If you have a garden, you already know how critical it is to make sure your plants get enough sun. Without plenty of sun, you won’t get full, large fruits or healthy plants to sustain growth.
Tomatoes are among the most sun-craving vegetables there are, and their popularity means that most people wind up taking a crack at growing their own.
But it’s something of a double-edged sword because tomatoes are also vulnerable to getting too much sun and scald. It’s enough to make you go a little crazy.
But on that note, is it possible to grow tomatoes in the shade? No tomato grows well in full shade, but several varieties can grow quite well in partial shade getting around 6 intermittent hours of sunlight every day.
There’s no two ways around it. Tomato plants will always need plenty of sun if you want to expect a good harvest. Too little sunshine means you’ll have fewer and smaller fruits that are poorly developed.
That being said, there are plenty of tomato cultivars that work just fine in partial shade all the time.
Any of them could be just the ticket if you’re dealing with troublingly tall trees or cloudy weather where you live, or if you just want to plan on shading your plants full-time to make your life easier.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you all about them below…
How Much Sun Do Tomatoes Need?
Tomatoes need lots of sun, generally. Most determinate and indeterminate varieties require at least 6 hours of sunlight each and every day at the minimum, and for many this is really cutting it close.
Eight hours is almost always better, and some varieties can stand 10 hours or more as long as temperatures aren’t too high.
And that’s part of the problem when it comes to growing tomatoes: tomatoes want all the sunlight they can get, but these plants and the fruits especially are vulnerable to high heat.
Hot days and late afternoon sun is a perfect recipe for sun scald on developing fruits. This is why so many growers are forced to strategically plant tomatoes in order to shield them from the most intense hours of sunlight in the day, or even erect mesh or other shade over them on an as-needed basis.
But there is hope if these struggles sound familiar to you: there are a surprising amount of tomato varieties that can still produce good if not spectacular crops of fruit even if given partial shade pretty much around the clock.
Although no tomato plant will truly be bountiful without plenty of sunlight, several of the varieties I’m going to share with you below can do just fine with as little as 6 hours of sunlight a day on an intermittent basis.
Whether you want a classic round tomato like the Arkansas Traveler, or some Romas to start cranking out next-level tomato sauce, there’s bound to be a variety suitable for shady growth that will work for you.
There are even prized heirloom varieties like the San Marzano that are good for a variety of purposes, highly tolerant of shade, and capable of producing fruit dependably with as little as 4 hours of sunlight a day.
Amazing stuff, and definitely sweet relief if you’ve been struggling to deal with fickle tomato plants for a few seasons!
But that’s enough talk about what might be, it’s time to grab your gloves and your watering can and learn about your new favorite varieties.
Great Shade-Tolerant Tomato Varieties
1. Roma Tomatoes
A legendary and popular tomato, Roma tomatoes are oblong in shape and have a thick, meaty texture with few seeds. They are best used for making sauces, pastes, and purees but are good in salads, too.
The bright red color of the fruit is indicative of its rich flavor profile, which is both sweet and tangy. Roma tomatoes require at least six hours of direct sunlight to grow properly, but they can tolerate partial shade.
2. Gold Medal Tomatoes
Gold Medal tomatoes are medium-sized plants and have a round shape with a domed end. They are known for their sweet and juicy flavor and are among the most popular shade-tolerant varieties.
These tomatoes have a beautifully golden yellow color and require at least five hours of direct sunlight to grow properly.
Shade-tolerant, they nonetheless need lots of water and fertilization. A small tradeoff for a highly productive, shady species like this one.
3. San Marzano Tomatoes
An heirloom variety, San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato that originated from Italy. They have an elongated shape and are known for their rich, sweet flavor. Ideal for canning, and so good they are even eaten out of hand from time to time!
These tomatoes have a deep red color, and need at least four hours of indirect sunlight to grow properly, making them among the most forgiving types on this list.
Keep the soil well-drained, and never let the roots sit in water; they are highly vulnerable to root rot!
4. Black Cherry Tomatoes
Black Cherry tomatoes are small and round with a deep purple-black color- just like the name says!
They have a sweet and almost smoky flavor, making them perfect for adding to salads or as a snack on a charcuterie board.
These tomatoes require at least five hours of direct sunlight to grow properly, and do fine in shade, but they need lots of water and fertilizer. The small size of the plants makes them ideal for containers or growing alongside herbs.
5. Siberia Tomatoes
Siberia tomatoes are large, bright red color and cool-weather-loving tomatoes with a sweet and tangy flavor. Perfect for slicing and adding to sandwiches or salads.
