Tomatoes are a popular vegetable to grow in home gardens across the country. But trying to grow tomatoes in the intense heat of the Deep South poses some unique challenges.

    The long, hot, and humid summers make it difficult for tomatoes to thrive and produce abundant fruit. But with some preparation and care, you can still enjoy a successful tomato crop.

    Choosing Varieties

    There are hundreds of tomato varieties to choose from. When selecting tomato plants for the Deep South, prioritize heat tolerance. Look for tomato varieties described as “heat set” or “heat tolerant.” Some good options include:

    • A disease-resistant, all-purpose tomato that sets fruit well in heat. Produces firm, eight-ounce red fruits.
    • A hybrid developed specifically for hot and humid climates. Produces clusters of six- to eight-ounce red fruits.
    • A large-fruited type that tolerates extreme heat. Produces 10- to 12-ounce red fruits.
    • A compact determinate tomato bred for hot climates. Sets clusters of six- to eight-ounce red fruits.
    • A disease-resistant, robust variety that thrives in heat and humidity. Produces abundant four- to five-ounce red fruits.
    • A popular heat-set tomato for the Deep South. Produces six- to eight-ounce red oblate fruits.

    Location and Soil

    Choosing the right location and preparing the soil properly are two of the most important steps for growing tomatoes successfully in the Deep South’s heat.

    Tomatoes need a site with full sun — at least eight hours of direct sun daily. In the Deep South, a spot that gets morning sun but afternoon shade is ideal. The shade will protect plants during the intense late-day heat.

    Tomatoes require well-draining soil. Amend native soil with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage. An elevated planting site, like a hillside or raised bed, helps prevent waterlogged roots.

    Planting and Spacing

    Tomatoes should be planted after the last expected spring frost when soil temperatures reach 60°F. This is usually early March to mid-April across the Deep South.

    Space tomato plants 24 to 36 inches apart in rows three feet apart. Use stakes or cages to support the plants as they grow.

    Consider partially burying the lower plant stem. Roots will form along the buried stem, providing more nutrients and water uptake.

    Mulch and Water

    Proper watering and mulching techniques are critical for combating heat stress in tomato plants.

    Applying three to four inches of mulch around tomato plants is crucial for conserving soil moisture and preventing weeds — organic mulches like bark, leaves, or straw work well.

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    Deep, infrequent watering is best. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses that apply water directly to the soil are efficient options. Avoid overhead watering, which can splash up disease organisms onto the plants.


    Tomatoes need a steady supply of nutrients to thrive in the long, hot summers of the Deep South. They’re heavy feeders. Apply a balanced vegetable or nitrogen-rich fertilizer like blood meal one to two weeks after transplanting. Side-dress with additional fertilizer every two to three weeks during the growing season.

    Pruning and Training

    Pruning tomato plants promotes better air circulation, which reduces disease problems. Remove lower leaves and stems that touch the ground. Pinch off suckers (the small shoots that form where the leaf stems meet the main vine).

    Train vines on stakes or cages to prevent sprawling. This helps focus the plant’s energy on fruit production rather than foliage growth.

    Common Problems

    Despite your best efforts, tomato plants in the Deep South will likely encounter some issues simply due to the intense summer heat and humidity.

    The main challenges for tomatoes in the Deep South include:

    • Blossom drop due to extreme heat — Flowers fail to pollinate and fall off. Choose heat-set varieties to minimize this issue. Provide afternoon shade if possible.
    • Blossom end rot — Brown leathery spots on the bottom of fruits caused by erratic soil moisture. Use mulch and consistent watering to prevent fluctuations.
    • Sunscald – Fruits develop pale yellow spots and blisters from intense sunlight. Plant heat-tolerant varieties and provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.
    • Wilts and blights — Fungal diseases thrive in heat and humidity. Improve air circulation through pruning. Use drip irrigation to keep foliage dry.

    Harvesting and Yields

    Depending on the variety, tomatoes require 50 to 70 days after transplanting to reach harvest size. Pick fruits when fully colored but still firm.

    In ideal conditions, a single healthy tomato plant can yield 10 to 15 pounds of fruit per growing season. However, yields are often lower in the heat of the Deep South. With proper care, expect five to 10 pounds of tomatoes per plant.

    So, Is Growing Tomatoes in the Deep South Possible?

    Growing tomato plants during sizzling Deep South summers is challenging. Fruit set and yields are lower, and problems like blossom drop are harder to avoid. However, it’s certainly possible to harvest a successful crop by selecting heat-tolerant varieties, providing shade, mulching, and maintaining optimal watering. A little extra care goes a long way toward keeping tomato plants healthy through the sweltering summer.

    FAQs About Growing Tomatoes in the Deep South

    What are the best heat-tolerant tomato varieties?

    Some of the best varieties for Deep South summers include Celebrity, Phoenix, Sun Master, Solar Fire, and Florida 91. Look for descriptions claiming the tomatoes are heat or heat-wave resistant. Determinate varieties tend to handle heat better than indeterminates.

    Should tomato plants be mulched in hot climates?

    Applying three to four inches of mulch around the plants is highly recommended. Organic mulches like bark, straw, or pine needles help preserve soil moisture and keep roots cool. Plastic mulches also work well to combat heat effects. Reflective silver plastic mulch can reduce temperatures by up to 10°F.

    Is afternoon shade beneficial for tomatoes?

    Providing shade in the hottest part of the day can be very helpful, especially from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Put up shade sails, plant on the east side of larger plants or buildings, or use shade cloth hung above plants during peak sun hours. Just be sure the tomatoes still get at least eight hours of sun daily.

    Should tomato vines be pruned in hot climates?

    Pruning is extra important, as it allows air to flow through the plant, which reduces disease problems. Remove lower leaves and any foliage touching the ground. Pinch off suckers for a less bushy plant. Staking or caging keeps vines off the ground.

    How much water do tomatoes need in summer?

    Tomatoes require about one to two inches of water per week. Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to apply water directly to the soil helps minimize evaporation. Deep water twice a week during hot and dry stretches. Avoid overhead watering that wets the foliage, which can encourage diseases.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Jonathon Jachura

    Jonathon Jachura


    Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

    Learn More

    photo of Lee Ann Merrill

    Lee Ann Merrill

    Chicago-based Lee Ann Merrill has decades of experience writing and editing across a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. Her love of DIY, gardening, and making led her to the realm of creating and honing quality content for homeowners. When she's not working on her craft, you can find her exploring her city by bike and plotting international adventures.

    Learn More