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How to Ripen Tomatoes on the Vine

ripening tomatoes
Tomatoes ripening from mature green to fully colored ripe

Standard-sized tomatoes take 20 to 30 days from blossom set to reach full size–commonly called “mature green”; they take another 20 to 30 days to ripen, that is begin to change color. A tomato can be picked when it begins to change color–from green to red, pink, yellow, or orange depending upon the cultivar.

The optimal temperature range for tomato ripening is 68°F to 77°F (20-25°C); tomato ripening is slowed when temperatures are cooler or warmer than the optimum range. Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are less than 55°F (13°C)and greater than 85°F (29°C). Once a mature green tomato has begun to blush or turn color, it can be brought to full color or full ripeness off the vine at room temperature–70°F to 75°F (21-24°C). A tomato will be equally flavorful brought to full ripeness on or off the vine–once it has moved beyond “mature green” to color change.

Estimated days to maturity, fruit size, and color can be used to estimate the harvest time for your tomato crop. Temperatures outside the optimum range can delay harvest. Tomatoes can not be forced to maturity more quickly than nature will allow. However, there are ways to expedite the tomato harvest when temperatures are right.

Tomatoes ripening
Tomatoes turning color from mature green to yellow to orange to red

Ways to Ripen Tomatoes

Once tomatoes on the plant begin to reach mature green, here’s how you can quicken the overall ripening of fruit on the vine:

Harvest daily. Pick fruit as soon as it starts to show color; this will allow other fruit on the vine to gain size and come to harvest more quickly. Tomato fruit picked at the first sign of color can be ripened at room temperature. Fruit ripened off the vine will be just as tasty as those left to mature on the vine. Cut or gently twist off fruits supporting the vine at the same time. Don’t leave overripe fruits on the vine; they decrease productivity and may spread disease.

Remove flower clusters. Pluck new flower clusters from tomato plants that have already set fruit. Removing flowers will direct the plant’s energy into ripening the fruit already maturing on the vine. Remove flower clusters no later than a month before the first expected frost to ensure fruit on the plant makes it to harvest without frost or cold damage.

Remove small or excess fruit. Pick small or excess fruit off of the tomato plant. Removing immature fruit or fruit you will not use will allow the plant to divert energy into ripening larger, already maturing fruit. Tomatoes that reach “mature green” size and have their first blush of color can be ripened off the vine at room temperature.

Remove some leaves. Pinch away suckers and lower leaves. Tomato plants almost continuously produce new shoots–called suckers–between the main stem and lateral branches. Pinch or prune away this new growth so that the plant can channel its energy into producing and ripening fruit rather than producing new leaves. Leaves just above fruit or fruit clusters should be left in place to protect the fruit from sunburn. Leaves low on the plant that turn yellow or brown or diseased leaves should be removed. These leaves are taking energy away from fruit ripening.

Green Zebra tomato
Green Zebra tomato

Reduce water and food late in the season. Reduce water and fertilizer to encourage “mature green” fruits to ripen. Fertilizer–especially excess nitrogen–encourages new leaf growth at the expense of fruit growth and maturation. (Use fertilizer low in nitrogen 4-8-4 for tomatoes.) Reducing water as fruits reach mature size will enhance ripening (and concentrate flavor) and direct the plant’s energy away from new fruit set to ripening fruit already on the vine

Stress roots near season end. Shifting or rotating plant roots by twisting gently at the crown of the plant will disturb the distribution of nutrients and moisture from roots to fruit and foliage causing the plant to finish fruit growth, ripen, and go to seed.

Protect plants from extreme temperatures. Shield plants from temperatures outside the optimum range; wrap cages with clear plastic or frost blankets to protect plants from temperatures below 60°F (16°C); drape shade cloth over frames to protect tomatoes from harsh sun and temperatures greater than 90°F (32°C). Temperature extremes will slow and even halt fruit maturation and ripening. If fruits have begun to turn color, pick them and finish ripening indoors at temperatures between 70°F and 75°F (21-24°C).

