Is It Too Late to Plant Tomatoes? A Dilemma Solved

is it too late to plant tomatoes

As the gardening season kicks off, many garden enthusiasts, especially beginners, ponder the ideal timing for planting tomatoes. And just to quickly answer this burning question, it’s never really too late to plant tomatoes!

The only time when it’s too late to start growing tomatoes outdoors is when the average date of the last expected frost has already passed for your region. Other than that, you’re pretty much okay as long as you know how.

The success of your tomato crop simply hinges on getting the timing right. So if you’re wondering if you can still make it, then we got the answers!

When is it too late for tomato planting?

When is it too late for tomato planting
Image by The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Unless you’re planting in the freezing winter, you still can work around planting tomatoes even if you’re a little bit late in the game. 

This means grasping the first frost date, understanding how long various tomato types take to mature, and being aware of the risks of planting too late. Planning these factors meticulously can make all the difference in your harvest.

First Frost Date

The first frost date is a big deal in the gardening calendar. It’s the day when temperatures get chilly enough to possibly hurt or even kill delicate plants, like tomatoes. 

Knowing when this date hits in your area is really important so you can plan when to plant your tomatoes just right. If you plant them too near the first frost date, you might not get many tomatoes. 

You can find out this important date for your place by checking with local gardening experts, almanacs, or using online tools.

Time to Maturity for Tomato Plants

Tomatoes don’t all grow at the same speed. They have different development timelines depending on the type. 

The time it takes for a tomato plant to start making ripe fruits varies between different varieties. This timing is important to think about so you can plant them when you want to harvest. 

Some types, like determinate varieties, grow faster. They usually take about 60 to 75 days to mature. This makes them a good choice for planting later in the season.

Tomato Varieties with Short Time to Maturity

If you’re starting your gardening season late, don’t lose hope! There are tomatoes that grow quickly, perfect for homeowners short on their planting time. 

Check ‘Early Girl’ and ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes, which are some of our top picks. They mature fast, usually in 50 to 60 days, becoming juicy and ripe before the real cold season begins. 

These options are a blessing for late-starting gardeners who still want a bountiful harvest. But of course, there are other varieties as well, so feel free to explore your options!

When to Start Growing Your Late Tomato Plants

When to Start Growing Your Late Tomato Plants
Image by Frosts Garden Centres

The best time to plant tomatoes depends on the type you’re growing. There are three main categories of tomato varieties for you to pick.

Knowing when to start each will give you the best outcome. Let’s break it down!

Early-Bearing Varieties

If you’re eager to enjoy your homegrown tomatoes as soon as possible, early-bearing tomato varieties are your go-to choice. These varieties are bred to mature quickly, allowing you to savor the fruits of your labor sooner. 

You’ll want to kickstart those early-bearing tomato types by beginning their growth indoors, around 6 to 8 weeks prior to the final frost date anticipated in your region. 

This approach lets the young plants flourish and become all set for relocation to the outdoors as soon as temperatures rise and the threat of frost is no longer lingering.

A few great choices for getting an early harvest are ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Stupice,’ and ‘Glacier.’ 

To give your plants a head start, start growing the seeds indoors around 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost is expected in your area.

This way, your young plants get plenty of time to grow and build strong roots before moving them outside. Wait until the frost isn’t a worry anymore and the soil feels warm.

Usually, it’s about 2 weeks after the last frost. That’s when you can put your seedlings in the garden.

Mid-Season Varieties

Mid-season tomato varieties strike a balance between early-bearing and late-season types. They provide a reasonable compromise between quick maturity and prolonged harvests. 

Types such as ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Big Boy,’ and ‘Roma’ belong to this group, giving you a bunch of different yummy tastes and ways to enjoy them.

If you’re going for varieties that grow in the middle of the season, a neat trick is to start sowing your seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost is supposed to show up. 

This lets your plants have enough time to stretch out comfortably and lowers the chance of them getting nipped by frost.

Once the frost risk is gone and the ground is getting warmer, you can start thinking about moving your strong young plants to your outdoor garden. 

This typically happens around 1 to 2 weeks after the final frost date. This way, your plants have the best chance to thrive without being hampered by frost.

Late-Season Varieties

Late-season tomato varieties are a great choice if you find yourself planting later in the season or want to extend your harvest well into fall. These special types, like ‘San Marzano,’ ‘Brandywine,’ and ‘Black Krim,’ take a bit more time to grow. 

