End Of Tomato Growing Season: What To Do With Tomato Plants At End Of Season

End Of Tomato Growing Season: What To Do With Tomato Plants At End Of Season

Sadly, the time comes when days have shortened and temperatures are dropping. The time has come to consider what needs to be accomplished in the vegetable garden. You may have questions regarding the end of tomato growing season. Questions such as, “Do tomato plants die at the end of season?” and “When is the end of tomato season?” Read on to find out.

When is the End of Tomato Season?

Everything, to the best of my knowledge, has a life cycle and tomatoes are no exception. Although in their native habitat, tomato plants grow as perennials, they are usually grown as annuals for cultivation. Tomatoes are referred to as tender perennials, as they will generally succumb once temperatures drop, especially once frost hits.

Other tender perennials include bell peppers and sweet potatoes, which will also die back once frost is in the forecast. Watch the weather forecast, and when temps are dropping below the 40’s and 50’s (4-10 C.), it’s time to decide what to do with your tomato plants.

End of Season Tomato Plant Care

So what steps need to be taken for end of season tomato plant care? First of all, to hasten ripening of fruit, remove any remaining flowers so the plant’s energy goes towards the fruit already on the plant and not into development of more tomatoes. Cut back on water and withhold fertilizer to stress the plant toward the end of tomato growing season.

An alternate method for ripening the tomatoes is to pull the entire plant from the ground and hang it upside down in a basement or garage. No light is necessary, but comfortable temperatures between 60-72 F. (16-22 C.) are needed for continued ripening.

Or, you may pick the green fruit and ripen in small batches in a paper bag along with an apple. The apple will release ethylene, necessary to the ripening process. Some folks spread individual tomatoes out on newspaper to ripen. Keep in mind that once the tomato is removed from the vine, sugars will cease to develop so, while the fruit will change color, it may not have the same vine ripened sweetness.

What to Do with Tomato Plants at End of Season

Once you have decided it’s time to pull the tomato plants out of the garden, the question is what to do with tomato plants at the end of the season? It is tempting to bury the plants in the garden to rot and engender additional nutrients for the following year’s crop. This may not be the best idea.

There is a possibility that your fading tomato plants have a disease, insects or a fungus, and burying them directly into the garden risks infiltrating the soil with these and passing them on to next year’s crops. You may decide to add the tomato plants to the compost pile; however, most compost piles do not attain high enough temperatures to kill off pathogens. Temps need to be at least 145 F. (63 C.), so be sure to stir the pile if this is your plan.

The best idea is to dispose of the plants in the municipal trash or compost bin. Tomatoes are susceptible to Early blight, Verticillium, and Fusarium wilt, all soil borne diseases. Another effective management tool to combat the spread of disease is to practice crop rotation.

Oh, and the last end of tomato growing season chore may be to harvest and save seeds from your heirlooms. However, be aware that saved seeds may not grow true; they may not resemble this year’s plant at all due to cross pollination.

How to Grow and Care for Cherry Tomatoes

Deyan Georgiev / Getty Images

If you’ve ever popped a cherry tomato in your mouth right off the vine while it’s still warm from the sun, you know why these flavorful, bite-sized delights are one of the most popular garden crops.

Cherry tomatoes are fairly easy to grow even if you are new to gardening. They also need fewer days to mature than regular tomatoes, which is a big advantage if you live in a cold climate where the growing season is short, or if the temperatures in your zone get too high too early for the fruit to set during the summer.

Cherry tomatoes come in different shapes: round, elongated (also known as grape tomatoes), and pear-shaped. There are many different cherry tomato varieties and colors to choose from: red, yellow, orange, and blackish-purple.

Botanical Name Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme
Common Name Cherry tomato
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size Five to eight feet height
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.8
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 1-13
Native Area South America

Improper Watering

Improper watering is a common cause of dying tomato plants. Believe it or not, over watering is just as much of a problem as under watering.

Under Watering

When you underwater your plants, they have some ways to survive for a while. For one thing, they may have some water stored for a dry spell.

They can also slow down their growth, or wilt their leaves to prevent the sun from drying them up. However, if you go on a week’s vacation in July and forget to ask someone to water your garden, your tomato plants will be in trouble.

Did you forget to water again?

If you struggle with keeping your soil wet, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.

Over Watering

On the other hand, when you over water your plants, the soil around the roots becomes too wet and stays that way. After a while, the roots begin to rot, since they cannot get rid of water quickly enough to dry out the soil.

This can happen if you water your plants heavily and then get a heavy rainstorm, so be sure to check the weather forecast and water accordingly.

