What to Do With Tomato Plants in Winter?

Winter is here! And, you have a good crop of tomato plants. So you are asking yourself, will they make it through the cold season?

Or – maybe you want to plan a tomato crop that lasts year-round, so you’re wondering what to do with tomato plants in winter – can tomato plants survive the winter? Or not?

It would be a shame and a massive waste to let them die off over the wintry weather. So – can tomato plants hold out against harsh winter conditions?

Well, you may need to grow your tomato plants indoors unless you live somewhere with warm winters.

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There are also more nuances you need to know.

Using this guide, you will learn how to get your tomatoes through the winter – even if you live in the bitter-cold north!

Can You Grow Tomatoes Outside During Winter?

tomato plants winter preparation
Many homesteaders don’t bother growing tomatoes during the winter. The cost of heating the greenhouse is sometimes impractical if the weather gets too cold.

Not in most parts of the United States! Tomatoes love warmth and sunlight. They don’t tolerate wintry weather – especially if it’s freezing overnight. However, in warmer regions of the US, you can plant tomatoes during late winter.

The key is to look out for the final frost date. In Florida, sometimes the last frost occurs in January or February. 

Floridians enjoy a much more lenient growing season over other parts of the country – where the last frost date stretches sometime past April or May!

(Or later!)

Once the final frost of the season has passed – it’s usually safe to grow tomatoes. Or, you can transplant tomatoes you’ve grown inside of purchased from a nursery.

Two Options for Growing Tomatoes in Winter

There are two options for growing tomatoes in winter if you live in chilly growing zones, like Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, or Minnesota, Montana!

The first is to grow your tomatoes in a greenhouse. The other option is growing your tomatoes indoors.

Let’s consider both options.

Read More – 7 Delicious Fermented Tomatoes Recipes! Homemade DIY!

Growing Tomato Plants in a Greenhouse

Greenhouses are one of the best ways to grow a ton of tomatoes year-round. I think they make the most sense if you live in a growing zone that doesn’t get too cold overnight.

Otherwise, greenhouses can get impractically expensive to operate – especially if you have freezing overnight conditions and need to run a heater for your tomato plants.

(I also predict that the cost of energy will rise over the next few years in the US – making greenhouse tomato growing during winter conditions even more impractical.)

If the overnight temperatures constantly dip far below freezing or colder, then it’s going to cost a ton of cash to heat your greenhouse!

There’s also the material cost of building the greenhouse to consider too!

Growing Tomato Plants Inside

healthy tomato plants growing inside
Tomato plants grow surprisingly well indoors! Your tomato plants would much prefer a warm and sunny spot on your countertop or living room window sill than sitting outside in the cold.

I like the idea of growing tomato plants indoors during winter better than growing them in a greenhouse. 

Growing tomatoes indoors is much cheaper than using a greenhouse because you already pay the cost to heat your home.

Also, consider the natural light that may hit your home. If you have a sunny room that gets a couple of hours of sunlight per day – you’ve hit the tomato jackpot!

You can use a fluorescent light to supplement the sunlit room – and your tomatoes should grow halfway decently.

Between any natural sunlight you get inside your home – in addition to artificial lighting, your tomato plants should have adequate light to create plenty of fruit over winter.

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But, make no mistake!

Indoor tomato plants don’t produce nearly as many tomatoes as outdoor plants during full summer swing. 

Tomato plants only need around six to eight hours of sunlight per day – but I don’t think you can ever beat natural sunlight under a clear summer sky.

But – indoor tomato plants produce a delightful and welcome snack during the winter.

They also breathe fresh life into your room – especially if you don’t have any living room or interior plants.

If you’re not sure which size pot to use for your indoor tomatoes, I recommend the following.

Tomato Pot Sizes:

  • Determinate tomatoes = 16-inch to 20-inch pot
  • Indeterminate tomatoes = 22-inch to 26-inch pot

Indeterminate tomato plants tend to stretch and grow bigger than determinate tomato plants. So – they demand a larger pot!

Read More – How Long Does It Take for Tomatoes to Grow? Tomato Growing and Harvesting Guide!

Protecting Your Outdoor Tomato Plants During Cold Weather

dead tomato plants in winter
Here you can see tomato plants and a cage nestled inside a raised garden bed. Unfortunately, the tomato plants never stood a chance in these wintry conditions.

What if you’re lucky enough to live in Florida or other warm climates – where you can grow tomatoes in late winter. You have a lot to consider!

When winter is nigh, should you consider picking your tomatoes or take steps to protect them from dying off of cold?

The question doesn’t only apply to winter! It also applies when temperatures dip overnight or during a cold period.

One thing is for sure. Tomatoes do NOT like cold conditions. They crave warm weather and as much sunlight as you can throw their way. 

However, tomatoes can survive chilly conditions for a few cold nights. But – frost will kill your tomato plants outright. Make no mistake!

If you are determined to get your prized tomato plants through the winter, you can use the following steps.

Check Your 10 Day Weather Forecast

Study your local forecast and know your yearly averages like the back of your hand.

The more confidence you have in estimating your first and last frost date of the season – the more confidence you have in planning your tomato crop.

Cover Your Tomatoes to Protect Them

Here’s a trick New England gardeners use all the time to protect their crops from frost. Cover them overnight!

