As the days grow shorter and the leaves start to change colour, putting away your gardening tools and calling it a season can be tempting. But if you’re lucky enough to have a garden full of plants with fruit in various stages of ripeness, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy them!
Many heat-loving vegetables (including tomatoes) can tolerate temperatures in the 50s and 60s, so you’ll likely have a window of time in autumn when it’s possible to get a second harvest from your plants.
This blog post will share some tips for maximising your late-season tomato harvest. So read on, and get ready to pick some delicious tomatoes!
When is tomato season over?
The tomato season usually comes to an end in late October or early November. However, the exact date will depend on your climate and the variety of tomatoes you’re growing.
If you’re growing determinate tomatoes, they will stop producing fruit once they reach their full size. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will keep growing and producing fruit until they’re killed by frost or disease.
Extending the gardening season to maximize your tomato harvest
Why are my tomato plants dying?
Depending on the type of tomato you are growing, they may start to die off naturally in late summer. There are two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing until a hard frost kills them, and they’ll also continue producing blooms and tomatoes until they die.
If you’re growing a determinate tomato variety, it won’t last through the fall. Determinate tomatoes grow and produce their crops relatively quickly, after which they will die off completely. This typically occurs during mid to late summer. Some very commonly-grown varieties like Roma and Celebrity tomatoes are determinate tomatoes, so they are expected to die off once they produce their crop.
If you’re unsure whether the variety you’re growing is determinate or indeterminate, Google the variety and check. I recommend checking with multiple sources so you can be relatively sure of your answer. If you’re growing determinate tomatoes, there’s nothing you can do to make them last through part of fall.
But if you have some indeterminate tomato plants, there are a few things you can do to keep the plants alive in order to allow time for that final round of fruit to ripen.
How to help struggling indeterminate tomato plants
Some of the ways to help tomato plants that are working hard to survive at the end of the season are to pick tomatoes early, change your fertilisation schedule, prune tomato plant roots, and prune off new growth and flowers as autumn arrives. Let’s discuss the why and the how of each of these strategies.
Picking tomatoes early
Some indeterminate tomato plants grow more sparsely than others. If your tomato plants become overloaded with tomatoes early in the season, they might not be able to support more fruit. Picking off some of your early and mid-season tomatoes and allowing them to ripen off the vine will encourage the plant to set more fruit, netting you a larger harvest overall.
When you have an overloaded plant, as soon as you see a hint of red or orange on your tomatoes, start picking them. You can even elect to pick some green tomatoes and have them ripen on the counter. Set them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple or banana to encourage your green tomatoes to ripen. The ethylene gas produced by the ripe fruit will help the tomatoes start to ripen.
Fertilising late-season tomato plants
By the middle of summer, many tomato plants have used up most of the nutrients in the soil. However, with some extra fertilisation, you can give them enough strength to last until that first frost.
Fertilising your plants later in the season doesn’t have to be difficult. Compost tea or store-bought liquid fertiliser can give your plants the extra boost they need without overpowering them. If using store-bought fertiliser, apply at half strength if applying weekly.
Sticking with liquid fertiliser at the end of the tomato season is important. Liquid fertiliser works rapidly, being absorbed by both the roots and foliage. There isn’t enough time left in the season for plants to gain all the benefits they can from granular fertilisers before it ends. You can discontinue all fertilising when there is less than a month until your average first frost date.
Trimming the roots of your tomato plants in early fall is one way to stress the plant and direct its focus to ripen fruit rather than putting out new growth. Pruning your tomato plants’ roots helps restrict access to water, which many gardeners recommend doing at the end of the tomato growing season. Restricting water late in the season is thought to improve the flavor of your tomatoes and encourage them to ripen faster, so there are multiple reasons to try root pruning.
To do it, take a shovel and work it into the dirt in a circle around your tomato plants. Chop through the roots 12-24 inches around each plant for the best results. The plant will still have enough roots to take up water when you provide it, but the roots won’t have the same reach that they used to.
An alternative to root pruning is to just reduce the amount of watering you’re doing in your tomato patch at the end of the season. This works well in drier areas when you can better control your plants’ water intake.
Pinch off tomato flowers and new shoots in autumn
Your indeterminate tomato plants will keep up growth through September and into October. These new shoots coming in will have blossoms on them. But, after a certain point in the season, the blossoms won’t be able to create mature fruit before the plant dies.
You can prune off late-season shoots to increase the chances of your indeterminate tomatoes bearing fruit in early-mid fall. These new growths will most likely be visible near the top of the plant and easy to spot because they are thin and have fresh flowers blooming on them.
The simplest way to remove them is by snapping or pruning the shoot off at the leaf axis. If you begin cutting back new growth in late September, it may help your plants in maturing and ripen more fruit already on their stems.
Harvesting fall tomatoes
When to harvest
There are a few things to consider when deciding when to start harvesting your fall crop of tomatoes. First, take into account the average first frost date in your area. Once nighttime temperatures consistently dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to start thinking about harvesting.
Tomatoes that are still green can be ripened indoors, so if frost is on the horizon, but you’ve still
got green tomatoes, go ahead and pick them. If you won’t have time to pick all your tomatoes
before the frosts hit, it’s time to bring out the.