You can do this by planting your seeds inside about 6 to 8 weeks before the final frost date. This time indoors helps your plants get bigger and stronger before facing outdoor conditions.

Moving them to the garden can be done 1 to 2 weeks after that last frost, once the weather has reliably warmed up.

The great payback is that they have really amazing taste and are bigger in size. We recommend that you give room for these types of plants that grow better in the later part of the season and need extra time.

How to Protect Tomato Plants from the Cold

How to Protect Tomato Plants from the Cold
Image by Southern Living

As autumn’s chilly winds begin to blow, it’s time to step in and shield your cherished tomato plants from the upcoming cold spell. 

Beating the frost and stretching out that growing season? Totally doable! We’ve got some techniques that have aced the test in shielding late tomatoes from the cold.

Frost Protection Measures

Protecting your tomatoes from frost and cold temperatures can make a significant difference in their health and eventual yield. Try using frost cloths, blankets, water jugs, and mulches.

Frost Cloths and Blankets

These lightweight fabrics act as a barrier against frost. Drape them over tomato plants in the evening before temperatures drop. 

Secure the edges to the ground to trap heat around the plants.

Water Jugs

Fill up gallon jugs with water and position them around your tomato plants. Throughout the day, these jugs soak up heat from the sun. 

Then, when the night comes, they gradually let out the stored warmth. This clever trick forms a small-scale climate that effectively safeguards your plants from potential frost harm.

Mulching

Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tomato plants. This layer acts as insulation, retaining soil warmth and protecting the plants’ roots. Straw, leaves, or wood chips make excellent choices for mulching.

Using Season Extenders

On top of frost protection measures, you can further extend your planting and harvesting season. Try cold frames, row covers, and wall of water.

Cold Frames

Cold frames are like mini-greenhouses that trap heat and protect plants from the cold. Construct a simple cold frame using transparent plastic or glass panels and place it over your tomato plants. Remember to ventilate during the day to prevent overheating.

Row Covers

Protect your plants from the cold with lightweight, breathable fabrics. These fabrics shield against cold while letting sunlight through. 

To safeguard your tomato plants, use hoops or stakes to secure row covers. You can select different fabrics for various levels of cold protection.

Wall of Water

Ideal for early planting, these plastic water-filled cylinders create a warm, insulated environment for tomato plants. They act as a physical barrier against cold winds and provide a nurturing microclimate.

Planter’s Tips: Keep an eye on the forecast. Knowing when the times might play tough lets you come in with the right protection before things get serious. It’s good when the sun’s out, but when it dips, be your plant’s protector. Toss on frost cloths or cozy blankets over them to keep them from getting burned. Water jugs aren’t just for hydration. They can help heat your tomatoes, so put them close. In the morning, as temperatures rise, remember to take off the covers and remove any water jugs. This will help to prevent plants from getting too hot as the day progresses. Cold frames and row covers? Maintain good ventilation during the daytime to stop too much heat from building up. As night falls, make sure to close these covers again to keep the warmth retained around your plants.

What Happens When Tomatoes Are Planted Too Late

What Happens When Tomatoes Are Planted Too Late
Image by Safer Brand

If you plant tomatoes too late, you’ll get fewer tomatoes, and they’ll be smaller. Plus, they might get more bugs and diseases. 

Just remember, planting on time and taking action early is key to saving your harvest. Let’s go through the results in greater detail, shall we?

Reduced Yield and Fruit Quality

Tomatoes are sun-loving plants that thrive in warm temperatures. When planted too late, they miss out on the peak growing conditions. 

You might end up with reduced yields and compromised fruit quality. Sunlight duration and intensity affect tomato growth and fruiting. 

Late planting means less sunlight and cooler temperatures, hindering growth. The outcome? Smaller yields of tinier fruits. 

Late-planted tomatoes take much longer to mature and bear fruit. Instead of lush, vibrant vines laden with plump tomatoes, you might end up with sparser foliage and underdeveloped fruits. 

The delay in maturity also affects the flavor, as tomatoes might not have enough time to fully ripen on the vine, impacting their taste and sweetness.

Vulnerability to Pests and Diseases

Late-planted tomato plants are not only lagging behind in growth but are also more susceptible to pest infestations and diseases. As temperatures drop, the vigor of the plant weakens.

