In the fall, there are usually a few green tomatoes left on the vine. Deciding whether to pick the tomatoes while they're still green or risk letting them get hit by frost is a tough call. Not all green tomatoes will ripen off the vine. But there are some steps you can take to increase the chances of getting your tomatoes to ripen.
Most tomatoes need temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit to finish ripening. Depending on where you live, some fall days easily reach or surpass this temperature. But once the days begin to shorten and remain cool, you'll need to take some precautions to prevent losing your final tomato harvest.
Equipment / Tools
- Row cover or old sheet
- Cardboard box
- Paper bag
- Garden twine
How to Keep Tomato Plants Growing in the Fall
Apply these tips to keep your tomato plants healthy in the fall season and get those green tomatoes to ripen on the vine.
Feed the Plants
Give your tomato plants a final dose of food in the fall. Some compost tea or fish emulsion should give them the necessary energy to finish producing tomatoes for the season.
Remove Remnant Flowers
Once nighttime temperatures start dipping into the low 70s, your tomato plants probably won't form any new fruits. So to speed up the ripening of existing green tomatoes, pinch off any new flowers that could take energy away from the fruits already on the vines.
Protect the Plants From Frost
If a light frost is predicted, cover your plants with a row cover or sheet. You can leave the row cover on during the day. But a sheet is typically too heavy and can damage stems and leaves if left on when wet. Remove and replace it as needed.
How to Salvage Green Tomatoes at the End of the Season
Bring the Plant Indoors
If you still have green tomatoes well into the cool days of fall, you can dig up the entire plant including roots and hang it with garden twine in a dry, sheltered location, such as a garage. This way, the fruits will still have some of the benefits of ripening on the vine. Don't hang the plant in direct sunlight or total darkness.
Place the Tomatoes on a Sunny Windowsill
This is a hit-or-miss solution. You’ll have more luck fully ripening tomatoes that already have some color and feel softer than the solid young fruits. Although tomatoes are typically more stable sitting on their stem side, they will rot less readily if you place them blossom side down while you're trying to ripen them. You can also turn the tomatoes to prevent soft spots and help them to ripen uniformly.
Wrap the Tomatoes in Newspaper
Layer tomatoes that are individually wrapped in newspaper in a box no more than two layers deep. Place the box in a dark, dry spot. It usually takes 3 to 4 weeks for tomatoes to ripen. Check them frequently, and remove any fruits that show signs of rotting.
Try the Paper Bag Trick
Ripen green tomatoes by placing them in a plain paper bag with an apple. The apple gives off ethylene gas, which speeds up ripening. This should encourage green tomatoes to ripen, though some might not ever get perfectly ripe. Check the bag daily for progress and any signs of rotting.