How to Grow and Care for Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Closeup of Mortgage Lifter tomatoes starting to fruit

Deb Nystrom / flickr / CC BY 2.0

A favorite among tomato varieties, the heirloom Mortgage Lifter tomato is a large, beefsteak. It features smooth, pinkish-red skins, few seeds and excellent, low-acid flavor in average 1 ½- to 2-pound fruits. This easy to grow type, sometimes called "Radiator Charlie," has been around since the 1930s and continues as a best seller for growers and tomato lovers. Tomato plants are toxic to cats, dogs and horses.

Mortgage Lifter Tomato
 Common Name  Mortgage Lifter, Radiator Charlie
 Botanical Name  Solanum lycopersicum
 Family  Solanaceae
 Plant Type  Annual fruiting vine
 Size  Vines to 9 ft., fruits to 2 1/2 lbs.
 Sun Exposure  Full
 Soil Type  Well draining loam
 Soil pH  6.2 to 6.8
 Bloom Time  Summer
 Hardiness Zones  2-13 (USDA)
 Native Area  Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia
 Toxicity  Toxic to cats, dogs and horses

How to Plant Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Tomato plants get off to a better start and yield fruit earlier when the seeds are started indoors and planted in the garden as hardened off seedlings already bearing several sets of leaves.

When to Plant

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes should be planted outside when soil is warm, at approximately 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In southernmost growing zones, tomatoes can be planted out in autumn or late winter as long as weather stays warm and sunny. In more temperate zones, plant them outside from mid-April to early June once all danger of frost has passed.

Selecting a Planting Site

For the biggest, most flavorful yields, plant tomatoes where they receive 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Choose a location that drains well and avoid garden areas where tomatoes and other nightshades were grown the previous year.

Spacing, Depth and Support

Mortgage Lifter is a big plant capable of producing huge tomatoes. Sturdy supports are necessary. A general guide for placement is 3 feet between plants and 4 feet between rows. A popular method for planting is to dig a deep hole and plant up to 1/3 of the stem. Remove any leaves from the stem portion that will be buried.

Another method is to dig a shallow trench, lay the tomato plant on its side, and cover it with soil, leaving the tip exposed.

Mortgage Lifter Plant Care

The big challenge growing Mortgage Lifter could be managing the giant, prolific fruits. This is one heirloom tomato pretty easy to care for with above average disease and drought resistance.


Eight hours of sunlight daily is optimal. Plenty of sun is especially important during the ripening phase.


All tomato plants grow best in rich, loamy soil with a neutral pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Root systems are fairly shallow and won't tolerate standing water, so soil that drains well is essential.


Established tomato plants need 1 inch of water weekly. Drip irrigation works best and helps prevent fungal and leaf spot diseases caused by overhead watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Temperatures for fruit set and development fall between 65 and 85 degrees F. Above and below this range, plants may fail to produce blooms and flowers may drop without setting fruit. Above 95 degrees F. can result in uneven ripening and flavor. Humidity levels of 65 to 75 percent are sufficient for growing tomatoes.


Adding aged compost to the planting area in autumn or early spring can provide the nutrients your tomato crop needs. Or you can apply a balanced fertilizer with an NPK of 10-10-10 at planting time.

soil test beforehand will tell you what may be lacking and can determine what, if any, amendments are needed.


When flowerbuds appear, keep in mind that nitrogen rich fertilizers can accelerate leafy growth at the expense of fruit production. A side dressing of fertilizer slightly higher in phosphorous can support development when fruits are about 1 inch in diameter.


Mortgage Lifters are open pollinated by wind and circulation. You might see pollinating insects attracted to flowers, however they are not necessary for the plant to produce fruit. One plant is capable of producing 12 to 20 pounds of tomatoes.

Types of Mortgage Lifter

In addition to the classic, reddish pink Mortgage Lifter tomato, a second yellow variety goes by the same name. Another beefsteak type, the yellow Mortgage Lifter produce 1 to 2 pound, slightly flattened fruits with red to pink stripes in the center. The yellow variety yields mild, sweet tomatoes.

Harvesting Mortgage Lifter

You can start to harvest Mortgage Lifter tomatoes around 80 days after transplanting, but some tomatoes may be ready a week or so earlier. Unlike many heirloom varieties that retain green or dark colored hips at the stem end, Mortgage Lifter more often develops a uniform reddish-pink color throughout.

Use a hand pruner or snipper to cut the tomato from the vine leaving about an inch of stem attached to the fruit.


Once picked, stems can be carefully removed to avoid piercing other fruits in your basket. Gently and carefully twist and pull the stem out or trim it down with the clipper. Avoid cracking or opening the top of the fruit which can cause it to deteriorate and rot.

How to Grow Mortgage Lifter in Pots

Due to the length of the vines, 9 feet and longer, it is inadvisable to grow Mortgage Lifters in pots.

If you decide to try, fill a minimum 10-gallon container with a good soil and compost mix. Choose one with plenty of drainage holes and room for a sturdy support. Set the plant in a deep hole and be diligent about removing suckers during the first several weeks of growth. Yield will likely be smaller, but patio growers could have success producing several of these large, tasty heirlooms. The soil of potted tomato plants tends to dry out rapidly and may need to watered up to twice daily.


