QUESTION: Do tomatoes prefer morning or afternoon sun? I’m trying to decide which side of the yard is best to plant. – Charlene D.
ANSWER: – Tomato plants need an average of six to eight hours of sunlight per day. That’s a lot of sunlight. The requirements for sunlight for tomatoes are so high, in fact, that they need to get both morning and afternoon sun to grow effectively. Though tomato plants need a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight everyday, the exposure does not need to be consecutive. The time of day in which tomatoes most need protection in the form of shade, falls between morning and afternoon hours, during midday. It is during this time of day in which the sun’s mercury levels rise to a range that can damage your tomato plants, wilting leaves, scorching fruit, and causing bloom fall. Providing some shade for your tomato plants during the midday hours is especially important during hot summers or during a heat wave.
The best way to protect your tomatoes during midday while allowing them full sunlight exposure during the morning and afternoon hours, is to provide shade using shade cloths and stakes, or some kind of simple structure to hold the shade cloths in place. Shade cloths don’t block the sunlight completely, but they do offer a good bit of relief, which can keep the leaves of your tomato plants from scorching, and fruit from wilting due to too much sunlight exposure. You can also position your shade cloths so that they are open on the east-facing and west-facing sides, so that they do not block the morning or late afternoon sun, but provide shade during the hottest part of the day, when the sun is highest in the sky.
Morning sunlight is essential for tomatoes for multiple reasons. Tomatoes, and most other plants, require plenty of morning sunlight due to its elevated ultraviolet intensity, which is key to photosynthesis. The morning sunlight is responsible for evaporating dew that builds up on the plants overnight, which would otherwise cause fungal infections and rot. Though morning sunlight has a higher ultraviolet intensity, it has lower temperatures, so tomato plants are actually able to gain energy from the sunlight, instead of becoming zapped by it. So be sure to plant your tomatoes in a location that has full sunlight access during the morning hours, and remove any objects that could obstruct the eastern side of your plants, blocking the morning sunlight from your tomato crops.
Afternoon sunlight also offers an elevated ultraviolet boost without overly hot temperatures. So be sure to remove any obstacles that shade your plants from the west so that your plants can get a good dose of afternoon sun. Morning sunlight will not be enough by itself alone, nor will afternoon sunlight, so it is best to use a combination of the two to ensure that your plants get the sunlight that they need to succeed.
Tomato plants need different amounts of sunlight depending on the stage of the growth cycle that they are in. After the seedlings are first transplanted, they only require six hours of sunlight, but any additional exposure is beneficial as well. During the flowering stage, tomato plants need increased exposure, as they require more energy to produce their blooms. Even more energy is required to produce fruit, so even more sunlight is needed during the fruiting period, in which tomato plants require a minimum of 10 hours of sunlight each day. The best way to achieve this is with a combination of morning and late afternoon sunlight exposure.
The ideal sunlight hours are during the early morning and the late afternoon. During the heat of the day, providing shade is highly recommended, as exposure to midday sunlight can cause sunscald on tomato fruits and can lead to increased bloom fall. If you live in an especially hot climate, you may want to focus your sun exposure to full morning sun, increased shade time during midday and early afternoon, and supplementary sun exposure during the late afternoon, after the temperature has dropped some.
There are many different varieties of tomatoes that you can grow in your garden. Some tomato varieties require high temperatures to grow their best, while others prefer cooler climates. Make sure that you do your research when deciding which tomato varieties to grow, and be sure to choose varieties that grow well in your area.
Tomatoes come in many different sizes as well. Smaller sized tomatoes require less sunlight than larger tomatoes, whereas larger tomatoes need more sunlight exposure than smaller tomatoes. Some smaller tomato varieties may only require morning sunlight exposure to meet their needs, while larger tomatoes will need a combination of morning and afternoon rays. Keep in mind, that these are minimum requirements, and that additional sunlight exposure, as long as it is not accompanied by extreme heat, is always welcome.