How Much Should I Water My Tomato Plants?

There is no solid rule to use for the amount of water to use – it will depend on where you live, the season, the weather, the size of the plant, and even your soil. A better way to tell is to stick your hand in the soil.

If it feels dry a couple of inches down, then you can water your plants. If the soil is moist or wet, then there is no need to water.

Remember These Tips When Watering

There are a couple of other things to remember about watering. First, it is better to water less frequently and give your plants a deep drink of water that will get to the roots, rather than several shallow drinks that may be evaporated by the sun.

Also, water the plants low, close to the soil. Avoid getting water on the stem or leaves – this increases the chance of mold, fungus, or rot on the tomato plant.

Finally, the best time to water is early in the morning, when the sun is low and the air is cooler. That way, the water will go to the roots, instead of evaporating.

In short: don’t kill your plants with kindness by over watering. You can always add a little more water to the soil if needed, but it’s hard to take it back out!

How to Water Tomatoes

Tomato plants are thirsty creatures and their thirst only increases as they begin to set fruit. The trick to keeping them happy is to water deeply, but infrequently. This means that rather than sprinkling or pouring a little water on everyday, it is better if you give them a really good, long soak right at the soil line every few days, more or less, depending on growing conditions.

Potted plants generally need to be thoroughly drenched every single day, especially during a heat wave when the soil dries faster than the roots can soak it up. I give mature, potted tomatoes that are in the fruiting stage roughly four litres/one gallon of water during the hottest days of summer. Administer it slowly rather than all at once so that the soil has a chance to rehydrate.

Choosing What Tomato Plants to Grow

Who knew choosing a tomato would be so complicated? Well, ask any seasoned gardener, and they'll tell you — it's a chore, albeit one we welcome year after year. Whether you grow your tomatoes from seed or start from tomato plants, there are so many varieties you can grow — at least 6,000 and counting — that the process of choosing may seem daunting. A little education on the types of tomato plants and the options and varieties available may help.

When shopping for tomato seeds or plants, consider the following factors:

  • Plant growth habit
  • Seed type
  • Fruit size, color and flavor
  • Disease resistance
  • Regionality and climate suitability

Where to Buy Vegetable Plants Online

It's perfectly acceptable to grow many veggies and herbs from transplants instead of seed, and you can even order some online.

Plant Growth Habit

One major consideration in choosing which type of tomatoes to plant are their two distinct growth habits: determinate or indeterminate. Look for these words on seed packets, catalog descriptions and plant tags when shopping for tomato plants.

  • Determinate varieties form bush-like plants with clusters of flowers at the ends of stems these clusters stop plant growth so that all the fruit forms at relatively the same time. After several pickings, the plant is done and can be removed. While they are bushier than indeterminate plants, determinate plants may still need staking. Look for information about the expected height of the plant on seed packets or plant tags.
  • Indeterminate varieties, grown on trellises or stakes, set clusters of fruit along a vining stem that grows all season, producing fruit until the first frost kills the plant. Many of these varieties can get very tall, and some gardeners prune them to keep the plants manageable.

While these are the two main growth habits, creative breeding has pushed the limits of plant form and structure to new heights — or, in the tomato's case, new lows. New varieties keep getting smaller and smaller to suit the needs of gardeners with small spaces and those who grow in containers. You might also see these words in descriptors:

  • Compact: This indicates a determinate plant that stays very small — for example, around 12-18 inches tall and wide — with short, densely-leaved branches. Many compact varieties have cherry-sized fruit, though not all. They grow well in pots and don't need staking. You will also see these varieties called patio tomatoes.
  • Tumbling: Similar to compact varieties, tumblers are great for containers but also have the added visual benefit of a trailing habit, meaning they can be used to spill over the sides of pots and window boxes.

Seed Type

As with most vegetables, tomato seed is available for both hybrid and heirloom varieties.

  • Hybrids have been bred by cross-pollinating two parent varieties to create a new variety with desired characteristics such as disease resistance or plant height. In order to retain those desired characteristics, the seed must always be produced through cross-pollination, a form of human interference you cannot save the seed from a hybrid and expect to get the same combination of traits in the next generation.
  • Heirlooms have been passed down for at least 50 years, retaining relatively the same characteristics along the line. They often have interesting origins, colors and flavors, along with suitability to certain regions, but sometimes limited disease and pest resistance.
  • Heirlooms are also open-pollinated, or OP, meaning that pollination occurs naturally in the field rather than being manipulated by human hands, such as cross-pollination. You will see some seed labeled as OP but not heirloom that's because a variety could be open-pollinated but not have the historical lineage of an heirloom.

