Growing Fall Tomatoes: The Ultimate Guide

Growing Fall Tomatoes
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If you’re worried that you’ve missed your chance to plant tomatoes this year, fear not! Now is the perfect time to start your tomato garden for a bountiful fall harvest. Growing fall tomatoes can be a rewarding experience for both beginners and experts alike, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying the first bite of a homegrown tomato. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about planting, growing, and harvesting fall tomatoes.

Choosing the Right Variety

Growing Fall Tomatoes

Before you start planting your fall tomatoes, it’s important to choose the right variety for your garden. There are several factors to consider, including taste preference, fruit size, and growth habit. Here are some popular fall tomato varieties to consider:

Determinate Tomatoes

  • Determinate tomatoes, also known as “bush” tomatoes, tend to grow to a compact, uniform size (around 3-4 ft tall).
  • These varieties set all their fruit at once and then decline in productivity. They mature their entire crop over a 2-3 week period.
  • Determinate tomatoes require no staking or caging, making them ideal for container gardening. Popular varieties include Celebrity, Early Girl, Park’s Whopper.

Cool Season Tomatoes

  • Cool season tomatoes can set fruit and ripen properly even in cooler nighttime temperatures, as low as 50-55°F.
  • They are bred to thrive in fall conditions. Some cool season varieties include Mountain Spring, Oregon Spring, Legend, Cold Set.
  • Most cool season tomatoes are determinate for concentrated harvests. They are more resistant to late blight disease.

Early Tomatoes

  • Early tomato varieties mature quickly, around 50-60 days from transplanting. This allows them to produce ripe fruits before fall frosts arrive.
  • Early Girl, Quick Pick, Early Cascade are examples of early determinate types. Indeterminates include Ultra Girl, Days to Maturity, and Fourth of July.
  • For best results, choose early varieties matched to your growing season length. The earlier the variety, the quicker it ripens.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

  • Indeterminate tomatoes are vining types that keep growing, flowering, and fruiting until killed by frost.
  • They require sturdy staking, caging, or trellising for support as they can grow quite large, up to 10 feet tall.
  • Popular late season indeterminate varieties include Better Boy, Beefmaster, Pink Brandywine.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes will produce the largest total yields given their extended harvest timeframe.

Growing Fall Tomatoes

Growing a bountiful fall tomato harvest requires paying close attention to timing, variety selection, planting location, soil preparation, and ongoing care.

When determining planting time, count backwards on the calendar from your first expected fall frost date, adding in the days to maturity for your chosen variety. This gives you the target seeding or transplant date. Late summer planting dates range from early July in far northern zones to early August in warmer southern regions.

Select determinate tomato varieties bred to thrive in cooling temperatures, such as Celebrity, Mountain Spring, or Early Girl. Choose compact container-friendly varieties or stake larger indeterminates. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks prior for a head start on the short fall season.

Prepare planting beds with organic matter like compost. Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun daily. Optimize sunlight by removing shade, selecting southern exposures, or using light reflectors. Shelter plants from winds which accelerate cooling.

Harden off and transplant seedlings deeply, burying 2/3 of the stem to promote rooting along the buried portion. Pinching off lower leaves and flowers at transplanting redirects energy into establishment before fruiting.

Consistent watering is critical as fall tomatoes develop. Provide 1-2 inches per week, adjusting for rainfall. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to target roots. Side dress with a complete organic vegetable fertilizer when flowering commences.

While fall tomatoes don’t require quite as much pruning and staking as summer plants, some pruning of lower leaves to aid air movement can be helpful. Cage or stake indeterminates to prevent sprawling.

With proper timing, preparation, and care you can grow bountiful tomato crops this fall that last until winter frosts sweep in.

