Second season tomatoes (also called fall tomatoes or late tomatoes) are an entirely new crop which you plant midsummer and harvest in the fall. You set them in the ground just as your first crop slows production, leaves brown, or plants start to die off.
By planting a new wave of plants, you can continue to harvest and enjoy fresh tomatoes well into autumn.
How can you know if second wave of tomato plants is the right route for you? The choice boils down to three questions:
You can figure out if you’ve got enough time on the calendar by finding out your local projected first frost date. Count back about three months to give you an idea about when to start tomato seeds – a few weeks less for purchased seedlings or cuttings.
Choose varieties that produce fruit in lowest number of days to maturity – fewer than 65 days, preferably as close to 50-55 days as possible. This will allow fruit to mature sooner than later, a helpful way to go when you're on a potentially limited timeline. The “days to maturity” number identifies the number of days the plant needs to produce fruit once it is set in the garden as a transplant.
Try some short season tomato varieties from TomatoFest.
Choose from 3 options to grow and prepare second season tomatoes. Make sure transplants have large root systems before setting them in the garden.
Grow a strong seedling. In order for your plants to survive outdoors in late summer, the root ball needs to be substantial. No matter which starting option you choose – seeds, plants, or cuttings – nurture the plant until it is a healthy one-gallon transplant.
Watch the heat. In the spring, you need to be careful about cool temperatures and even overnight frost. But in the fall, you need to be careful that temperatures aren’t too hot for tomato seedlings. Plants need to be more robust when you set them out in midsummer to withstand high temperatures. Help the process along with hardening off in reverse. Keep plants outside in the coolest place possible (such as a shaded spot), gradually moving them into the sun. Make sure they don’t dry out.
Water faithfully. You need to be especially diligent about watering newly-planted fall tomatoes once they are set out in the garden.
Second season tomatoes are a completely new crop planted in the middle of the summer which you plan to harvest in the fall.
Late season tomatoes are tomato varieties that take longer to mature than others. They usually require 80-90 days or more to produce mature fruit, once seedlings are set in the garden. Early season tomatoes (or short-season tomatoes) need about 45-65 days. Midseason tomatoes are in between with a little overlap.
More on fall tomatoes