Natural Shade for Tomato Plants

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shade tomato plants

If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.

Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  

Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.

So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

shade tomato plants

My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.

shade tomato plants

Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.

Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.


Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.

An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.


Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.

How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
5 replies
  1. biobabbler
    biobabbler says:

    A lovely idea. I also enjoyed growing sunflowers with my beans so the beans would climb the sunflowers. Gorgeous combination.

    Another bonus to sunflowers v. shade cloth is sunflowers REALLY attract goldfinches (at least here in Calif.), who are always a delight to behold. =)

  2. Braden
    Braden says:

    I’ve been trying to find if anyone uses this method!
    Does this method still work for you? I’ve read that most tomatoes will stop setting fruit after the days are over 90 degrees, which is all summer for us. I was discouraged by the cost of shade cloth, but would love to try sunflowers instead if you liked the results.

    What do you think about trying this for sharing other crops as well? Like peppers, cucumbers, beans, summer greens etc.?

  3. says:

    Hi Braden,

    It does take some planning as the sunflowers won’t last all summer long. You’ll want to plant them beginning in March and then every six weeks until early August. This will ensure that they will provide shade. And yes, it will work with all vegetables that need some protection from the desert sun.

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