This is the ultimate guide on how to protect your tomato plants from frost damage.
I have used these tips to handle frostbitten tomato plants in my garden. I have also poured in hours of research into what other experts have to say on frost damage.
Let us get started!
- In Brief: How To Protect Your Tomato Plants From Frost Damage
- Tomatoes And Frost Damage – What is It?
- How to Identify Frost Damage In Tomatoes?
- How To Protect And Save Your Tomato Plants From Frost Damage?
- What To Do With Frostbitten Tomatoes?
- Tips And Considerations to Avoid Frostbitten Tomatoes
Tomatoes And Frost Damage – What is It?
Tomato plants are susceptible to chilling injury and frost. When the temperature falls to 0 and -1oC, tomato fruits are affected. Tomatoes are usually planted in the spring after the dangers of the frost. The chilling injury may occur in tomato fruit if they are exposed to a temperature of 10oC for more than 14 days or 5oC for more than 6-8 days.
Sometimes, when an unexpected frost occurs, it may b damage the tomato plants. The tomato fruits are usually damaged in temperatures between 0 and -1oC.
How to Identify Frost Damage In Tomatoes?
When the tomato plants are exposed to frost, leaves tan and have yellowish marks. The stems become discolored or wilted, and the fruits mushy. It may be difficult to revive the plant if the stem is damaged.
It is important to check for frostbite when you suspect a frost. It will help to save the whole tomato plant from dying.
Inspect the plants, and observe the different signs of frostbite to take immediate action. Do not touch the damaged plant parts until the frost is over.
The different indications of frost damage in tomatoes are –
- The upper portion of the stem starts wilting
- The stem may become discolored or soft
- There may be brown/tan sunken leaf spots and black leaves
- There may be yellowish and purplish marks below the leaves
- Fruits may turn mushy due to freezing
Sometimes, the tomato plants may recover on their own from frost. It is a sign of severe frost damage if the stem is damaged. In such cases, you may have to replace the plants with new plants.
How To Protect And Save Your Tomato Plants From Frost Damage?
Tomato plants can not withstand frost. So, how can you protect and save your tomato plants? You may take the following measures.
1. Quick Rescue for Frost-bitten Young And Mature Plants
The young tomato seedlings may be transplanted to a frost-free area, if the damage is not severe. You may prune the leaves and young stems of the frost-affected mature plants.
If the damage to young seedlings in the containers is not worse, you may move the plants to the frost-free area and cover them. Make sure to water the plants once transferred.
If the mature plants are surviving the frost damage, you may remove the damaged leaves. Pinch or prune the damaged leaves and soft stems to the nearest point where the healthy tissue begins.
I prefer to sanitize the pruning shears to prevent the spread of the diseases. Some recommend not to use fertilizers when the tomato plant is recovering.
2. Cover The Tomato Plants
The best way to protect the tomato plants is to cover them. You may use sheets, blankets, row covers, newspaper, or plastic sheets to shield the tomato plants from frost. Take care not to touch the plants with these materials.
The main way to protect the tomato plants is to cover them.
You may uncover after the frost scare or in the morning to prevent the heat buildup. The different materials used to protect the tomato plants are discussed below.
1. Sheets And Blankets
Many gardeners have had success protecting the tomato plants from frost damage by covering them. You may use bed sheets, blankets, and specialized covers for protecting the plants by providing insulation.
Do not use thick fabric, and take care that the fabric is always dry. You may use stakes so that the cover does not touch the plants. Also, anchor the plant covers using bricks or stones to protect from wind.
2. Row Covers
The floating row cover is a lightweight fabric made of polyester or polypropylene that may be draped over the tomato plants.
It is commonly used to protect plants from overheating and pests. It may also be used to protect tomato plants from frost damage.
Few use newspapers for low-growing foliage. The wax paper hot caps may also be used to cover the plants. But, I find it difficult to keep the newspaper in place.
You may use a plastic sheet to protect the tomato plants from frost. But take care that it does not touch the plants and allows air circulation. Else, it may cause the leaves to freeze.
3. Hardening Off
It is recommended to harden the tomato plants before transplanting them to the ground. It may help the plants be less susceptible to frost damage.
When the tomato seedlings that are grown indoors are suddenly transitioned to colder temperatures, they may experience stunted growth or die.
So, ensure that your tomato plants are hardened off to reduce their damage from frost. You may begin hardening the plants 7-10 days before the frost-free date.
First, you may bring the tomato seedlings to a sheltered spot, leave them outside in sunlight for some time, and bring it back inside.
Continue this for a week by gradually increasing the time outside in the sunlight. The
tomato plants are now hardened and ready to be planted.
4. Harvest the tomatoes early
You may harvest the tomatoes early if you are expecting a frost. It will save the tomatoes and protect them from frost damage.
If you are suspecting a frost, you may harvest the tomatoes off the vine. It is better to let the tomatoes ripen near the window rather than let them in the frost. You may remove the frost-damaged parts and eat the other parts.
Check these videos on how to protect the tomato plants from frost and cold weather:
What To Do With Frostbitten Tomatoes?
You may use the frostbitten tomatoes in stews, soups, and sauces. It may not work for canning. Remember to remove the damaged parts of the tomatoes.
Harvest the tomatoes if only part of your tomato plants is damaged due to frost. Frostbitten tomatoes may taste different from fresh tomatoes. It won’t taste good and so, use them immediately.
I prefer to add them to the stews, soups, and sauces immediately after harvest. I don’t use them for canning.
Tips And Considerations to Avoid Frostbitten Tomatoes
Remove the protective covering during the day. Place some light for giving some heat. Water the plants deeply before a forecast, and choose tomato varieties that may withstand cold.
Plant the tomatoes after the predicted snowfall or until the soil warmed up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the protective coverings during the day. It allows the sunlight to warm up the plants and reheat the soil.
If the plants are frostbitten, immediately shade them so that they may thaw out.
You may set up a light or a string of Christmas lights underneath the cover to give plants some heat. Also, water the plants deeply when there is a forecast for cold nights.
If possible, you may choose cold-resistant tomato varieties.
Tomatoes are susceptible to chilling injury at temperatures between 0 and 5oC. It may cause stunted growth, wilting, necrosis, and increased susceptibility to diseases. It may also result in stunted plant growth, prevent root development, interfere with pollination, and tomato catfacing.
The short-to-mid season tomatoes are the best tomatoes for the cold climates. Some of the hybrid tomatoes for the cold climate are Golden nugget, Husky gold, Orange Pixie, Oregon spring, and Siletz. Few suitable heirloom varieties are Bush beefsteak, Galina, Glacier, Grushovka, Kimberly, Sugar baby, and Stupice tomatoes.
Tomato plants are very resilient, and I hope this post provides you with some tips on how to protect them from frost damage.
Do let us know your feedback and suggestions. I am interested to hear your thoughts on handling frost damage in the tomato plants.
Also, do share the article with your friends and family if you find it useful! Happy gardening!