QUESTION: Is four hours enough sun for tomatoes? I have a good spot to put a garden, but it’s unfortunately in a spot that doesn’t get that much sun. – Tammy C.
ANSWER: Unfortunately, four hours of sunlight is not enough to give tomato plants the energy that they need to produce tomatoes prolifically. Tomato plants generally require between six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day for optimal growth. Six hours of full sunlight exposure is the minimum amount of sunlight required for healthy tomato plants, but eight or more hours is the preferred amount of direct sunlight exposure recommended for tomatoes, and eight or more hours per day will likely produce more prolific plants, and a larger, sweeter harvest of garden grown tomatoes.
That’s not to say that you won’t get some success by planting tomatoes in a location that gets less than six hours of sunlight per day. However, more than likely, you will produce dwarf-sized tomato plants that are only capable of producing a small amount of fruit each season. There have been many gardeners who have experimented with growing tomatoes in locations that don’t get the recommended amount of sunlight per day, and some have had a small amount of success in less than ideal sunlight conditions, but there haven’t been any studies that have shown that tomatoes can grow successfully with as little as four hours of sunlight per day.
Tomatoes need plenty of sunlight each day because that is what the plants use for energy in order to grow large and produce lots of edible fruit. If tomato plants don’t get sufficient sunlight, they may not grow to their full size, and may not produce much, or any harvestable fruit. With as little as four hours of sunlight per day, you will likely not be able to have much success with growing tomatoes, but there are many other plants that can grow successfully in garden locations like these without six to eight hours of sunlight.
If you have an area on your property that you can dedicate to gardening which gets more sunlight than the area that you were considering which gets only four, it’s best to dedicate the area that gets more sun to fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables. In the area that only gets four hours of sun, try growing smaller plants that require less energy to develop, like herbs and small flowers.
If you are insistent on getting some tomato plants into your limited sun garden area, try cherry tomatoes, or a type of tomato plant that makes smaller fruits in order to give yourself a better chance of success with limited sunlight. Tomato varieties that produce small fruit need less sunlight in order to grow and develop fruit. Larger tomato varieties, such as beefsteak tomatoes, need lots of sun to produce their massive fruits. So, if you’re worried about how much sun your tomatoes are going to receive, go with a variety that produces smaller fruits.
A bit more information is probably needed in order to determine whether the spot you have in mind is going to have a shot at growing prolific tomatoes. Is this garden location getting only four hours of direct, uninterrupted sunlight per day, but also getting additional hours of dappled sunlight? Is the four hours of direct rays during the morning or afternoon, or midday hours? If you are getting dappled sunlight during the morning hours, shade at high noon, and full sunlight during the late afternoon, this location might actually work quite well for tomatoes, depending on the climate in the area where you live.
If your garden area is getting just four hours of morning sunlight and is shaded throughout the rest of the day, you might not be very successful growing tomatoes in this location. However, just because the experts claim that you won’t be successful doesn’t mean that you won’t be. Oftentimes, plants defy logic and grow in unexpected places. Your tomato plants may grow but not produce any fruit, or they may produce a small amount of fruit, or they may surprise you, and provide you a bountiful harvest of tomatoes.
There are gardeners who swear by shade gardening and grow all of their vegetables in shady locations and have plenty of success doing so. So, if you only have access to a plot that gets four hours of direct sunlight per day and you want to grow tomatoes there, just give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? You are not able to successfully grow tomatoes there, and you will have wasted a bit of time. At least then, you will know for sure whether or not the area that you have available is capable of growing tomatoes and other large-fruited vegetables. If you aren’t successful there, you can plant herbs and other small plants in that location instead.
Learn More About Sun Required for Growing Tomatoes