How to harvest tomatoes
Check for maturity
Once you’ve determined it’s time to start harvesting, look at your tomatoes and check for maturity. Ripe tomatoes will be deep red colour, and they should feel firm to the touch. If you’re unsure if a tomato is ready to be picked, you can always do a taste test! Cut open a small section of the tomato and give it a try. If it’s sweet and delicious, it’s ready to be picked.
Once you’ve determined that your tomatoes are ripe and ready to be harvested, it’s time to start picking! Be sure to handle the tomatoes gently, as they can bruise easily. If possible, try to harvest the tomatoes using shears or scissors instead of pulling them off the vine. This will help minimise damage to the fruit.
Store tomatoes properly
Once you’ve harvested your tomatoes, it’s important to store them properly to prevent bruising and maximise freshness. Depending on your preferences, tomatoes can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. If you’re going to store the tomatoes in the fridge, be sure to put them in a sealed container or bag to prevent them from drying out.
Use up your harvest
Now that you’ve harvested your late-season tomatoes, it’s time to enjoy them! There are so many delicious ways to use fresh tomatoes, so get creative in the kitchen and put your bounty to good use.
What to do with tomato plants at the end of the season
What do you do with your tomato plants once the growing season comes to an end?
One option is to compost them, using their remains as a nutrient-rich fertiliser for future garden beds. Composting these plant materials can provide valuable nutrients for your soil and help to reduce waste. Here are the steps to do this:
- Remove any diseased or rotten parts before placing the plants in your compost bin or pile.
- Mix them in with a balanced combination of “green” materials like grass clippings and “brown” materials like leaves or sawdust.
- Keep the compost moist, and turn it periodically to ensure aerobic decomposition.
- Once it has turned into a rich, dark soil amendment, you can spread it over your garden beds or use it as potting soil for next year’s tomato plants.
What to do with green tomatoes
While they may not be quite ready for salad or sandwiches, there are plenty of delicious options for using up these unripe fruits. One tasty option is frying green tomatoes – the firm flesh holds up well in a crispy breading, and a hint of acidity compliments the crunchy exterior.
Another idea is to pickle them – adding spicy peppers and herbs creates a tangy topping for sandwiches and burgers. Green tomatoes can also be used in chutney or salsa, providing an unexpected twist on traditional recipes. So don’t let those green tomatoes go to waste – with a little creativity, they can add unique flavour to any dish.
How to use up a late-season tomato harvest
1. Make roasted tomatoes
Roasting tomatoes is a great way to concentrate their flavour and makes them more versatile. You can use roasted tomatoes in pasta dishes, pizzas, and soups or just eat them as a side dish.
To roast tomatoes, simply cut them in half, drizzle them with olive oil and some seasonings, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. You could also explore making sun dried tomatoes or tomato powder for a long-term storage option.
2. Freeze them for later
If you have more tomatoes than you can possibly use in the next few weeks, consider freezing them for later. Frozen tomatoes can be used in cooked dishes like pasta sauce or chilli.
To freeze tomatoes, wash and core them, then slice or dice them as desired. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze for 2-3 hours. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container and store for up to 6 months.
3. Can them for shelf-stable storage
Canning is another great option for preserving your late-season tomato harvest. Canned tomatoes can be used in all sorts of recipes, like stews, casseroles, and sauces. If you’ve never canned before, don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Plenty of resources are available online or at your local library to help get you started.
If you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with, consider donating them to a local food bank or sharing them with friends and neighbours. No matter how you choose to use them, there’s no need for those tomato plants to go to waste at the end of the growing season. Get creative and make the most out of every last bite.
How to save tomato seeds from your garden
Saving tomato seeds will never be a bad idea. Saving seeds can help save you money, and it can also help you preserve heirloom varieties of tomatoes that might not be available commercially.
- First, select fully ripe tomatoes from your garden and cut them in half.
- Next, scoop out the seeds and put them in a jar or bowl with water.
- Let the mixture sit for several days, stirring occasionally, until mold forms on the surface.
- Finally, skim off the mold, rinse the seeds thoroughly, and spread them out on a paper towel to dry before storing them in an airtight container.
Saving your own tomato seeds saves money in the long run and allows you to select desired traits such as taste, size, and disease resistance in future generations of plants.
How to prepare your garden for winter: Autumn garden chores
Before you call the gardening season over for the year, let’s talk about some autumn garden chores to keep you busy before winter and help boost your garden for the upcoming year. There’s a lot that you can do to maintain your garden and prepare for a good harvest next year – here are some ideas.
1. Composting garden plants (except diseased ones)
The end of the season means saying goodbye to beloved plants that have graced our yards and gardens with their beauty. But instead of tossing them in the trash, consider composting them!
Composting garden plants helps break down organic matter, providing rich nutrients for future plants. And bonus – it also reduces our carbon footprint by reducing the amount of waste going to landfills.
Avoid composting any diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease to future plant life. With diseased plants and foliage, it’s best to burn them or dispose of them another way to avoid contaminating your compost.