Mulch with plastic sheeting. Use silver- or red-colored plastic sheeting or aluminum foil to speed growth where temperatures are low or days are overcast. The light reflected from colored plastic or foil stimulates the movement of carbohydrates into developing fruit resulting in early plant ripening by a week or more. Place a colored tarp under plants or secure the tarp to posts and stretch the tarp along the north side of the tomato bed or row.

Slow to harvest regions. In regions where tomatoes are consistently slow to ripen, here are general tips to speed the harvest every year:

Early to mature varieties. Grow tomato varieties that require a shorter period of optimum temperatures. Quick-to-harvest tomato varieties that require 55 to 70 days from transplanting may be best suited for regions where temperatures do not stay in the optimum range long enough to ripen fruit.

Plant earlier. Start tomato plants indoors and begin to harden off plants four to five weeks before the last frost. Move seedlings into the garden about three weeks before the last frost date. Set them into the ground an inch or so deeper than they were in their cartons and water them in. Place cloches or tomato cages wrapped in plastic around these transplants and protect them from low temperatures until night temperatures are consistently greater than 55°F (13°C).

Keep plants warm. Where nights are cold, place self-standing sleeves or water around plants or flank young plants with flat tiles that hold the sun’s heat during the day and radiate it at night. Plant tomatoes near a wall or the side of a building that faces west or south. The wall will soak up the sun’s heat during the day and radiate it back out at night.

Stake or cage plants. Support tomato vines with a stake or cage. Grow plants up exposing the fruit to sun and air.

Ensure pollination. On warm, calm days give flower clusters a little shake to aid pollination. Cool, wet weather, or hot windy days can inhibit pollination. Blossom drop happens when flowers are not pollinated; where pollination does not happen, the fruit will not follow.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomato Ripening and Frost Coming

Tomato Ripening Tips for Season End

How to Harvest and Store Tomatoes

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40 Comments

    • Living in Michigan after a life time in Baltimore Maryland where tomatoes grow like weeds & have superb taste. Frustrating to have all green tomatoes in August! This is an EXCELLENT article. Thanks a million!

      • Northern tomato growers can start seed early indoors in spring and can extend the season by growing under plastic tunnels in autumn. Choose determinate tomatoes for quicker maturity; long-season tomatoes often run out of warm temperatures before they can ripen in shorter summer regions. A fun part of gardening is the never-ending challenges.

          • A bush or determinate tomatoes grows from 2 to 4 feet tall. When the determinate tomato flowers the plant stops growing. Flowers and fruits appear at the end of stems. The fruit grows and ripens usually all at once over a four- to six-week period. Indeterminate tomatoes are vining and grow tall; the flower and fruit along the stem, not just at the end. Check the variety you are growing; if you still have the tag it will tell you if it is determinate or indeterminate.

          • The determinent variety does not grow very tall and does not yield fruit throughout the year. An indeterminate tomato plant grows very tall and yields fruit throughout the year.

  1. I would like to learn more about how to grow tomatoes because it is very useful in our life as well as we can benefit with it to save economic situation as cash crop or for food consumtion.

    • Ripening bananas emit an organic gas called ethylene. Ethylene gas will accelerate the ripening of tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a plastic or paper bag with a banana to speed ripening.

  2. Hi Steve.
    I have some tomatoes that are black, can’t remember the variety name . I’d like to know if they need any special/ different care to normal tomatoes?

    • Black and dark purple and brown tomatoes need no special or extra care. The deep purple varieties include Black Cherry, Black fro Tula, Black Krim, Brad’s Black Heart, Carbon, Cherokee Purple, Price’s Purple, Purple Calabash, Purple Russion, Rosella Purple, and Southern Night; deep brown varieties include Amazon Chocolate, Black Plum, Black Prince, Cherokee Chocolate, Japanese Trifele Black, Paul Robeson, Sleeping Lady, and Tasmanian Chocolate.

  3. I have a lot of tomatoes on the vine. I was told if I wanted them to change I should starve them of water for at least 7 days. I don’t want to hurt them though. I have worked very hard to grow them here where I live. Am I rushing them?

