Tomatoes are universally popular due to their ability to add flavors to different recipes and impart an earthy, savory taste. You might be aware of the best time to grow these fruits, which is around March to May, but when is it too late to plant tomatoes?
It’s often ideal to sow tomatoes at the end of May and early June at the latest, though your first frost and chosen variety can change these estimates. If you live in hardiness zone 10 or higher, the planting season for tomatoes can last all year.
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How Late Can Tomatoes Be Planted?
1. Factors to determine whether it is too late to plant your tomatoes
In what month can I plant tomatoes? The answer depends on the variety you choose and your first frost. Since the focus of this article is the latest time to grow tomatoes, we’ll focus more on fall and winter rather than spring.
Here are the general rules to follow:
- Tomatoes are warm-season crops that need at least 50℉ to develop, so you can’t sow them too close to winter, as the weather won’t stay warm long enough to facilitate fruit formation.
- Tomatoes will wilt, experience damage on the stem and foliage, or lose flavors and even die on the vines if they experience a hard frost. Hence, it is vital that you collect mature tomatoes before freezing weather arrives.
- Look up the first fall frost where you live and deduct from it the maturation period of your variety. The result will be the latest date for growing tomatoes.
Suppose you live in Fair Oaks in Georgia, where the first frost falls on November 3.
If you plant Celebrity tomatoes, which take 70 days to mature from transplants and around 95 days from seeds, the latest time to sow tomato seeds would be July 31, while transplants may be set in the ground a bit later, on August 25.
You can do some simple math like in our example to determine your planting dates. As a reference, here are the main types of tomatoes—categorized by their days to maturity from transplants to harvest.
Seed packages will also list this information, so you only need to check yours before gardening. The dates will often be three to four weeks longer than those for transplants.
Early-season tomatoes (grow in under 50 to 70 days)
- Early Girl (57 days)
- Patio Choice (45 to 50 days)
- Tumbler (50 to 60 days)
- Early Doll (52 to 60 days)
- Early Wonder (55 days)
Mid-season tomatoes (grow in 70 to 80 days)
- Atkinson (75 days)
- Beefsteak (75 days)
- Better Bush (72 days)
- Big Boy (78 days)
- Bonny Best (70 days)
Late-season tomatoes (grow in 80 days or more)
- Beefmaster (80 days)
- Big Johnny (80 days)
- Crimson Giant (90 days)
- Rutgers (80 days)
- White Beauty (84 days)
2. Hardiness zones and indoor/outdoor planting
We’ve touched on this briefly in the intro, but if you’ve forgotten, hardiness zone 10 and higher, such as hotter regions in California and the Florida Keys, can accommodate tomato planting year-round due to the fact that they have little to no frost.
In these areas, it doesn’t matter much when you plant tomatoes, so long as the weather’s warm enough to enable growth (50 to 75℉) but not so hot that pollination fails to occur or the fruit turns orange.
- It’s best to plant tomato seeds indoors during mid-August for hot summer areas and in July for other regions at the latest. Give the seeds eight weeks to grow before moving them outside.
- For warmer states in higher hardiness zones, planting in June or July is okay, but the intense heat during these months will hinder tomatoes’ growth and impact their health. Waiting until fall is the better option.
3. Risks of planting tomatoes too late
Here are the risks your plant will have to face if you pick the wrong time of year to plant tomatoes:
- Prolonged excess heat at 85 degrees or higher during the day will stop pollination and fruit production. Likewise, the temperatures at night shouldn’t be over 70 degrees.
- Once the temperature reaches 95 degrees, tomatoes will turn orange instead of developing the vibrant red tint they are known for. If the weather doesn’t cool down soon, they will stop ripening altogether.
- High heat makes tomatoes more vulnerable to pests and disease. The same thing applies when growing these crops under extreme cold at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. The plants will also have trouble forming roots, setting fruit, and may become misshapen.
Tips for Planting Tomatoes Late
- Choose tomatoes that mature quickly and resist diseases like nematodes, mosaic virus, or fusarium and verticillium wilt. Early Girl, Sungold, and Fourth of July are notable varieties worth trying out.
- If you grow tomatoes in pots, remember to change the soil every year so that the plant has enough nutrients to stay healthy.
- Water the soil whenever it gets dry, at a rate of one inch of moisture per week. Opt for heat-resistant varieties like Bella Rosa and Solar Fire if you live in a hot climate or grow tomatoes in the summer.
- It’s also best to seed or transplant your crops under cool weather. Partial shade from an umbrella after transplanting will also help the tomato adapt better to outdoor conditions.
- Space the seedlings five feet apart for proper air circulation. This will reduce the threat of fungal disease and enable the stems to grow stronger.
Tips to Protect Tomato From the Cold
- Use row covers to safeguard tomatoes from unpredictable frosts. Old sheets are another effective alternative, but they should be reserved for evenings when you don’t have to worry about sunlight not reaching the tomatoes.
- In case you have space and cash to spare, consider building a greenhouse to plant tomatoes indoors.
A cold frame with compost materials is also a good solution, as it is inexpensive if made of recycled glass or wood and is closable to keep strong winds out.
- If frost is approaching and your tomatoes have not matured yet, see whether the fruits have turned whitish green with hints of red.
They will continue to mature once you plug them at this stage, so you can store the tomatoes at 55 to 70℉ in a cardboard box until they are ready for consumption. No need to worry about cold weather ruining your harvest.
- Tomatoes kept in pots outside are easy to move indoors, but you can also cover them with non-woven polypropylene if outdoor temperatures don’t dip lower than 30 degrees. Upside-down, hanging planters are ideal if you plan to move your tomatoes often.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it too late in the year to grow tomatoes?
It is too late to grow tomatoes if they don’t have time to mature before winter frost arrives. These plants need 60 to 100 days to grow before the first frost, depending on the variety.
How long is the tomato growing season?
March to September is the season for tomatoes from planting to harvest. It is also possible to collect ripe tomatoes in October and even later, provided the weather’s warm enough.
People with greenhouses or warm indoor space can start these crops as early as January.
When to plant tomatoes?
The time to transplant tomatoes or seed them is as follows:
|Hardiness zones||Plant tomatoes seeds||Transplant tomatoes||Direct-sow tomatoes|
|Zone 3, 4||April||May, June||May, early June|
|Zone 5 to zone 7||Mid-February and March||Mid-April and May||Early April and May|
|Zone 8 to 9||January||March, April||February, March|
Will tomatoes grow in very hot weather?
Tomatoes can mature under hot weather, but not when temperatures stay at 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for days on end. Their growth will stagnate under this condition, or the fruits may have poor quality and unattractive colors.
When is it too late to plant tomatoes? Simply deduct the plant’s maturation period from your first frost, and you’ll get your answer.
Tomatoes require warm weather to thrive, but it is vital not to subject them to extreme heat and drought, especially if you live in a hot climate. These fruits are surprisingly straightforward to grow. All they need is a little TLC.
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