Siberia tomatoes can handle cooler temperatures than most other tomato varieties, but they are top heavy and need sturdy support.
They require at least six hours of direct sunlight to grow properly. Water often, and stay ready with the fertilizer; sometimes they need a little extra throughout the season.
6. Early Wonder Tomatoes
The Early Wonder variety is known for its ability to produce fruit early in the growing season, hence the name, and making it a popular choice for gardeners.
These tomatoes require at least five hours of direct sunlight to grow properly, but they can tolerate partial shade. Early Wonder tomatoes are medium-sized and have a bright red color when fully ripe, and have a sweet and bright flavor perfect for salads.
7. Beauty Tomato
The aptly named Beauty tomatoes are a medium-sized variety with a perfectly deep, rich red color. They are classified as indeterminate, meaning they continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost.
Beauty tomatoes are best used for fresh eating and salads. They have a sweet flavor with a hint of tartness, and are known for their creamy, velvety texture.
This variety is shade tolerant, but prefers full sun if you can provide it- 8 hours of sunlight daily will ensure a bumper crop.
8. Redorta Tomato
Redorta tomatoes are a small-to-medium-sized variety with a bright red color and best used for canning and preserving. They have a high acidity level and a strong tomato taste. Great for making a robust sauce.
This variety is also highly shade-tolerant, but would prefer around 5-6 hours of sunlight per day to thrive. Redorta tomatoes are also a determinate type, meaning they stop growing once the fruits reach maturity.
9. Green Zebra Tomato
Green Zebra tomatoes are a small to medium -sized variety instantly recognizable due to their color: with a unique green-and-yellow striped exterior, they look like mini watermelons!
Indeterminates, they are best used for spicing up salads with a tangy, sweet flavor that pairs well with other vegetables, and also for fresh eating.
Green Zebra tomatoes can grow in as little as 4 hours of sunlight daily, however, to produce the best crop they need around 6-8 hours per day.
10. Ildi Tomato
Ildi tomatoes are a tiny, bright yellow variety that are best used for snacking and salads. These tomatoes have a sweet, fruity flavor with a slightly tart aftertaste and a very soft texture.
Ildi tomatoes are totally fine with shade, growing in as little as 4 hours of sunlight, but they do better with around 6-8 hours as with most other indeterminates.
11. Principe Borghese Tomato
Principe Borghese tomatoes are small-to-medium-sized heirlooms with a deep garnet red color. Determinate, and best used for adding to dishes sliced or even as a snack or topping.
These tomatoes have a robust, meaty texture, a slightly sweet taste, and low water content. Does great in shade – 4 hours of indirect light is plenty – but needs lots of water while growing.
12. Mama Leone Tomato
Mama Leone tomatoes are a large, bright red variety that is classified as determinate, and is excellent in small spaces or containers.
An inspired and popular choice for sauces because of their high flesh-to-seed ratio and sweet, velvety flavor and firm texture.
This variety is tolerates shade, and can grow in as little as 4 hours of sunlight daily. Another variety, though, that does best with significantly more sun.
13. Juliet Hybrid
Juliet Hybrid is a prolific heirloom cherry tomato variety, perfect for salads and snacking. This indeterminate type tomato has a bright, almost fluorescent red color and a sweet, juicy flavor.
It’s a great choice for gardeners with limited space as it grows well in containers, and is beloved for its hardiness and disease resistance.
14. Arkansas Traveler
The Arkansas Traveler is a popular heirloom tomato variety known for its smooth texture and juicy flavor, and the pink variety is a fine choice for growing in shady conditions.
This determinate type tomato is perfect for canning, sauces, and slicing, and is sure to brighten up any dish.
The Arkansas Travelers needs around 6 hours of sunlight per day to grow properly, but is tolerant of partial shade.
15. Golden Sunray
Golden Sunray is a beautiful yellow-orange colored tomato with a sweet and tart flavor. This indeterminate type tomato is perfect for slicing and adding to sandwiches or salads.
It’s also a great choice for eating out of hand. Golden Sunray requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to produce fruit, but can tolerate some shade – more than most other varieties!
16. Cherokee Purple
Cherokee Purple is a unique heirloom tomato variety with a deep purple-black color and a rich, sweet, and savory flavor.
This indeterminate type of tomato is great for slicing, roasting, and sauces. It’s a favorite among tomato enthusiasts due to its complex taste.
Cherokee Purple needs around 6 hours of sunlight per day to grow properly, but some of that can be indirect. This is another variety that needs regular fertilization and lots and lots of water.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.