When the temperature starts to drop in the fall, many gardeners begin to think about bringing their tomato plants indoors. While tomatoes will continue to ripen on the vine if temperatures remain above 50°F, cold weather can cause tomatoes to develop off-flavors and become mealy.
If you live in an area with very cold winters, it may not be possible to grow tomatoes outdoors at all.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prolong your tomato season and keep your plants healthy through the winter.
By following these tips, you can enjoy fresh, homegrown tomatoes all year round.
Choose the Right Tomato Variety
Not all tomato varieties are created equal when it comes to cold tolerance. If you live in a climate with cold winters, look for varieties that are specifically bred for overwintering, such as ‘Stupice’ or ‘Winter’s Last Stand’. These varieties are more likely to survive cold temperatures and produce fruit into the winter months.
Read More: 10 Best Tomato Varieties For Cold Weather
Start with Healthy Plants
Tomatoes that are already stressed from diseases or pests are more likely to succumb to cold weather damage. Before bringing your plants indoors, inspect them for signs of pests or disease. If possible, treat any problems before moving them inside.
Move Plants Gradually
Tomatoes that are acclimated to indoor conditions are more likely to survive the winter than those that are moved suddenly from outdoors to indoors.
To gradually acclimate your plants, place them in a shady spot outdoors for a week or two before moving them into a bright, sunny spot inside. Then, move them into your house a week or two before the first expected frost.
Pruning can help your tomato plants focus their energy on producing fruit, but prune too aggressively and you may do more harm than good. When pruning tomato plants for indoor overwintering, remove any diseased or damaged leaves and stems. Then, cut back the plant by about one-third.
Tomatoes need to be watered regularly, but overwatering can lead to problems. Water your plants when the soil is dry to the touch, but be careful not to let the soil get too dry or the plants will wilt. In general, tomato plants need about 1-2 inches of water per week.
Tomatoes don’t need a lot of fertilizer, especially if you’ve been using compost throughout the growing season. Once your plants are indoors, stop fertilizing altogether. Overfertilizing can lead to excessive leaf growth, which can make your plants more susceptible to disease.
Keep an Eye out For Pests
Pests can be a problem for indoor tomato plants, just as they are for outdoor plants. Inspect your plants regularly for signs of pests, such as aphids, whiteflies, or spider mites. If you see any pests, remove them by hand or treat the plants with an appropriate insecticide.
Monitor for Diseases
Tomato plants are susceptible to a number of diseases, both indoors and out. Common problems include blossom end rot, early blight, and septoria leaf spot. Watch for signs of disease and take steps to control the problem if you see it.
Know When To Pick
Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they’re picked, but they won’t get any sweeter. For the best flavor, pick tomatoes when they’re fully ripe. You can tell a tomato is ripe when the skin is uniformly red (or yellow, in the case of yellow varieties) and the fruit gives slightly to pressure.
Store Tomatoes Properly
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. If you need to store tomatoes for more than a few days, place them in a paper bag or box in a cool, dark place. Do not wash tomatoes before storing them, as this can cause them to spoil more quickly.
When it comes to cold weather tomatoes, there are a few worst practices that you should avoid if you want your plants to stay healthy and productive.
Here are four of the most common mistakes growers make when caring for cold weather tomatoes:
Not Providing Enough Heat
Tomatoes are warm weather plants and need a minimum temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive. If you live in an area with a cold winter climate, you’ll need to provide some extra heat for your plants. The best way to do this is with a grow light or heat lamp.
Not Protecting from Frost
Frost can damage or kill tomato plants, so it’s important to take measures to protect them if frost is in the forecast. One way to do this is to cover the plants with a frost blanket or tarp.
Not Pruning Properly
Pruning is an important part of tomato plant care, but it’s important to do it correctly. Over-pruning can damage the plant and reduce its yield. When pruning, only remove the dead or diseased leaves and stems.
Not Fertilizing Properly
Fertilizing cold weather tomatoes is different than fertilizing other types of plants. Tomato plants need a high-phosphorus fertilizer to produce abundant fruit. Apply the fertilizer according to the package directions.
By following the tips in this guide, you can successfully care for your cold weather tomato plants. With proper care and attention, your plants will produce delicious tomatoes that you can enjoy all season long.