Caring for Fall Tomatoes

As your fall tomatoes grow, there are a few things you can do to ensure they thrive and produce a bountiful harvest. Here are some tips:


  • Pruning indeterminate tomatoes involves selectively removing leaves, stems, and suckers (offshoots) to improve air circulation and light penetration.
  • Target inward-facing leaves and foliage touching the ground. Also prune off suckers arising in leaf axils to direct energy into fewer stems and fruits.
  • Utilize sanitized pruning shears for making cuts slightly above the leaf nodes. Don’t remove more than 20% of foliage at once. Prune plants weekly.


Optimal watering plays a vital role in ensuring the robust development of tomatoes. Tomatoes generally require consistent soil moisture to thrive, with the recommended amount being around 1-2 inches of water per week. However, it’s important to note that water needs may increase during hot and dry periods.

To optimize watering practices for tomatoes, it is advisable to apply water at soil level rather than overhead. This method helps to reduce the risk of disease. Several efficient methods exist to accomplish this objective:

  1. Drip Irrigation: Drip irrigation systems are ideal for providing water directly to the root zone of tomato plants. These systems consist of tubes or hoses with small emitters that slowly release water near the base of the plants. Drip irrigation helps to minimize water wastage and ensures that water reaches the roots where it’s needed most.
  2. Soaker Hoses: Soaker hoses are another excellent option for watering tomatoes. These porous hoses release water along their entire length, allowing it to seep into the soil slowly. Placing the soaker hoses around the base of the plants ensures that water is delivered directly to the root zone while minimizing evaporation and runoff.
  3. Gentle Hose Watering: If you don’t have a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses, you can still water tomatoes effectively with a regular garden hose equipped with a gentle nozzle. Water the plants gently around the base, making sure to avoid splashing water on the foliage. This method allows water to soak into the soil without causing damage or promoting the spread of diseases.

In addition to the watering techniques mentioned above, it’s important to allow the top few inches of soil to dry out slightly between waterings. This practice helps prevent overwatering and promotes the development of a robust root system. However, it’s essential to avoid fluctuating between extremes of overly soggy and bone-dry soil, as this can stress the plants and lead to various problems.


Unlike compact determinate tomatoes, sprawling indeterminate varieties require physical support to keep them upright, productive and healthy through the season. Sturdy staking prevents leaning and breakage.

Stakes should be 5-7 feet tall, made from strong material like wood, bamboo, or metal. Drive stakes 1-2 feet deep into the ground for stability. Space stakes every 1-2 feet along the row.

As plants grow, use soft plant tape or twist ties to loosely attach the main stem and branches to the stakes. Secure stems at 8-12 inch intervals. Avoid rough materials like wire that can damage delicate tomato skin.

Tomato cages are another good option. Select heavy duty wire cages at least 5 feet tall with openings of 2-3 inches to allow easy picking access. Install cages over young plants to avoid root damage.

Indeterminate varieties that grow vigorously like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, and Amish Paste especially benefit from staking or cages. However, all vining tomatoes need some type of support for best growth and yields.

Proper staking improves air circulation while supporting and training upward growth. It keeps fruiting vines off the ground, reducing disease risks. Supporting indeterminates results in a heavy harvest of quality tomatoes.


Mulching is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to support strong fall tomato growth while conserving water usage. Organic mulches like bark, leaves, hay or straw provide a range of benefits:

  • Moisture retention – Mulch minimizes evaporation from the soil surface, allowing the ground to stay moist longer between waterings. This is especially helpful in fall as rains diminish.
  • Cooler soil temps – Mulch insulates the ground from wide temperature swings, keeping roots cooler during hot days. Cool soil promotes better root growth.
  • Weed suppression – An several inch deep layer of mulch blocks light from reaching weed seeds. Less weeding reduces competition for water/nutrients.
  • Soil nutrition – As organic mulches gradually break down, they improve soil structure. Decaying leaves contribute valuable minerals.

When applying mulch, use materials like shredded bark, pine needles, chopped leaves, straw or hay. Spread a 2-4 inch layer around each plant’s base, keeping it a few inches away from the stem.

