Gardeners can grow fall (late) tomatoes in many areas by using just a bit of strategy. Choosing fall tomatoes – the right varieties – is an important key to a healthy, sustained harvest.
Choose indeterminate tomatoes, early-producing (“short season”) varieties, smaller tomatoes, and heat-tolerant tomatoes.
Certain heirlooms work well when grown as second season tomatoes.
These set fruit and mature in the shortest time, making them easiest to grow on a limited time frame.
For a crop in the fall, plant tomato seedlings early enough in summer to allow enough time for tomatoes to mature before frost.
Indeterminate tomatoes varieties produce flowers (and tomatoes) as the vine grows, throughout the season, rather than all at once during a 2-3 week period. Indeterminates are more likely than determinates to be ready to bloom when fall temperatures are right for pollination. They ripen sequentially. That means a steady supply of fresh tomatoes until the thermometer dips below 32ºF.
Choose early (“short season”) varieties – those that take fewer days to produce fruit once planted in the garden, generally 60-65 days or less. Early tomato varieties set fruit and mature in the shortest time, making them easiest to grow on a limited time frame. You can even find some types of tomatoes that produce fruit in 50 days or less.
Even when you plant to allow time for tomatoes to mature and produce fruit before the first predicted frost date, Mother Nature may have other plans. Tomatoes cannot survive frost. By planting early tomato varieties you have a better chance of harvesting a stronger fall tomato crop.
Cherry and grape tomatoes produce more flowers and fruit than larger tomatoes. That means when pollination conditions are poor, these smaller varieties have more chance of setting fruit. Tomatoes are pollinated at temperatures between 55º-85ºF, a less predictable range in the fall than in the spring, making cherry and grape tomatoes especially desirable to grow in the fall.
Gardeners in regions with long growing seasons and sub-tropical climates should consider choosing fall tomatoes that are heat-tolerant. Fall tomatoes must survive their first 4-6 weeks in the garden during the hottest part of the growing season. Heat-tolerant varieties flower, are pollinated, and set fruit both at higher temperatures and earlier than others.
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