How Long Does It Take for Tomato Seeds to Germinate?

It’s important to understand germination when you’re starting tomato plants from seed. Know what to expect and how to troubleshoot if things don’t go quite as planned.

Fruit Size, Color and Flavor

These are important factors because they're about the end result: the tomato. Are you looking for a big slicer? Cherries you can pop in your mouth whole? Something for making tomato sauce? A beautiful tomato with surprising color? It's all available in the wide world of tomatoes you just need to know what to look for.

There are three basic categories of tomatoes based on fruit size:

  • Beefstake — large, round, juicy fruit, best for slicing
  • Plum orPaste— oblong, fleshy fruit and rich flavors, best for making sauce
  • Cherry — bite-sized fruit, typically very productive

Tomatoes come in a range of colors, from the classic red to orange, yellow, deep burgundy, purple and black, bright green and even white. Many of these colors are available in plants that are determinate or indeterminate, and fruit that's beefsteak, plum or cherry. If color is your primary decision point, look for that first, then narrow down by the other factors.

'Indigo Rose' Tomato

'Indigo Rose' tomato features medium-sized, unusual purple fruits with a rosy red inner flesh and an acidic bite. The semi-determinate plants start producing in 75 to 80 days. Make sure to let the fruits fully ripen on the vine watch for the skin to turn from a shiny purple to a duller, brown-purple and for the bottom of the fruits to change from green to red.

Photo by: Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

'Indigo Rose' tomato features medium-sized, unusual purple fruits with a rosy red inner flesh and an acidic bite. The semi-determinate plants start producing in 75 to 80 days. Make sure to let the fruits fully ripen on the vine watch for the skin to turn from a shiny purple to a duller, brown-purple and for the bottom of the fruits to change from green to red.

Flavor seems like it should be the first consideration, but it's only recently that connoisseurs have started talking about the nuance of tomato flavor. Some tomatoes are bright and tart while others are rich and exhibit that elusive fifth flavor: umami. (Hello, Cherokee Purple!) As you begin to grow your own and try out different varieties, you'll be amazed at the range of flavor tomatoes can offer, far beyond the grocery store varieties bred more for uniform size and shape, and transportability, than flavor.

Disease Resistance

While tomatoes always top every new gardener's list of what they want to grow, they can actually be quite complicated, and among the complicating factors are diseases and pests. The list of potential diseases includes:

  • Anthracnose
  • Early blight
  • Late blight
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Septoria leaf spot
  • Southern bacterial wilt
  • Verticillium wilt

Do a little research to see if your area has problems with any of these diseases, and if so, look for varieties — most likely hybrids — that have shown resistance to the disease. You'll find this information listed in variety descriptions.

Regionality and Climate

Tomatoes will grow almost anywhere, but not all tomato varieties will grow well everywhere.

For gardeners in cooler, short-season zones — zones 5 and above — it's important to find varieties that grow and produce quickly and tolerate cool temperatures. These may be called early (Early Girl is the prime example), short-season, or cool-climate varieties, and you can also look at the "days to maturity" information. Tomatoes mature in a range from around 60 to 100 days if your growing season is short, choose varieties on the faster end of that spectrum.

If you live in a particularly wet climate, it's likely that varieties with disease resistance will be your best bet, as most tomato diseases thrive in wet conditions. If you live in a hot, dry climate, look for varieties lauded for heat-tolerance in many cases, the name will be a tip-off, such as Heat Master and Solar Fire.

Many heirloom varieties are beloved in particular regions of the country and known to grow well in those regions. If you're interested in heirlooms, look for seed sold by smaller, regional seed companies that specialize in varieties for your area.

What are semi-determinate tomatoes?

What if you look at your plant tag and it says “semi-determinate” as the type? What does this mean? A semi-determinate is sort of a cross between the two types but is technically an indeterminate variety that does not grow too large.

The semi part comes from the fact that they act like a bush tomato since they have shorter vines but may still grow tall enough to need support even though they don’t grow out of control.

They will produce fruit over a longer period of time so you won’t get the all or nothing harvest that you do with determinate tomato plants.

Have you grown both types of tomatoes? Which do you prefer? I am growing both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants in containers for the first time this year as a test to see how they do.

I can already tell you the bush varieties are the winners!

Want a reminder later so that you will be able to find this post easily? Pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest.

Admin note: This post first appeared on my blog in May of 2013. I have updated the post with new photos and much more information to help you learn about determinate tomatoes.

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Watch the video: Tomato Plant Care and Maintenance During Growing Season