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When to Remove Tomato Plants in the Fall

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It’s hard to say goodbye. So how do you know when to remove tomato plants from your garden in the fall?

The question is a good one since every regional area is different. It’s not easy to pinpoint a calendar date that announces the end of tomato season. In fact, even in your immediate growing area, your fellow gardeners choose when to remove tomato plants at different times.

Plus, a tomato plant’s lifespan varies widely, even within your own garden. Some tomato plants continue to produce until a frost or hard freeze.

Indeterminates, that is.

Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain point, put out the majority of their fruit, and slow or stop producing. Indeterminates keep growing all season.

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Q. How do you know when tomato plants are done producing?

If you grow determinate tomatoes, you won’t have much guesswork. Determinate tomatoes produce the largest number of their crop in a short window of time and shut down before indeterminates. Your determinate tomato plants will shrivel, drop their fruit, and leaves turn brown – in early fall or even in late summer.

Indeterminates, on the other hand, keep producing fruit until Mother Nature freezes them out. However, while you’re waiting for the end of the season, tomato blossoms are few and far between. Fruit are smaller and less flavorful in your late season crop than summer’s bounty.

But tomato plants cannot survive a hard freeze or frost. Once cold temperatures hit your garden, your tomato growing season is over for sure and for certain.

Q. Should you remove old tomato plants?

Yes. Pull them up as soon as they die. While you’re at it, remove dead leaves, diseased leaves, fallen fruit, mummified fruit, and additional debris.

By clearing out your dead tomato plants you remove pathogens at the same time … and you minimize future problems in the garden.

Q. What’s a good way to remove tomato plants from the garden?

If your tomato plants are not staked, then you can pull or dig them out of the ground and discard them.

If your tomato plants are caged or staked, then clip the steps about 10-12 inches above the soil line. Lift out the cage or stake and set it to the side, outside of the garden. This way, fewer pest larvae and microscopic pathogens that are left on the plants will fall onto your soil.

Then pull or dig the plant out of the garden and discard it. Remove branches and leaves from cages and stakes and destroy or discard them, too. And be sure to disinfect your staking material.

Q. What do you do with tomato plants at the end of the season?

It depends. Were your tomato plants healthy or did they succumb to tomato diseases or a pest infestation?

If your plants lived a relatively disease-free and pest-free season, then celebrate. Pull up those faithful shrubs and deposit them on your compost pile. They will break down into glorious black gold and add luscious nutrients to your garden soil next season.

But if your tomato plants had even a hint of tomato blight or tomato wilt – or if insects snacked ferociously on your tomato plants – do not compost them. Instead, deposit them on the burn pile. As plants blaze and smolder, so will the fungi, bacteria, and larvae that affected your crop.

Why not simply compost dead tomato plants, regardless of diseases they suffered? Because many tomato pathogens and creepy-crawly larvae winter over in the soil. If you leave them to break down in the compost pile, then the invaders have abundant means to multiply during the off season. Your new compost will add extra pathogens to next season’s garden.

If you don’t have a burn pile or a burn bucket, then discard diseased crops with your local trash.

Q. What do you do with tomato plants in the winter?

You may have container tomato plants that are flourishing well into autumn. If that is the case for you – and if you want to continue to enjoy the fruit of your labor – then bring the pots indoors and help them along when you …

  • Place containers near a sunny window.
  • Give them a nice trim so they bush out while inside.
  • Keep your room temperature to a minimum of 70 degrees. Remember: tomatoes like heat. Fertilize and water the plants on a regular schedule.

You can also enjoy this season’s plants during the winter when you take tomato cuttings. Root them in water, plant them, and transplant to a larger container when they’re ready. Follow best practices for growing tomatoes indoors.

Do that and you can enjoy fresh tomatoes from your own plants during the winter … while you wait for the spring growing season to roll around once again.

Remember this tip when you remove tomato plants in the fall

Mark the areas in your garden where tomato plants lived this season. Then choose a different spot next year. By rotating crops, you reduce the incidence of diseases. You thwart pests. Next year’s crop will benefit.

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