Tips (That Work) To Maximize Your Late-Season Tomato Harvest

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Quick Answer: Tips To Maximize Your Late-Season Tomato Harvest

Tomatoes may be harvested when there is a forecast for frost and consistent lower daytime temperatures. You may reduce watering, prune the plants, trim the roots, and harvest often to maximize the late-season tomato harvest. You may ripen the tomatoes off the vine, use the unripened green tomatoes, and save the tomato seeds. You may bury the tomato plants to prevent the carrying forward of the pathogens.

This is a detailed guide on some great ways to maximize your late-season tomato harvest.

I have used these tips several times in my ten plus years of growing tomatoes.

Scroll down to know more!

When To Harvest Tomatoes?

Tomato plants do not survive winter. You may harvest tomatoes when there is a forecast for heavy frost and the daytime temperature is consistently low.

It is heartbreaking to see the tomatoes reach the end of the growing season. It is a sad time for tomato lovers.

Once the tomatoes are planted, they may take 40-50 days to ripen. The days to maturity vary depending on the tomato variety and climatic region. I help my plants channel their energy towards already-set tomatoes.

If you are living in a colder climate, you may keep an eye for the first expected frost. National Climatic Data Center is a great source to view the freeze/frost information.

I pick tomatoes at the first mention of the frost warning.

The two important situations when you may have to harvest tomatoes are –

  • When there is a forecast for heavy frost. You may pick all your tomatoes before frost. Else, tomatoes become mushy, and the taste gets affected. Allow the fruits to ripen inside.
  • When the daytime temperatures fall below 60oF for an extended period. It is because the tomatoes stop ripening. The plants stop producing fruits, drop their leaves and die if left outdoors.

If there is an unexpected frost, you may protect your plants and harvest later. I cover the plants with sheets or lightweight blankets that have to be removed each day. 

You may also use floating row covers. It allows air, light, and water to reach the plants. It need not be removed until the end of the harvest season.

Many experts recommend pulling off the tomato plants completely after the growing season, just as the frost hits your area.

But, if you live in a warmer year, plants may survive and start producing fruits during the next harvest season.

Now, let’s get to the tips to extend the harvest.

How To Extend Harvest Towards The End Of The Growing Season?

There are different steps to speed up the ripening process and extend the harvest towards the end of the growing season. You may read below to know more!

1. Reduce Watering

You may reduce watering tomato plants to create stress. It may signal tomato plants to ripen the fruits faster.

You may reduce watering when the tomato fruits reach or are about to reach full size. This may signal them to ripen the fruits quicker.

Also, it helps to concentrate the flavor inside the fruit.

But, watch out for heavy rains. If there is a sudden surge of water after dry periods, it may cause the tomatoes to crack.

2. Prune Tomato Plants

Prune the new blossoms, older leaves, and late-season shoots at least a month before frost. It may help in encouraging the plants to ripen the existing fruits instead of producing more fruits.

The indeterminate tomato varieties grow continuously and develop new shoots even in fall.

But these new blossoms will not have time to produce tomatoes before winter.

In such situations, it is a good idea to prune my tomato plants a month before the expected frost date. You may remove the new blossoms, older dead leaves, and late-season shoots. Leave the mature foliage.

This encourages plants to spend their time and nutrients in ripening the remaining fruits. They will stop producing more blossoms that will not have time to mature.

Check out this video on pruning tomato plants:

3. Shift The Roots Of Plants

You may shift the root of plants and prune the secondary roots. It will stress the plants and encourage them to ripen faster.

You may pull at the bottom of the plants slightly to shift the roots.

While this may sound counterintuitive, It surprises the tomato plants and sends the signal to finish up with the fruiting.

You may also trim the roots. It will stress the plants by restricting access to water. It will encourage them to ripen fruits more quickly.

I take a shovel and chop a circle about 12 to 24 inches around the tomato plants.

4. Pick The Tomatoes Early and Often

You may pick the tomatoes often and allow them to ripen off the vine. It gives you control over the ripening process and reduces susceptibility to diseases. The container plants may be transferred indoors when the winter is approaching.

If you observe tomato plants with many fruits and expect a frost in a few weeks, you may pick some fruits.

They may be just turning pink and ripened off the vine. It gives you more control over the ripening process.

So, check tomato plants regularly and keep harvesting often. It may also reduce the incidence of diseases and insect attacks. The picked tomatoes may stay for 7 to 14 days.

You may bring the entire plant indoors if grown in containers. You may provide adequate light and temperature to reap red tomatoes throughout the growing season.

I have seen many gardeners having success in hanging the lifted plants in a garage to ripen.

What To Do With End-of-Season Tomatoes?

After harvesting the end-of-season tomatoes, you may ripen them and use them in your cooking before they go waste.

