Tomato Plant Growth Timeline: the 7 Stages (With Pictures)

Tomato Life Cycle

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Whether you are setting out tomato transplants or starting from seeds, the stages of the tomato life cycle offer plenty of visible clues that tell you how your crop is coming along.

The type of tomato you are growing (i.e., variety) is a decisive factor in its timeline of growth stages because different cultivars may take anywhere from 60 to 100 days to harvest after transplanting into the garden. Determinate varieties tend to produce fruit and ripen earlier than indeterminate types. (The exception is indeterminate cherry type tomatoes. These may take longer to produce flowers and fruit but the small tomatoes ripen quickly.)

Tomatoes are a warm season crop and, even though they can survive light frost, when planted in the garden too early they simply sit until soil and air temperatures warm up. Wait until temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees F. before transplanting seedlings.

Growth Stage Days Spent in Stage Key Growth Signs
Germination 6 to 8 Green sprout appears above soil
Early Growth 25 to 35 True leaves and roots
Vegetative Growth 20 to 25 Vines lengthen, foliage and roots grow, flowers start to emerge
Flowering 20+ Yellow flowers appear and open
Pollination 20+ Occurs throughout flowering
Fruit Formation 20 to 30 Small green fruits appear and grow
Ripening 15 to 20 Red color develops
  • 01 of 07

    Germination

    Tomato Sprout

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    Germination is the beginning of the life cycle, when covering on the seed pod is breached and a green shoot appears above the soil. Seeds sprout in six to eight days when kept moist at temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees F. and are generally started four to six weeks prior to final frost in your growing zone.

  • 02 of 07

    Early Growth

    Tomato Seedlings

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    Early tomato plant growth takes place in a warm, sheltered environment with plenty of available sunshine. During this stage, seedlings begin to develop a root system and true leaves that they'll soon use to feed themselves through photosynthesis. Continue to grow plants indoors until soil temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees F., keeping soil moist but not wet and potting up if necessary.

    Tip

    If you've seeded into cells, watch for roots to fill the space. Plants will take up water quickly and dry out quickly. These are signs the seedling is starting into the vegetative growth stage and should be transferred into a larger pot or into the garden.

  • 03 of 07

    Vegetative Growth

    Tomato Vegetative Growth

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    Vegetative growth takes off when tomato seedlings are transplanted into the garden or a container. Over the next 20 to 25 days, vines grow rapidly branching off from the main and secondary stems and producing plenty of lush green leaves. Tap roots grow to a depth of 3 feet to help anchor heavy top growth and a network of shallower roots develops to pull nutrients from the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Optimal temperatures are 70 to 85 degrees F.

    This is a good time to set up a consistent watering schedule allowing for 1 to 2 inches per week. Watering at soil level encourages healthy root development and reduces fungal disease caused by wet foliage. Compost or a balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer at planting support healthy vegetative growth.

    This is also the best time to prune out suckers for better air circulation.

  • 04 of 07

    Flowering Stage

    Tomato Flowers

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    Small yellow flowers begin to appear when plants are about 12 to 18 inches tall which happens concurrently with vegetative growth. Determinate tomatoes tend to produce multiple blooms earlier, all at the same time, while indeterminate types flower all season long. During this stage, temperature extremes may cause flower loss. Watch out for daytime temperatures that exceed 85 degrees F. or nighttime temperatures dropping below 55 degrees F.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Pollination

    Tomato Pollination

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    Tomato flowers pollinate themselves with the help of wind, insects, and sometimes by moving or working among your plants. Flowers must be fully opened for successful pollination. You may see bright yellow pollen on the flower anthers or fallen onto petals and surrounding leaves.

    Bumblebees encourage pollination by buzzing tomato flowers. The rapid movement of their wings causes the pollen transfer needed for fertilization.

    Warning

    When daytime temperature exceed 85 degrees, pollen becomes too sticky to move between the male and female plant parts. Pollination fails, fruit doesn't form and flowers drop. When temperatures are at either extreme, too hot or too cold, flowers simply drop off.

  • 06 of 07

    Fruit Formation Stage

    Tomato Fruiting

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    When a flower is successfully pollinated the center turns dark and it falls from the plant in about 24 hours. When the flower stem turns green it is preparing to produce fruit, otherwise it turns yellow. Over the next two to three weeks, small green fruits about the size of a marble appear. Initial growth is slow during the first two weeks followed by a rapid growth period of three to five weeks.

    Fertilizing with an NPK lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous and potassium supports good fruit development. Adequate watering is key. If plants are too dry, fruit size is reduced, or fruits fail to develop and fall off.

  • 07 of 07

    Ripening Stage

    Tomatoes Ripening

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    The ripening stage for tomatoes is the most sensitive to growing conditions. When the first blush of color appears on fruit, watering should be reduced to encourage production of the pigments that give fruits their red color. Less water also serves to consolidate sugars and amino acids for better flavor. Optimal temperatures for ripening fall between 68 and 77 degrees F.

    Light is less important than temperature during the ripening stage since production of ripening pigments is slowed and can even stop with excessive sun exposure. Quality ripening does, however, depend on the continued healthy growth of the plant through all phases. Loss of foliage due to fungal and bacterial diseases causes fruit problems including sunscald, uneven ripening, green shoulders and flavor loss.

    Fully ripe tomatoes have a green, tangy fragrance, even color from stem to blossom end, and a firm but slight give to the skin when pressed.

FAQ
  • What are the 7 stages of a tomato plant?

    The seven stages of a tomato plant's growth are germination, early growth, vegetative growth, flowering, pollination, fruit formation, and ripening

  • How long is the life cycle of a tomato plant?

    The life cycle of a tomato plant is directly tied to the cultivar or variety of the tomato. Small determinate fruits tend to develop more quickly while beefsteak and many heirloom varieties take longer. Generally it takes from 60 to 100 days from germination to harvest. Some very early cultivars such as 'Subarctic' are harvested less than 50 days from transplant.

  • How long does it take for a tomato plant to bear fruit?

    Depending on variety, tomato plants can bear fruit two to three weeks after flowers fully open. Several early varieties have been developed to bear ripe fruit as early as 50 days from setting out. The average time for most types ranges between 60 and 100 days from transplant.

Article Sources
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  1. Tomatoes Not Ripening. Purdue University