Over the course of the season, monitor mulch depth and replenish as needed after it decomposes. Rake away any mulch touching tomato stems to avoid potential disease issues from excess moisture against the bark.

Proper organic mulching techniques make fall tomato care much simpler by conserving moisture, blocking weeds, and cooling the soil. The result is stronger root systems and improved access to water and nutrients for better growth through fall.

Pest Control

Tomatoes can be susceptible to various pests, including aphids, hornworms, cutworms, and whiteflies. Regular inspection of your tomato plants is essential to catch infestations early and prevent them from causing significant damage.

Here are some effective methods for pest control in tomatoes:

  1. Handpicking: If you notice pests on your tomato plants, such as aphids or hornworms, you can manually remove them by handpicking. Wear gloves if necessary and physically remove the pests from the plants. Drop them into a bucket of soapy water to ensure they don’t return to the plants.
  2. Organic Sprays: Organic sprays made with neem oil or insecticidal soap concentrates can be used to control pest outbreaks.
  3. Row Covers: Row covers are lightweight fabric covers that can be placed over tomato plants to provide a physical barrier against pests. They prevent insects like aphids and whiteflies from reaching the plants. Make sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent pests from finding their way underneath. Be sure to take off the covers when the plants need pollination.
  4. Companion Planting: Companion planting involves growing certain plants near tomatoes that help deter pests. Aromatic herbs like basil, mint, and marigold have natural repellent properties that can discourage pests from attacking tomato plants. Consider interplanting these herbs among your tomatoes to create a pest-deterring effect.
  5. Earwig Traps: Earwigs are nocturnal pests that can feed on tomato plants. You can create simple earwig traps by placing upturned flower pots in the garden. Fill the pots with straw or rolled-up newspaper, which serves as an attractive hiding place for earwigs. In the morning, check the traps and remove any captured earwigs from your garden.

It’s important to note that maintaining a healthy garden ecosystem is key to preventing pest problems. Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, as they feed on aphids and other pests. Additionally, practicing good garden hygiene by removing plant debris and weeds can help eliminate potential hiding places and breeding grounds for pests.

Harvesting Fall Tomatoes

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One of the great rewards of growing fall tomatoes is savoring the fresh flavor of vine-ripened fruits. Knowing when to harvest maximizes taste and longevity after picking.

Monitor tomatoes closely as they ripen towards full color. The ideal stage for picking is when they reach the “breaker stage”, showing a blend of mature green and light pink hues. This indicates ripening enzymes are active but flavors and texture haven’t peaked yet.

Gently twist fruits when harvesting, taking care not to tug too hard or damage the stem attachments. If any stems remain attached, trim them cleanly. Handle harvested tomatoes gently to avoid bruising.

Transfer picked tomatoes to a shaded area to complete the ripening process. Discard any leaking or damaged fruits which won’t store properly. Ripe tomatoes keep best stored stem-end down at 45-55°F.

Enjoy freshly picked fall tomatoes soon after harvest. Their thin skins and moisture make them less suitable for long term storage than summer varieties. Savor the sweetness of vine-ripened tomatoes in seasonal salads, snacks, sandwiches, sauces and sides dishes.

Stagger your fall tomato plantings to extend viable harvests until frost ends the season. Shift unripened green tomatoes indoors to finish ripening slowly over several weeks. Heavy yields of fall tomatoes allow for canning, freezing or dehydrating abundance for winter provisions.

The satisfaction of biting into a juicy, ripe, homegrown tomato makes all the effort of fall gardening worthwhile. Paying attention to optimal picking stages ensures you can fully enjoy their flavor straight from the vine until winter.

Final Thoughts

Growing fall tomatoes can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to a successful fall tomato garden. Remember to choose the right variety, plant at the appropriate time, provide proper care and maintenance, and enjoy the fruits of your labor when it’s time to harvest. Happy gardening!

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