Indeterminate, vining tomatoes grow rapidly. Heirloom tomato types like Mortgage Lifter will produce an abundance of suckers during early growth. Good air circulation helps prevent disease, so pruning it down to several manageable vines improves overall plant health. Remove suckers during the first several weeks of growth to keep air circulation at a good level.

Vines can also be cut back as the season draws to a close. Use pruners to remove the tip end of the stem back to developing fruit. This directs energy into ripening instead of setting new flowers and fruit.

Propagating Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Tomato plants can be propagated from suckers. This is done by allowing a sucker to grow to about 6 inches long, clipping it from the mother plant at the base, rooting it in water, and planting it in a new location. Since Mortgage Lifter requires 80 days to mature, the more efficient propagation method is to start with seed.

How to Grow Mortgage Lifter Tomato from Seed

You can save seeds from your Mortgage Lifter crop to plant next year. The seeds are reliably long-lasting, so don't throw out those extras still in last year's seed packet.

Seeds can be started six to eight weeks before the last frost in a heated indoor location. You will need a good light source once the seeds sprout. To get started, gather together your seeds, a cell flat or small 3- to 4-inch pots, soil-less seed starting mix, and a plastic dome or bag,

  1. Dampen the seed starter with warm water. The mix should be moist but not soggy.
  2. Fill each cell or pot with planting mix.
  3. Use your index finger to press a slight indentation into the center of each. Plant seeds 1/8 inch deep.
  4. Cover lightly with more soil-less mix and cover the tray or pots with plastic.
  5. Place your starts in a warm location, ideally 70 to 80 degrees F. and keep them moist.
  6. After seeds sprouts (about one week) remove the plastic and relocate the plants to a sunny window or place them under grow lights.
  7. When seedlings have developed true leaves and can be handled, pot them up into individual pots, if necessary.
  8. Start hardening off a week or so prior to transplanting in the garden.


Providing bottom heat and watering from the bottom benefit germination. Heat mats are widely available or try placing your starts on top of the refrigerator. To water from the bottom, place the starts in a solid bottom container filled with enough water to reach the bottom of the pots.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Mortgage Lifter has good resistance to wilts and is fairly drought resistant. It is vulnerable to a number of other fungal and bacterial problems that affect tomatoes. Starting out with healthy seedlings and good growing conditions can prevent crop loss.

The pests that most often affect tomatoes are hornworms, army worms, and aphids.

How to Get Mortgage LIfter to Bloom

This variety blooms early and reliably given adequate growing conditions. If blossoms seem insufficient, try a foliar spray of fish emulsion. Add compost tea or apply a fertilizer slightly higher in phosphorous such as a 5-10-5.

Common Problems With Mortgage Lifter

Mortgage Lifter is one of the easiest heirloom varieties to grow. The size of both the plants and the fruits can lead to some common tomato problems.

Tomatoes crack and split

These large tomatoes are vulnerable to cracking and splitting caused by uneven watering. An open fruit is an invitation for pests and disease, so harvest and use cracked tomatoes immediately. Water your plants on a regular schedule taking into account rainfall. Harvesting a bit early before the fruit is fully ripe can also cut down on splitting and cracking.

Yellow leaves

Leaves closest to the stem and bottom of the plant often turn yellow, dry up, and fall off. This is normal as the plant targets more nutrients to developing fruit.

If leaves develop sunken or discolored spots you may be dealing with a soil borne disease. Use soaker hoses for drip irrigation and avoid wetting the leaves if you’re watering from above. Keep vines staked and off the ground and remove bottom leaves that touch the soil.

Uneven ripening

When part of the tomato appears fully ripe with a pinkish red color but another part remains green and hard, the fruit is not getting sufficient sun exposure. Avoid this by removing suckers early in the season to keep the plant to 3 to 5 productive vines. This allows for more uniform ripening and better air circulation throughout the plant.

  • Is Mortgage Lifter a good tomato?

    Mortgage Lifter is a great tomato, as it is one of the easiest to grow heirloom types that puts out lots of fruits. The large, beefsteak tomatoes have few seeds and a sweet, low-acid flavor. It works well on sandwiches and in salads, salsa and sauces.

  • How big does a Mortgage Lifter tomato plant get?

    Mortgage Lifter vines can grow to 9 feet and longer so be sure to have supports on hand. Fruits average 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

  • Are Mortgage Lifter tomatoes hard to grow?

    Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are one of the easier heirloom types to grow. It's a great plant to start out with if you want to grow an old-fashioned variety. Mortgage Lifter is resistant to tomato wilts and has some drought resistance.

  • When should I pick my Mortgage Lifter tomatoes?

    Start looking for ripe fruits on a Mortgage Lifter plan around 73 days after planting out in the garden. They have a uniform pinkish-red colored skin with just a slight give when pressed.

Article Sources
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  1. Tomato Plants, Toxic Plants. ASPCA