Tomatoes are the darling of every American gardener. They are easy to grow, versatile, and are full of various flavors.
Growing tomatoes is pretty straightforward, but knowing the perfect growing time will set you on a path to a great, bountiful harvest.
Which begs the question, when is the perfect tomato season? Most people debate between summer and fall when temperatures are favorable as tomatoes are considered warm-weather plants.
The simple answer most people will give you is that you should plant your tomatoes after the last frost. Great! But that’s not enough information, is it? In fact, it’s a little more complex than simply waiting for the frost to pass.
As you’ll come to learn, the perfect time of year to grow your tomatoes depends on a few major factors, including:
- Type of tomato plant
- Days to maturity
Here we’ll cover ideal growing seasons, factors affecting your perfect time of year, and – as a bonus – when not to plant your tomatoes.
When to Grow Tomatoes
Tomato plants generally need about three months of warm, summer-like weather to produce a great harvest. In the perfect conditions, you want to start planting your tomatoes a few weeks after the last frost date in your area. Although this may not be when you start preparing to plant, depending on your seeds.
If you choose to sow tomato seeds instead of buying ready-to-plant seedlings, start your tomatoes indoors in small pots six to eight weeks before the last frost.
If you’re in the United States and within USDA hardiness zones eight and nine, for example, start your seeds in mid-January. If however you are located in USDA zones three or four, you should start your seeds between mid-March and early April.
But if it were that simple, most – if not all tomato crops would be perfect and plentiful during a specific season.
Factors That Determine The Perfect Planting Season
Whether You Get Summer-Like Temperatures
Generally, for tomatoes to thrive, the night temperature has to be between 55℉ and 75℉. If your local temperatures are lower, tomatoes will not sprout regardless of the time of year.
You’ll also want to consider soil temperatures before you plant a tomato.
The ideal soil temperature for the growing season is 60℉.
To test your soil’s temperature, you can use a soil thermometer or stick a finger an inch or two into the soil.
If it’s too cold to hold your finger in place for a minute, then it may not support plant growth just yet.
Where You’re Planting Tomatoes
Depending on where you are in the world, your ideal tomato season might be different.
Some locations may have multiple summer-like seasons. One such location is Banning in California. Here, one growing season starts in October and another between January and February.
Then there’s the issue of exposure to the sun. For any season tomato to thrive, it’ll need at least 6 hours of full sun.
If your location doesn’t get at least half a day’s worth of full sun during a significant part of the year, you may want to rethink your options.
The Type of Tomatoes
When choosing the type of tomato to plant in your garden, you have two options – determinate or indeterminate.
This choice not only determines the number of tomatoes you can look forward to growing, but also the duration of the harvest. Thus giving you an idea of when and how often you may plant tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes feature a smaller and bushier growth pattern. When the fruits set, determinate plants yield over a short period.
Determinate plants will produce many fruits over a two or three-week period only. Then, the plant will stop producing and start deteriorating.
Indeterminate plants are a bit different. Once they start producing, they continue to yield fruits throughout the season.
Note: They also grow twice as tall as the determinate tomatoes, requiring you to stake or cage them and they’re more resistant to cold weather.
Here’s a table of different varieties of tomatoes and their characteristics to give you an idea of which ones you’d prefer growing.
|Grape Tomatoes||Crisp & Crunchy, meaty, versatile, oval shape.
Rich taste with a perfect sugar to acid balance, juicy, sweet to tangy profile
|Beefsteak Tomatoes||Rich, vibrant color, large, firm, and meaty.
Traditional tomato flavor with mild but balanced juiciness.
|Cherry Tomatoes||Cherry tomatoes are small, tender, and snappy medium skin.
Cherry tomatoes have a sweet (like candy) and juicy flavor with a crisp bite.
|Cocktail Tomatoes||Soft-walled and meaty with few seeds and herbaceous aroma.
Juicy traditional tomato taste but with a sweet and fruity aftertaste.
|Roma Tomatoes||Full, dense, and grainy flesh with few seeds, firm.
Well balanced but tangy flavor.
|Heirloom Tomatoes||Meaty, firm, and available in a variety of textures and vibrant colors.
Juicy flavors varying from sweet to tangy and with an earthy tone.
|Tomatoes on The Vine||Firm and thick walls that hold in moisture.
Sweet and juicy with a garden-fresh taste.
When Not to Plant Tomatoes
One easier way of getting the timing just right may be knowing when not to plant tomatoes in your garden. This is especially useful when you’re wondering what’s the longest time you can keep growing them.
Luckily, all tomatoes have certain ‘days to maturity’. This is an average duration of how long it should take between the day you start your plants and the day they bear fruit.
Knowing when not to plant tomatoes therefore only takes simple math:
- Determine the date of the first frost in your area.
- Count the number of days you have left before that date.
- Compare that number to the days of maturity.
If the number of days until the first frost is smaller than your tomatoes’ days of maturity, then it’s too late in the season to plant.
Different tomatoes can take different growing season lengths. These are categorized into three groups.
Early season tomatoes take up to 65 days to mature. Some popular varieties include:
- Bush beefsteak – 62 days
- Cold set – 65 days
- ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ – 58 days
- Stupice – 55 days
- Subarctic – 42 days
- Cherry tomatoes – 65 days
Mid-season tomatoes take 70 to 80 days. Below are a few popular varieties:
- Abraham Lincoln – 77 days
- Atkinson – 75 days
- Beefsteak – 75 days
- Brandywine – 74 days
- Caspian pink – 80 days
While late-season tomatoes take more than 80 days to mature. Some of the best include:
- Amana Orange – 85 days
- Bull’s Heart – 90 days
- Cherokee Purple – 80 days
- Hugh’s – 85 days
- Hillbilly – 85 days
Learn More About Tomatoes and Gardening
As you can see, the best growing season will depend on various factors and not just a date marked on your calendar.
Now that you know this, discover much more about growing tomatoes on the Gardening Channel blog.
And you don’t have to limit yourself to tomatoes only. Read about different fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other backyard ideas that can transform your garden into a thriving green haven.
The Gardening Channel has all the information you need, such as:
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