This makes your tomatoes easier targets for pests like aphids, whiteflies, and caterpillars. Moreover, when there’s less sunlight and the weather gets cooler, it can become a perfect setup for fungal diseases to thrive. 

These diseases, like blight and powdery mildew, can spread quite easily. Unfortunately, pests and diseases can quickly attack plants that are already weakened. 

This can lead to significant harm that’s tough to manage. Late-planted tomatoes, lacking the strong growth and natural defenses that early planting provides, are more vulnerable to these problems. 

This vulnerability can lead to frustrating battles against pests and diseases, often resulting in stunted growth, leaf damage, and even plant death.

Planter’s Tips: If you happened to go through this situation for the season before reading this, don’t worry too much about it. Instead, use this experience as a learning opportunity for the next season.  Plan your gardening calendar for the upcoming season to ensure you’re planting tomatoes at the optimal time.

Tips for Planting Tomatoes Late

Tips for Planting Tomatoes Late
Image by SNAP-Ed Connection – USDA

Planting tomatoes later in the season requires careful thought and specific strategies to make the most of their growth and fruit production. Lucky for you, we have insider tips!

Go for Early-Maturing Types

Opt for tomato varieties that take less time to mature. These have a better shot at producing fruit before the growing season ends.

Start with Transplants

Save time by beginning with robust transplants from a nursery or your own indoor seedlings.

Warm Up the Soil

Late-season planting means cooler soil. Warm it up by using black plastic or row covers a week or two before planting.

Use Mulch

Apply mulch around the plants to keep soil moisture in check, regulate temperature, and prevent weed competition.

Plant at the Right Depth

Put the tomato seedlings a bit deeper than they were in their pots. This encourages root growth and stability.

Give Enough Water

Tomatoes need steady moisture, especially early on. Water deeply and consistently to prevent stress.

Support the Plants

Install stakes or cages to prop up the tomato plants as they grow. This prevents sprawling and keeps the fruit off the ground.

Trim for Focus

Pinch off any flowers or fruit clusters that pop up shortly after planting. This helps the plant concentrate its energy on building strong roots.

Fertilize Wisely

Use balanced fertilizer for essential nutrients. Avoid too much nitrogen, which can lead to more leaves and less fruit.

Guard Against Frost

Keep an eye on the weather. If frost is on the horizon, cover the plants with blankets, cloths, or frost cloths to shield them overnight.

Watch for Pests and Diseases

Late-season tomatoes might deal with fewer pests and diseases, but stay vigilant and tackle any issues promptly.

Harvest on Time

Since the growing season is shorter, regularly check for ripe fruit on your plants. Harvest promptly to make the most of the available time.

Planter’s Tips: Remember, these tips can up your chances, but growing late-season tomatoes is still a challenge. Cooler temperatures and less sunlight can impact growth and fruiting. It’s also a good idea to experiment and adapt based on the conditions in your area.

FAQs

How long does the tomato growing season last?


The duration of the tomato growing season depends on the tomato type and local climate. Typically, most tomato varieties take around 60 to 85 days from transplanting to yield the first ripe fruit. 
Some types might take longer. Indeterminate varieties, which continuously produce fruit until frost sets in, have a longer growth span compared to determinate ones that offer a more concentrated harvest.

Can tomatoes thrive in extremely hot weather?


Tomatoes flourish in warm weather, yet excessively high temperatures, especially if consistently above 90 F, can strain the plants and delay fruit development. Under such conditions, tomatoes might shed blossoms or yield fewer fruits. 
To counter the impact of very hot weather, you can provide shade, appropriate watering, and select heat-resistant varieties.

When is the latest suitable time for planting tomatoes?


Determining the ideal time for the last tomato planting hinges on your local climate and the anticipated date of the first frost. To ensure the tomatoes mature before frost hits, it’s important to plant them with sufficient time for growth and fruit production. 
While this timing varies, it generally falls a few weeks ahead of the first frost.

Is timing the predominant factor in planting?


Although timing holds significance, other elements like preparing the soil, correct planting depth, spacing, water control, and plant health play pivotal roles in successful tomato cultivation. 
Picking a suitable variety for your area, ensuring adequate sunlight, and managing pest and disease concerns are equally crucial for a productive tomato harvest. 
A comprehensive strategy that addresses multiple aspects contributes to accomplishing thriving tomato plants.

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