 Shall we see what to do with end-of-season fruits in detail? 

1. Harvest Early

You may harvest tomatoes early and ripen them off the vine if expecting bad weather. You may place them directly on the window or wrap them in a paper bag. Add an apple or banana to help with ripening.

You may harvest the end-of-season tomatoes. They may ripen off the vine inside.

Some people let the picked, end-of-season tomatoes ripen by spreading them on paper at room temperature. I place the fruits near the kitchen window in indirect sunlight.

Others wrap tomatoes in a folded-over paper bag and store them. Some take the pain of individually wrapping the tomatoes in newspaper and letting them ripen.

I have also read that adding an apple or banana to the paper bag may help with the ripening process. I have no personal experience with this, but it may be because they release ethylene gas that encourages ripening.

2. Use Green Tomatoes

If some green tomatoes fail to ripen off the vine, you may use them for cooking fried tomatoes, soups, and relishes. They are perfectly edible, and do not throw them.

Suppose your tomatoes refuse to ripen and remain green, you may still use them. Do not throw them away as green tomatoes are edible. Pick them before they begin to rot.

These fruits are better than having no tomatoes at all. But they may not taste as good as vine-ripened ones.

In fact, some people just love the taste of unripened tomatoes. There are several recipes you can prepare using them.

One of my favorite recipes is fried green tomatoes. You may try this recipe to make the best fried green tomatoes:

3. Save Tomato Seeds

You may save the seeds from the ripened tomato. Dry and store them in a cool place. They may be used for planting next year.

I harvest tomato seeds from a fruit that has performed well in the garden, especially the heirloom ones.

There are several ways to do this –

Method 1 –

Choose the best-looking varieties. You may cut open the tomato and squeeze the pulp onto a plate.

Dry the pulp, and pick the seeds for storage. You may also rinse the pulp in a colander, and collect the seeds for next year.

Method 2 –

In another method, you may put the pulp in a glass jar filled with water. Shake it and soak for five days to ferment.

Cover the jar with a cheesecloth or paper towel to keep the fruit flies away. Remove the molded pulp, and collect the settled good seeds using the colander.

The next step after collecting the seeds is drying. Spread them on a paper towel to remove moisture. Store them in a jar with a tight lid.

It is preferable to store them in a dark spot. Exposure to light may fail them to sprout.

I prefer to store seeds of heirloom tomato varieties as they are flavorful and have desirable traits.

Check out this video on how to prepare and store seeds from your tomato plants:

What To Do With Tomato Plants At End Of Season?

Tomato garden cleaning allows you to get ready for the next growing season and maintain garden health. You may take notes, remove supports, pull the plants, bury them, and disinfect the garden equipment.

After harvesting and storing tomatoes, you may be wondering what to do with tomato plants at the end of the season.

Some prefer to bury the plants in the garden and leave the nutrients for the next year’s crop.

One problem with burying the plants is that they may infiltrate the soil with a disease, insects, or a fungus that they carry. It may pass on to next year’s crops.

You may follow the steps mentioned below to prepare for the next growing season.

Things to Do

1. Make notes in the garden journal

I take notes about the year’s layout, the varieties of tomatoes planted, and the problems faced. It helps to plan for crop rotation next year.

2. Remove supports from tomato plants

When you are approaching winter, remove the supports that help plants stay upright.

Clean them thoroughly and disinfect them to remove potential pathogens. Store them in a proper place until required for the next growing season.

3. Pull out the plants and debris

Finally, pull out the tomato plants with roots. Remove the weeds and till the bed. 

4. Dispose of the plants

I prefer to dispose of the plants in the municipal trash or compost bin. Some gardeners add them to the compost pile.

The problem is interior heat in compost piles may not be sufficient to kill pathogens.

You may also burn the plants. Burning may add wood ash to the garden and destroy possible pathogens.

A popular website suggests breaking the hardened soil before burning to improve soil health.

5. Clean garden equipment

Don’t forget to clean and sanitize your garden equipment. You may use a 10% bleach solution and allow it to dry. Store them for winter.

Here is a video on what to do at the end of the tomato growing season:


Do apples help with ripening tomatoes?

Yes. Many suggest storing tomatoes with apples to speed up the ripening process. It may be because apples produce ethylene gas that helps in ripening green tomatoes.

Can we add tomatoes to the compost pile?

You may break tomato plants and add them to the compost. However, it shouldn’t harbor any diseases. But, the problem is the basic compost heaps may not become hot enough to kill fungal spores or diseases that the tomato plant may be harboring.


If you were looking for tips to maximize your late-season tomato harvest, I hope this detailed guide has helped you.

If you have any queries, please write back to me.

Do pass on the article to your friends and family if you find it helpful!

Happy Gardening!