Techniques for Protecting Tomatoes from Sunscald Damage

Vego Garden
Vego Garden

Typically, tomatoes love sunlight and thrive in relatively hot weather conditions. But too much sun can lead to sunscald - which is the equivalent of a sunburn for tomato plants. To produce fruit, tomatoes need around six to eight hours of sunlight. Sunscald can occur when tomatoes are under direct sun exposure without any protection - this is similar to a sunburn after prolonged contact with sunlight and heat. 

If you love fresh tomatoes harvested from your garden, it is important to take the right measures to protect them from sunscald damage. Sunscald can be the result of growing conditions – namely direct and strong sunlight exposure for extended periods during hotter months of the year. Excessive sunlight can lead to discoloration, appearing in the form of unsightly white patches on your tomato fruits. 

Providing Shade 

Similar to people, tomatoes need some form of shading from direct sunlight. Consider using shade cloth or row covers to cover up your tomato plants during the hottest times of the day, which helps reduce sun exposure and chances of sunscald. 

Shade cloths are an inexpensive and effective option to protect your plants from direct sun exposure, usually ranging from 30 to 75% coverage. Alternatively, umbrellas can be used to shade growing plants from direct rays. 

       

Consistent and Proper Watering 

Watering your tomatoes consistently is essential to maintain adequate moisture and overall plant health. Regular watering during hot and dry weather conditions will help your plants stay strong and minimize the risk of sunscald.

When watering your tomatoes, water directly at the base of the plants. Avoid watering from overhead, which can encourage excessive humidity and conditions that are favorable for diseases, and even intensifying the effects of the sun. 

Moderate Pruning Helps 

Pruning your tomatoes not only promotes more growth, it can improve air circulation and reduce foliage density. Removing excess foliage also lets the remaining leaves act as natural shade for the growing fruits.

Meanwhile, too much pruning will leave the fruits exposed for potential sunscald damage. It is therefore advisable to avoid over-pruning, and even dried leaves are fine to leave on tomato plants if there are no signs of disease. 

Choose the Right Tomatoes 

To further minimize the chance of sunscald, choosing the right variety of tomato to plant and grow in your region is also vitally important. 

As a general rule, bigger tomato varieties are more susceptible to sunscald, and you may want to grow smaller types if you live in regions with hotter weather.  For example, smaller cherry tomato varieties often fare better in hot climates and typically have less sunscald. Some also require no pruning, and produce high yields in good sizes to add color and flavor to your homemade meals. 

        

Add Some Mulch 

Consider applying a layer of mulch made of wood chips or straw near the base of your tomato plants. Mulching helps regulate soil temperature, and thereby reduces the reflection of sunlight onto fruits.

Planting at the Right Times

Finally, it is advised to plant your tomatoes in an area of the garden that receives some form of shade, especially during the hottest times of the day. Alternatively, time your planting activities so that fruits ripen during parts of the year with cooler temperatures.


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