Growing Tomatoes in Cold Climates

Image of a tomato plant hanging down that has some red tomatoes on it and a banner that reads growing tomatoes in cold places.

Growing tomatoes in cold climates can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are some tips on growing tomatoes in cool weather environments.

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This post is all about tips on growing tomatoes in a cold environment.

One of the most exciting things about growing tomatoes in a home vegetable garden is having fresh tomatoes to eat near the end of summer. But if you live in a cold environment, then growing tomatoes to maturity can be hard.

Tomatoes produce fruit in a variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and black. Growing tomatoes can add a pop of color to a garden that is lush with green.

Tomatoes prefer to grow in warmer climates. These plants would rather have plenty of sun, plenty of warm, and warm soil to grow and produce a bounty of tomatoes. For many gardeners, optimal temperatures for growing tomatoes range from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

But our environment doesn’t always allow us to have the perfect warm weather and environmental conditions to grow tomatoes. In many cases, we may not have the ideal length of time to grow our favorite tomatoes.

Using season extenders, such as garden cloches, hoop houses, greenhouses, and other types of season extenders, can provide additional shelter and warmth for growing tomatoes in environments with colder climates. Season extenders can help to provide extra time on either end of the growing season, by allowing gardeners to start their gardens early in the spring or to allow gardens to continue to grow later into the fall. With luck, season extenders can add days or weeks of growth time to the gardening season.

So how cold is too cold for tomatoes? Tomato plants can survive temperatures that are above freezing, but they start to have problems once temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures may cause setbacks to flower and fruit production, in addition to harming the plant. Other problems that cold weather can cause include: stunted growth, wilting, and necrosis of the plant.

A general rule of thumb is to plant tomatoes in the late spring, once all danger of frost has passed. Pay attention to the weather in your area. A Farmer’s Almanac may help you to determine when to plant tomatoes.

There are upsides and downsides to growing tomatoes in cooler weather.

Upsides

If you can get tomatoes to grow in a colder environment, then you may be able to enjoy some benefits such as:

  • Fresh tomatoes for snacking and using in recipes.
  • Homegrown tomatoes may have more flavor than store-bought tomatoes.
  • You can grow a variety of tomatoes that you may not find in stores.
  • Have more control over how the tomatoes that you eat are grown.

Downsides

  • Both late and early frosts can kill tomato plants.
  • Less flavorful tomatoes, according to some
  • Smaller tomatoes
  • Fewer ripe tomatoes—Tomatoes need sun and warmth to ripen. It can be harder to get ripe tomatoes in places that have cool weather or overcast skies.

But it may be possible to grow tomatoes in cooler climates by taking a few key steps.

Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Cold Climates

1—Grow short season tomato varieties.

Look for tomatoes that were developed to grow in short season or cold environments. Smaller tomatoes may be easier to ripen than larger tomatoes in cold climates.

Mid-season tomatoes (75 to 80 days to maturity) may also do well, depending on the length of your growing season. In general, it may be best to avoid late season tomatoes (85 to 100 days to maturity) if your season is too short to support them.

2—Diversify your tomato crop.

Planting different types of short season or cold climate tomatoes can help you determine which tomatoes perform best in your area. Growing different types of tomatoes can also provide you with a variety of colors and flavors to enjoy in your garden.

For example, plant tomatoes that mature at different times or that produce different shapes of tomatoes or that ripen tomatoes of different colors. Imagine how a salad garnished with red cherry tomatoes (Sweetie cherry tomato), green salad tomatoes (Green Zebra tomato , 75 days), or orange slicer tomatoes (Valencia tomato, Maine heirloom) would look and taste.

3—Pay attention to dates.

Get a head start on growing tomatoes by starting seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before you plan to set the plants out in the garden. A grow light and seedling mat are essential tools for many gardeners who start their seeds indoors.

Plant tomatoes outdoors after the last frost date has passed in the spring. For best results, night time temperatures should be 55 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Use a soil thermometer to check soil temperature. Soil temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit may provide optimal temperatures for tomato plants to grow.

4—Provide plenty of UV or sunlight.

A grow light can provide the best light spectrum for growing tomato plants indoors. Outside, grow tomato plants in areas that receive 6 to 8 hours of full sun.

5—Consider using red mulch to increase growth and production.

Red mulch, also known red plastic mulch, can be used to warm up the soil around tomato plants. Red mulch helps to provide tomato plants with a spectrum of red light that aids in their growth and production. Increased yields of up to 20% have been observed.

6—Feed your tomatoes.

Feed tomato plant tomato fertilizer or plant food for added growth benefits and vigor against cold weather and harsh growing conditions.

7—Use season extenders to add more time to your growing season.

Placing a Wall O’ Water or similar plant protector around tomato plants may help to protect them against cold snaps during spring or fall. Season extenders can help you to get an early start on the growing season, extending the time that plants have to grow and mature.

8—Invest in a greenhouse.

Greenhouses offer plants added protection from the elements and can extend your growing season on either end, giving you a head start in the spring and they may also let you grow tomatoes later into fall, too.

This post was all about tips on how to grow tomatoes in cold environments.

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credits
  • Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash
  • Photos are for illustrative purposes only.

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