Fall tomatoes are a second crop planted in mid-summer. They produce fruit until frost.
The purpose of tomato growing in the fall is a bit different than spring/summer tomato gardening. In the spring and summer, you may be planting in order to get a significant crop to use for eating, canning, freezing, and drying. In the fall, the idea is simply to have fresh tomatoes to enjoy through that first freeze.
Late tomatoes are most commonly grown in warmer climates where frost dates are later.
But gardeners can grow fall (late) tomatoes in many areas by simply planting early enough in summer to allow enough time for tomatoes to mature in the fall.
There are three important keys to growing late tomatoes successfully.
In more temperate and sub-tropical areas, nurseries and garden centers provide a selection of tomato seedlings beginning in midsummer.
Choices may be limited especially when compared with first crop tomatoes. When you grow tomatoes in the fall, you’re on an unpredictable calendar and at the mercy of a looming Jack Frost.
Choose early-producing varieties, smaller tomatoes, and certain heirlooms. They set fruit and mature in the shortest time, making them easiest to grow on a limited time frame.
Late tomatoes are set in the ground at the height of summer heat. They need strong root systems in order to get established. Dense roots help them survive the remaining weeks of a hot summer. By the time the heat passes, tomato plants should be ready to blossom.
There are several sources for strong fall tomato seedlings.
Conventional wisdom says to determine a fall tomato planting window by counting back 60-85 days from the first frost date. As you select a planting date, pick one early enough so that your variety has plenty of time to put out fruit before frost. Allow at least 3-4 weeks padding to a tomato variety’s estimated days to maturity, giving fruit plenty of time to mature.
Some gardeners grow late tomatoes by simply cutting back their summer tomato plants to force a flush of new growth and new fruit. Keep pruned plants watered well and fertilize them with a balanced tomato fertilizer.
A word of caution: if plants have been plagued by diseases during the summer season, it’s best to discard them and start again with new tomato plants for the fall.
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By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source for growing tomatoes and using them.
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