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Is It Too Late To Plant Tomatoes? It is really common for gardeners to ask, what is the latest time that tomatoes can be planted? This question is difficult to answers as it does heavily depend upon the climate you are living in, the particular variety you are growing, and whether you are purchasing seedlings or growing from seed. However, there are some general rules that can be applied to answer this question.
When planting store-bought seedlings the latest time that you can realistically plant tomatoes and actually get ripe fruit is around 100 days prior to the first frost date. The reason for this is that tomatoes typically take anywhere from 80 to 120 days to produce the first harvest when grown from seed. Seedlings that are purchased from the store are typically 4 weeks old this provides which means that you will get about 4 weeks at the end of the season where tomatoes are available to pick.
It is also important to note the first harvest is normally very small and it usually takes a few weeks for the tomato plants to really get going which is why at least 4 weeks of harvest time needs to be allowed in order to get more than just a few fruits. Obviously, the earlier you can plant the seedlings the more you will get.
However, it is important to note that this is only a guide and it is highly dependent upon the weather. In locations, such as the UK where the peak summer temperatures are relatively low, in the mid-’20s (or mid-’70s in Fahrenheit), the growth rates will be slower and additional time will need to be allowed.
How To Maximize Your Tomato Plant Yield
There are several things that can be done to maximize the output of the tomato plants that apply whether the plant has been put into the garden relatively late or not which are listed below.
Select Fast Maturing Tomato Varieties
As many gardeners will appreciate the rate of maturity of different varieties does differ. It is preferable to select fast-maturing varieties. But, finding data that reliably predict which variety matures fastest of the varieties available as seedlings from your local garden centre can be difficult.
However, there are some general rules that can be applied to increase your chances of selecting early varieties which are based on the work conducted by the diggers club in Australia. They conducted trials on over 100 varieties of tomatoes and generally found that tomatoes with smaller fruits produced an early harvest but, it should be noted that this is a generalisation as there are some larger varieties that mature later.
These results indicate, more often than not cherry tomatoes mature before full-sized tomatoes particularly beefsteak tomatoes which a large and fleshly.
Apply Row Covers, Cloches Or Grow Tomatoes In The Greenhouse
To accelerate the rate of growth, particularly in locations where the summers are cooler plants can be started off in a cloche, row cover, or even a greenhouse if you have one. Enclosing the plants in some sort of space will accelerate the rate of growth as it increases the temperature.
For those without the luxury of own a greenhouse, the other option is to create a temporary frame around the tomatoes and place clear plastic sheeting around the plant to create a mini-greenhouse. However, in regions where the temperatures are extremely hot in summer, it is best to do this only in the latter part of the season when peak temperatures are lower.
Pinch Out The Side Shoots
The other key thing to do throughout the season is to pinch out the side shoots on the plant. Side shoots are the stems that form on a 45-degree angle between the main stem and existing branches. This needs to be done throughout the growing season as side shoots will continually form.
The removal of these shoots is important to limit the plant to one or two main stems otherwise the plant will create a large volume of stems rather than focusing on the production of fruits. To read more on how to maximize the production of tomatoes through the removal of side shoots click here.
Remove The Top Of The Plant At The End Of The Growing Season
To encourage the plant to ripen tomatoes it is best to remove the top of the plant around 4 weeks before the last frost. This pruning will encourage the tomato plant to put all its energy into ripening the more mature fruit on the plant as the top of the plant will contain the small immature fruit and flowers that are unlikely to bear a reasonable harvest.
It is also advisable to remove any other flowers and small fruits from the plant that haven’t already been removed as a result of the top of the cutting the plant. As a general guide on the fruit size that should be removed, it is anything that is between the size of a marble or a pea.
However, obviously, if you are growing a grape or cherry tomato variety I would be inclined to only remove fruit that is the size of a pea as those that are the size of a marble may ripen.
Apply Frost Protection At The End Of The Season
To extend the period of time that the tomatoes spend on the plant it is worthwhile applying frost protection as the time of the last frost approaches. The type of materials that can be used are old sheets, blankets, or even cardboard, basically anything that prevents the ice crystals from settling on the plants.
However, if you live in a frost-prone area I would be inclined to buy frost protection that is specifically designed for the purpose. The reason is that these materials allow light through which enables the frost protection to be left on for days if necessary.
Plants generally benefit from remaining under frost protection during the day because it can increase the temperature of the soil slightly which accelerates growth a little.
There are a range of frost blankets, sometimes referred to as horticultural fleece, available on Amazon that are relatively inexpensive, to see an example of the product and the latest price click the link here.
Once the weather deteriorates to the point where the plant begins to freeze despite the blanket being applied there is little point in continuing and the plant should be brought inside. However, it is important to note that fruits that are exposed to the hard frosts will still be edible but will not store for after-ripening.
So if you already have a glut of tomatoes and are not planning to preserve them it is better to bring them inside before they freeze.
Ripe Tomatoes Indoors
Once it is no longer possible to ripen the tomatoes outside it is advisable to bring the tomatoes indoor. When bringing the tomatoes inside it is best to leave them on the vine as that will aid in the ripening of the fruit. However, if the tomatoes remain very small there is little point in bringing them inside as these tomatoes will not ripen.
To speed up to ripening process the tomatoes can be left on a window shelf that gets plenty of light or near other ethylene-producing fruits such as bananas and pears. Though neither one of these measures is essential for ripening they do speed the process up. The other option is to uproot the entire plant and hang it upside down from the rafters of the garage.
When storing Tomatoes during the ripening process it is preferable to avoid having them touching each other. The reason for this is that if one goes bad it will not affect other Tomatoes you are trying to ripen.
Use Green Tomatoes In Cooking
Despite all the additional efforts made to ripen the tomatoes, you will almost certainly end up with a lot of green tomatoes that simply will not ripen. This will be particularly the case when the tomato plant is put into the garden late. However, green tomatoes will still provide some value as they can be used in cooking.
There is a list of 15 different ways to use up green tomatoes on the spruce which will give you plenty of ideas of how they can be used. However, I always tend to go for traditional recipes such as Green Tomato Relish or Chutney. There are many variants of these types of recipes on the internet, however, the recipe I use for Green Tomato Relish is provided below.
- 500g Green Tomatoes
- 650g Onions
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground All Spice
- 1/4 Cayenne Pepper
- 1 tablespoon Mustard
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 4 tablespoons Flour
- 1 teaspoon Curry Powder
- 3 Cups Vinegar
- Prepare Tomatoes by washing and slicing.
- Prepare Onions by peeling and slicing.
- Mix Tomatoes and Onions in a bowl and sprinkle with Salt and leave for a couple of hours.
- Drain liquid from the Bowl and transfer to a large pot.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and cook until the mixture thickens.
- Bottle seal and label.