If you expect an isolated frost overnight, you can erect a makeshift greenhouse to cover your tomatoes for a few nights.

I’ve covered my tomato plants with a tarp or clear plastic bag during frosty or cold periods. You can stake and tie the plastic bag down using garden twine to ensure it doesn’t fly away in the wind.

I’ve also covered my cherry tomato plants down during fierce rainstorms, thunderstorms, and severe winds!

Remove Coverings in the Morning

Once the threat of overnight frost has passed – don’t forget to remove the cover on your tomato plants. That way, the sunlight can reach deep into the plant and provide as much sunlight and warmth as possible.

As long as the overnight temperatures are above freezing, there’s no need to keep your tomato plants covered.

Tomato plants don’t like cold weather – but the cold weather will not kill them outright. (Freezing temperatures will kill them, though!)

Grow Short-Season or Cold-Resistant Plants

tomato plants damaged by frost
Here’s a great example to see how quickly frost can kill your tomato plants. Notice how the tomato plant is dead – yet much of the tomatoes remain. Frost kills your tomato plants. Quickly!

If you have a short growing season or live in a cold region, you should consider short-seasoned tomato plants and cultivars!

Short-season tomato plants have a better reputation for growing in the cold Northeastern states.

Look for a tomato variety that matures in less than 75 days.

My favorite short-season tomatoes:

  • Early Girl (Matures in 50 – 55 days.)
  • Mountain Gold (Matures in 65 – 70 days.)
  • Juliet Cherry Tomatoes (Matures in 60 – 65 days.)
  • Sunsugar Tomatoes (Matures in 60 – 65 days.)
  • Bush Steak (Matures in 65 – 70 days.)

Seek tomato cultivars with shorter growing seasons – so you can harvest before the first frost. Hopefully!

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How to Ripen Tomatoes Late in the Season?

Placing tomatoes in a warm location will ripen them. While this works most of the time, it takes a while before it happens! So, the tomatoes can spoil even before turning red.

Typically tomatoes ripen quickly and easily in the fall when you put them in a paper bag alongside a ripe tomato, a ripening banana, or apple slices.

Bananas and apple slices help because the ripening fruits release ethylene (a gas compound) which helps to speed up the ripening process.

There are other methods to ripen tomatoes, too!

These are some of our favorite methods to ripen tomatoes – even if the winter cut your growing season dreadfully short!

Using a Cardboard Box

Place your green tomatoes in a cardboard box lined with a newspaper in a single layer leaving a little space between every tomato, and cover with a layer of newspaper. 

Leave it somewhere warm (64-75 degrees F) and check on it regularly.

Using a Paper Bag

Put 5 to 10 tomatoes alongside a ripening apple, banana, or tomato in a paper bag and place it somewhere warm. Check on it periodically for any signs of rotting or mold.

Make sure your tomatoes are dry before placing them in the bag! I’ve noticed that damp tomatoes can promote mold.

Nothing spoils your winter faster than a batch of moldy fruits and veggies!

Using a Plastic Bag or Large Glass Jar

Another way to speed up the effects of ethylene is by using a large jar or plastic bag. 

This method involves sealing 2 to 4 tomatoes and ripening fruit in a glass jar or plastic bag. 

It is advisable to puncture the plastic bag a couple of times! 

Moisture and warmth can stimulate the growth of mold. (I can’t stress this enough – especially if you suffer cold winters and short growing seasons.)

I advise opening and checking the jar regularly.

Hang the Plant Upside Down

Finally, you can pull up the entire tomato plants and hang them upside down in a cellar, basement, or garage. This method is said to improve the flavor of the tomatoes compared to other methods.

Each of these methods is most effective when the tomatoes have already started showing signs of ripening with a yellowy-orange tinge. 

Remember to check on them daily and remove those that have started ripening. Green tomatoes will turn red eventually. But, they will take longer to ripe and will not be so flavorsome as their yellowy-orange counterparts.

Read More – What Should You Plant in December in the USA!

Managing Tomato Plants in Winter FAQs!

baby tomato seedling growing under led light
If you want to grow tomatoes indoors during the winter, LED grow lights can help give them a tremendous boost! LED lights aren’t as good as the sun – but they’re much better than nothing!

We have a ton of experience growing tomatoes – and we also know the pain of growing tomatoes in less than desirable situations.

That’s why we want to share answers to the top tomato-growing FAQs – especially for short growing seasons and winter growing.

With luck – these answers will help your tomato growing journeys.

Read More – Can You Plant Raspberries and Blackberries Together? Read Our Complete Guide!

But Can You Grow Tomatoes in Winter? Our Final Answer!

Yes, for sure. Growing tomatoes in the winter is a piece of cake! The only caveat is that you may not be able to grow tomatoes outdoors. Instead, you may need to rely upon greenhouse growing or indoor tomato growing.

If you live in a growing climate where the overnight temperatures rarely dip below freezing – then you can probably grow your tomatoes during the late winter.

The best bet is to take note of your final frost date and plant your tomato crop accordingly. Avoid frost like the plague – your tomato plants will not survive – and they will succumb to the freezing temperatures.

We also ask for your experience growing tomatoes outdoors during the winter!

Have you had luck? Care to share any tips to help fellow homesteaders?

Let us know – and we’d also love to hear about your plant hardiness zone.

Thanks for reading – and happy gardening!

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