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Mid-Atlantic Gardening: Late-season Tomatoes

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Learn how to hasten tomato ripening in the garden, and discover easy ways to ripen green tomatoes indoors.

Tomato varieties

By Julie Martens Forney

Tomato season is something I celebrate. I grow all kinds, including (clockwise from top) ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Viva Italia’, ‘Big Boy’, ‘Sweet 100’, and ‘Yellow Giant Belgium’. I love the colors and flavor nuances each variety offers.

As fall arrives in the Mid-Atlantic, tomato season winds down. Learn all about fall tomatoes—including how to hasten tomato ripening in the garden, low-temperature effects on fruit, and how to ripen green tomatoes indoors.

Prune tomatoes

Hasten Ripening in the Garden

Spur green tomatoes to ripen with a three-step approach:

1) Withhold water from tomato plants.

2) Prune plants. Remove the tops of plants, all side shoots, any blooms, and small tomatoes.

3) Spading. Drive a garden spade into soil about 6 inches from the main stem; do this halfway around a plant. Fruits ripen in seven to 10 days. Spading triggers all fruits on the plant to ripen. Pick any green tomatoes you want to ripen indoors before spading.

Green and red tomatoes

Tomatoes Dislike Cold

Red or nearly red tomatoes withstand cool weather better than green ones, which can succumb to temperatures as low as 50 to 55 degrees F. Researchers have learned that cold damage in green tomatoes is cumulative, so each exposure to cool air takes a toll.

Green tomatoes that experience 40 degrees F decay more quickly in storage and may fail to ripen. If the forecast shows cold nights aren’t leaving, pick green tomatoes to ripen indoors.

Green tomatoes with seeds

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

To determine whether a green tomato is mature enough to ripen after removal from the plant, slice it open. If seeds are encased in a gel sac, that tomato would have ripened on its own. Any tomatoes at a similar stage will ripen.

Ripen green tomatoes

I ripen green tomatoes indoors by placing fruit in a single layer in a shallow box. I sort fruits by color so I know which box ripens first. Ripening tomatoes produce ethylene gas. Place newspaper over tomatoes to concentrate ethylene near the fruit. Check fruits frequently. Green tomatoes ripen in 14 days at 70 degrees F; in 28 days at 55 degrees F.

Do you have any tricks for extending your tomato harvest or for ripening tomatoes indoors?

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