flowers and fruit, and properly ripen. 

Without ample sunlight, these functions don’t happen properly or at all. You might end up with a short, bushy plant or a tall, spindly one. Both may be unable to make tomatoes due to a shortage of resources. 

Increased Risk of Disease and Pest Infestation

Close-up of a gardener's hands, adorned with pale green gloves, planting a young tomato seedling into the soil in the garden.
Strong seedlings resist pests and diseases for a fruitful season.

Plant weakness leads to vulnerability which diseases and pests are happy to take advantage of. Plants are the most vulnerable during the vegetative stage, which occurs 30 to 45 days after transplant. 

Harden off your seedlings first. Then, ensure the soil and air temperature are consistently above 50-55°F (10-13°C), that your soil is healthy, and there is little to no weed competition before transplanting. Transplanting the healthiest seedlings gives them the best chance at success and the best chance for a fruitful season. 

Varieties Known To Tolerate Partial Shade 

If your garden has partial shade, you can grow tomatoes. Just choose varieties wisely based on their needs. Ensure all other needs are met for best results. 

Here are a few popular varieties that tolerate partial shade. 

‘Cherokee Purple’

Close-up of fresh ripe ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes that exhibit a dusky, deep purple hue with occasional green shoulders, boasting a slightly irregular shape.
Savor the rich, juicy heirlooms perfect for summer dishes.

This is one of my favorite heirlooms to grow for their consistency and delicious, juicy, and flavorful fruits. ‘Cherokee Purple’ is a great option for summer caprese salads or charcuterie boards. They produce a gorgeous mottled deep purple and green tomato that can grow to five inches in diameter and weigh 10 to 12 ounces each. The plants are indeterminate, so you’ll harvest until frost in ideal growing conditions. Provide support if needed, as plants can grow to four to six feet. 

‘Black Cherry’

The Black Cherry tomato plant showcases cascades of glossy, dark green foliage, amidst which hang clusters of small, round fruits with a deep, purplish-red hue.
Our cherished deep purple tomatoes elevate summer salads and dishes.

These deep purple beauties are the star of our cherry tomato trio every summer. Plants grow tall and strong with large foliage for good sun coverage, and huge, full fruit clusters. They remain one of the last in production past the first fall frost and are very productive.  

‘Black Cherry’ fruits are a balance of sweet and tart and are about one inch in diameter. Quarter them and toss them in a summer salad or add them to roasted veggies. 


The Siberian tomato plant features vibrant green, serrated leaves and clusters of medium-sized, round fruits with a deep red coloration.
The reliable red slicer for cooler climates and shades

This is the classic red, medium-sized slicer you’ve been looking for. It’s a determinate variety ready in 50 to 60 days from transplant. You may have guessed by the name that ‘Siberian’ can set fruit in cooler weather than most other tomatoes, as low as 38°F (3°C).

It was discovered in Canada, where tomato-growing season is relatively short. While yields may decrease when grown in partial shade, these plants can tolerate these conditions better than others. 

‘Italian Roma’

The Italian Roma tomato plant displays glossy, dark green foliage and elongated, plum-shaped fruits with a vibrant red hue.
Perfect for homemade sauce, these meaty, low-seed fruits thrive.

This classic Italian heirloom is essential if you love to can homemade sauce. It’s a determinate plant, so add a succession for a continuous supply. The meaty, three-inch fruits have very few seeds and will be ready to harvest about 80 days after transplanting. Limit the use of nitrogen to reduce the risk of blossom end rot, which Roma tomatoes are susceptible to. 

Things to Consider

  • Elevation and geographical location affect access to sunlight. Before plotting tomatoes, track the sun to ensure they’ll receive enough. 
  • In growing regions with extended periods of harsh direct sun, use shade cloth to protect tomatoes from sunscald, flower abortion, and soil drying out. Provide extra water during these times. 
  • Deep water tomatoes at the root level and avoid overhead watering
  • Pruning and suckering tomatoes will open up more space between plants for them to receive sunlight and airflow. 
  • Experiment with different varieties and find what works best in your garden. 
  • Morning sun is preferred by most tomatoes. They should still perform well if they receive dappled or little afternoon sun.
  • Tomatoes require sunlight, but too much can be damaging.

Final Thoughts

Tomatoes are fairly easy to grow, but they require the basics. Humans whose basic needs are met can exceed expectations and thrive. Tomatoes are the same! You can give them proper nutrients, water, protection, space, and airflow, but your efforts will be unrewarded if they don’t have access to proper sunlight. 

Provide tomatoes with at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Check the package of your selected variety for further instructions. Get ready for big tomato harvests!

Tomato grow faster. Cherry tomatoes have slender, vining stems adorned with bright green, serrated leaves. These leaves are medium-sized and alternate along the stems. The small, round fruits, bright red, grow in clusters.


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