Tomatoes Can Sunburn—Here’s What You Need To Know To Prevent Sunscald

Tomatoes are commonly grown in many gardens, appreciated for their juicy taste and ability to be used in various cuisines. 

These plants enjoy the sun well in warm and bright conditions, but as the phrase suggests, “Excessive amounts of a positive thing can have negative consequences.” 

Regarding tomatoes, excessive sunlight, and high temperatures can result in sunscald. In this essay, we will explore what sunscald is, how to recognize it, and most importantly, how to avoid it so you may have a plentiful tomato harvest.

Explaining Sunscald

Tomatoes need around six to eight hours of sunlight daily to grow fruit. Although sunlight is necessary for their growth, too much exposure to the sun can cause sunscald. 

Greg Key, an experienced gardener and president of Hoss Tools in Georgia, explains that sunscald happens when tomatoes are exposed to direct sunlight without any protection, similar to sunburn in people. 

Jennifer McDonald, an expert in organic gardening and one of the founders of Garden Girls in Houston, Texas, explains that sunscald usually occurs when there is intense heat and direct sunshine.

It’s worth mentioning that a few days of above-average temperatures typically do not result in sunscald. Nevertheless, extended exposure to strong sunlight can considerably raise the risk.

Identifying Sunscald

Sunscald can impact both the foliage and the produce of tomato plants. Indications of sunscald on leaves involve the presence of white or brown patches. 

The fruit could develop fractures or show patches of unevenly colored white, yellow, or gray sections. McDonald also mentions that fruit exposed to excessive pruning is more vulnerable to sunscald. 

When leaves are overly trimmed, they no longer offer natural shade, making the fruit susceptible to direct sunshine.

Starting Tomato Plants Early in the Southern Region

Sunscald is more noticeable in areas with longer days and hotter weather, such as the Southern United States. To reduce the risk of sunscald, it is essential to plant your tomatoes at the appropriate time. 

McDonald’s suggests growing tomatoes after the final freeze in May. This typically involves planting soon after Valentine’s Day in the southern regions. 

This early planting enables the tomatoes sufficient time to pollinate, produce fruit, and mature before the intense heat of late June arrives. 

When the fierce heat comes, the growth of tomatoes usually decreases, indicating that it is time to harvest or remove the plants.

Selecting the Appropriate Tomato Varieties

Choosing the right kind of tomatoes can significantly decrease the chances of sunscald, particularly in areas where it is a common problem. “Red Snapper and Hossinator” are two tomato plants Key suggests are less susceptible to sunscald. 

These specific tomato types are developed to need minimal or no trimming, have thick leaves, generate excellent fruit sizes, and have a high potential for yield.

Opting for more petite indeterminate cherry tomatoes can also be a smart decision in regions with scorching summers. These smaller tomatoes require less time to grow and have a lower surface area, which decreases the likelihood of direct sunlight exposure and reduces the risk of sunscald.

Avoiding Sunscald

Sunscald is a physiological condition, unlike fungal illnesses that might be more difficult to prevent and treat. Here are two efficient methods to decrease the likelihood of sunscald:

1. Utilize a Sunscreen Fabric

Although tomatoes do well in the sunshine, offering some shelter during the warmest times of the day can be helpful. 

Putting a shade cloth is an easy yet efficient way to ensure that fruit-bearing plants get enough sunshine while protecting them from the strong, direct sun. 

Shadow cloths are available in different levels of shadow coverage, ranging from 30% to 75%. An umbrella can also provide shade for plants as they grow.

2. Avoid excessive pruning

Trimming tomato plants is a usual method to encourage fruit development. Nevertheless, excessive trimming may result in the fruit being exposed to the sun, which raises the likelihood of sunscald. 

Key recommends avoiding excessive pruning, particularly in the height of summer. Even leaves that are sunburned might offer protection to fragile fruit. If no fungal diseases exist, even somewhat dry leaves can stay on the tomato plant.

Is it still possible to consume sunscalded tomatoes?

If you discover sunscalded tomatoes in your garden, there’s no need to worry—they are generally still OK to eat, as long as there is no mold. 

McDonald states that although they may seem unusual, sunscalded tomatoes are safe to consume. If the white spots haven’t turned black, indicating the presence of mold, you can safely consume the remaining tomato.

Occasionally, a sun-damaged tomato may have a yellow or white mark. If the sunscald is confined to a mottled area on the tomato that has not formed blisters, you can easily trim around it and enjoy the rest of the juicy deliciousness. 

However, if the tomato seems concave, swollen, or has significant fissures revealing the inside, it’s recommended to dispose of it.

Ultimately, although tomatoes flourish in sunlight, exposure to harsh sun and heat can lead to sunscald, similar to a sunburn. 


To avoid this issue, it is essential to select appropriate tomato types, plant them at the correct time, and use preventive measures such as shade cloths and careful pruning techniques. 

By taking these measures, you can have a successful tomato harvest while reducing the chances of sunscald impacting your crop. 

Don’t let a few flaws deter you from enjoying your fresh tomatoes; remember that sunscald-affected tomatoes are still edible as long as there is no mold.

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