2. Raking and composting leaves and other yard debris
Raking and composting leaves and other yard debris is a valuable task that can benefit your garden all year round. Instead of removing every last leaf from your lawn, consider leaving some in place as a natural mulch to protect your plants during the colder months.
The rest can be added to your compost pile, where they will break down over time and provide valuable nutrients for future plantings. So grab that rake and get to work before the snow starts flying!
3. Cleaning and sanitizing garden tools
Taking the time to clean your garden tools thoroughly will always be worthwhile. It’s not a chore that most of us look forward to, but doing it at the end of the gardening season helps keep your tools in better condition.
4. Organising your seeds & other gardening stuff
At first glance, gathering and organising your gardening supplies and seeds at the season’s end may seem tedious. But trust me, taking the time to do so will save you a headache later on. In fact, it can even save you money.
When everything is labelled and organised, you know exactly what seeds and supplies you already have for next year, preventing needless duplicates or wasted purchases. Plus, properly storing your seeds ensures their viability for the next season.
Make sure to identify any open packets or excess seeds that can be shared with friends or community groups. And don’t forget about organising tools and equipment – giving them a good cleaning before storage can add longevity to their use in the future.
5. Bringing in mulch
Re-applying mulch to your garden is a common task year-round. Many gardeners choose to bring in some mulch to top up their garden beds after the harvest season because keeping a few inches of mulch on top of your soil protects that soil from the elements.
If your garden looks a bit patchy this fall, consider bringing in some wood-chip mulch or raking up some leaves to cover the top of your soil. Mulching during autumn or winter provides some nourishment to your soil’s microbiomes, keeping it happy and healthy. And healthy soil means healthy plants next year!
6. Keep a garden journal or log
Gardening is a lifelong learning experience, and keeping a garden journal is the perfect way to document your journey. By recording what plants you’ve grown in a particular spot and when you can plan for successful crop rotation and make sure there’s enough space for all of your plants to thrive.
Keeping track of which plants do well together can also make it easier to plan for companion planting in the future. It’s also important to record any challenges you faced, as well as what techniques were successful in overcoming them.
And during periods of downtime, like after harvest season, your garden journal serves as a valuable resource for reflection and planning for the next growing season.
FAQ on maximising your end-of-season tomato harvest
What do you do at end of tomato season?
At the end of the tomato season, it’s important to take care of your plants and prepare them for winter. This includes tasks like removing diseased plants, raking and composting leaves and spent tomato plants, cleaning and sanitising garden tools, and organising your seeds. You should also bring in mulch to protect your soil during the colder months.
How do I know when my tomatoes are ready to harvest?
The best way to tell if a tomato is ripe is to gently squeeze it. If it gives slightly to the pressure, it’s ready to be picked. They should be a vibrant color at this stage – whatever color your variety is supposed to have.
How do you maximise tomato harvest?
There are a few things you can do to maximise your tomato harvest, including planting in raised beds, using mulch and compost, and providing adequate water and sunlight. You should also remove diseased or damaged plants as soon as possible to prevent the spread of disease.
What can I do with leftover tomatoes?
If you have leftover tomatoes at the end of the season, you can make roasted tomatoes or tomato sauce or freeze them for later use. You can also share them with friends or community groups.
How do you ripen tomatoes at the end of the season?
Ripening tomatoes at the end of the season can be done by placing them in a sunny spot indoors. You can also put them in a paper bag with a ripe apple or banana to speed up the process.
What do you do with your garden at the end of the season?
Remove your garden plants from the soil and compost them. Avoid composting any diseased plants or leaves since that can spread diseases through your compost to next year’s garden. Burn any diseased foliage to avoid this.
Can you overwinter tomato plants?
Tomato plants can be overwintered indoors if you have a sunny spot for them. Bring them inside before the first frost and put them in a south-facing window. Water as needed and fertilize monthly. Prune the plants back to encourage new growth in the spring.
How do you prune tomatoes for maximum production?
Pruning your tomato plants for maximum production can be done by removing any leaves or stems that are touching the ground, as well as any suckers that are growing from the base of the plant. Avoid overlapping foliage when possible. You should also remove any diseased or damaged leaves or fruit.
By following these tips, you can make the most of your late-season tomato harvest and prepare for a successful gardening journey in the future. You can extend your tomato growing season depending on what kind of tomatoes you’re growing. There’s not much you can do for a determinate plant, but for indeterminate tomatoes, you can keep them alive long enough to allow the last couple rounds of fruit to fully develop.
Some of these things include root pruning, limiting water intake, changing how you fertilise your plants, picking of some tomatoes early, and pruning off new growth and flowers to let your plants focus on ripening the fruit they’ve already produced. If a light frost is coming and you need a few more days to pick all the tomatoes, use blankets or a frost proof row cover to give yourself some more time to harvest your plants.
Gardening is a lifelong learning experience, and keeping a garden journal is the perfect way to document your progress. By recording what plants do well together, challenges faced, and techniques that work – you’ll be able to plan for a more successful growing season next year. Make sure to take care of your plants at the end of the season by removing diseased plants, raking leaves and spent plants, cleaning tools, and organising seeds. And don’t forget to enjoy those delicious tomatoes!