Tomatoes in Part Sun?

You’re not supposed to grow tomatoes in part sun, everybody knows that. But I’m performing a little experiment. I wanted to grow tomatoes in containers on the back steps, along with some herbs: sweet basil, Thai basil, mint, chives, and parsley.

Sweet basil and tomato ‘Patio’ on the back steps.

The thing is, around dinner time it seems like such a chore to walk out to our little vegetable and herb patch to pick whatever it is that we need. True, it’s a walk that takes approximately 2.5 minutes, but at that moment even tiny distances seem daunting.

There are two possible explanations for this. One is laziness. The other explanation can be found in the old Star Trek episode ‘Wink of an Eye’. On this episode, radiation on the planet Scalos makes characters move so fast that they cannot be seen by uninfected people. The difference in my situation is that the radiation makes me move really slowly, so that short distances seem much longer. Most likely the Star Trek explanation is the correct one.


Either way, our back porch is right off the kitchen, and the porch steps are, well, right off the porch. So the solution is obvious.

I’ve planted three tomato plants in pots on the back steps: ‘Patio’, ‘Better Bush’, and the ‘Juliet’ grape tomato. All but ‘Juliet’ are determinate tomatoes, which means the harvest, if there is one, will be over a fairly brief period. Just in case, I’ve also planted another three tomato plants in the regular vegetable and herb patch, where they get full sun.

Not really sure how I’ll train ‘Juliet’ but I thought I’d start by using the railing as a trellis, then maybe have it grow up the nearby shepherd’s crook.

So far the back step tomatoes look pretty happy. They’re putting out flower buds but are rather slow to bloom. If they bear some tomatoes, even if it’s a small yield, I will consider the part sun tomato experiment a success.

The herbs also look pretty content. Basil is supposed to be a full sun herb, but we’ve tried the sweet basil already and it was no less delicious than normal basil. My sense is that the herbs will be perfectly fine where they are.

I was thinking I should fill in these pots with some low-growing flowers, maybe more Sweet Alyssum?

Have you tried growing herbs or tomatoes in only part sun?

27 Comments on “Tomatoes in Part Sun?”

  1. Too funny about walking to the garden. I had the same problem with my herb garden, and now I grow them in pots right outside the north facing side door in what I would call mostly shady. They’ve done fine. And I actually use them because I can get out there and cut what I want in the middle of dinner prep. So it might not be perfect, but at least I use them. Tomatoes are banished to the sunny veggie garden where they can grow in a tangled mess. I do afternoon harvests on my walk around the yard.

  2. I have not grown either in part sun, but I have grown tomatoes in my greenhouse here in the PNW, where it often doesn’t get hot enough for long enough in the summer for them to grow as they like. That gets them hot, and the polycarbonate walls and ceiling reduce the amount of sun by a small amount. I have a feeling that what tropical/Mediterranean vegetables and herbs really want in the growing season is heat, and not necessarily full sun.

  3. Harsh summer sun can be a problem for us, in our part of Australia….just for a short time we get really, really hot weather, and I think the tomatoes in part shade survive the best. It might be my imagination but the tomatoes in part shade look grateful on heatwave days.

  4. You made me laugh this morning with the Star Trek remarks! I’ve had decent luck growing tomatoes in part sun in containers. They’re just a little slower. You’ll definitely want to train ‘Juliet’ on some sort of support; it’s been my experience that those grape tomatoes are sprawlers! Be on the lookout next spring for volunteers! How about filling in those pots with some thyme? Good luck!

  5. I’m confident that you will get some tomatoes, even in a partly sunny location. The difference will likely be that they will start to produce a bit later and not produce as much overall as those in full sun (if they are the same varieties, that is). Good pick with the Juliet – that’s a favourite of ours.

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