    • Tomatoes ripen in their own time–that time is genetically determined by variety; it will be more or less the same number of days with or without water and on or off the vine. Once a tomato starts to turn pink, the ripening process has begun and the fruit will finish ripening off the vine. Withholding water–or watering more–will not change the days to maturity and ripeness. Withholding water for 7 to 10 days before harvest will intensify flavor. If you have more tomatoes than you can eat fresh, plant to freeze or can some of them for use this coming winter.

  4. What a great article! Any thoughts on how to deal with blossom end rot? I’ve sprayed with Rot-Stop for several weeks and it has helped but I still have some tomatoes developing the problem. We’ve had an unusually hot and dry summer here. Do you think that might be part of the problem?

    • Blossom end rot is caused by the slow uptake of calcium from the soil–calcium helps build strong cell walls in fruit. To ensure the uptake of nutrients keep the soil evenly moist while fruits are developing; don’t let the soil dry out (which can happen quickly when the weather is hot and dry). If the soil is staying moist then make sure there is sufficient calcium and phosphorus in the soil. Look for an organic fertilizer at about 5-10-10 ratio with calcium added. Lilly Miller has a fertilizer called MorCrop which has calcium added as do several other manufacturers.

  5. Really a very helpful article. I’m just a beginner in this field, but my tomatoe plant has yield 2 tomatoes and it’s mature green. I water the plant every day is it okay or I should not water it everyday. And some tips to get more yield. Thank you

    • Are you growing tomatoes in the ground or in containers. Tomatoes in the ground will need water daily early in the season, but as roots grow deeper you can water less often. By the end of the season, you will need to water only once a week–as roots will be deep. Tomatoes in containers must be monitored closely–you may want to use a moisture meter. Keep the soil just moist, do not let it dry out.

  6. Very helpful article, good infos! It’s the second time i am growing tomatos. They are outside sitting in the ground with trellis and are very tall with lots of fruits. I wanna try to speed up ripening and was thinking about using fertilizers made for speed-up the ripening process – like GHE Ripen or CANNA PK 13/14. I read on CANNA Homepage about a tomato grower using their products with great results. Do you think its a good idea? An another side they also mentioned GHE Ripen (0-6-5) for ripening tomatos “It gives the plant a strong signal that it is coming to the end of its life. The plant reacts by speeding the ripening process, in a last effort to reproduce”. I know this products but never used them for tomatos. Like u mentioned less nitrogen is good for ripening, so aren’t that great Products to use? They have no nitrogen but high amounts of phosphorus and potassium. Is there any reason why they should not be used?

    • Use your ripening fertilizers on one or two of your plants, not the whole crop. That way you can make a comparative judgment about the efficacy of the ripening fertilizers as compared to plant you allow to ripen naturally. Using a spade to severe one-third of the roots of a plant will also stress a fruiting plant into quickening the ripening of fruit on the plant; do this when the season is nearing the end and you do not plan to allow more fruit to develop. You can also prune away new flowers and prune away small fruits to hasten the ripening of larger fruits on the plant.

  7. It is September 26th. I have 5 different tomato plants, Husky Red Cherry, Sweet 100 Cherry, Early Girl, Celebrity, and Big Boy. Lots of tomatoes all green. Some flowers and lots of leaves. Especially the Big Boy is so bushy I can hardly see the tomatoes. It about made it down to 40 degrees overnight. Still watering every other day. What do I need to do to get these tomatoes to start turning from all green? Thank you!

    • At the end of the tomato growing season with the first frost not far off, you can begin to ripen tomatoes still on the plant by first pinching away all flowers and very small fruits. There is not enough time now for flowers and small fruits to reach maturity. Removing these will allow the plant to put its energy into ripening larger fruits on the plant. If medium to large fruits are in the shadows of leaves, you can remove the leaves above the fruits so that they get more sunlight. Here is a link to a post that might help further:
      https://harvesttotable.com/how_to_ripen_tomatoes_on_the_v/

  8. very good article. I live in central west FL and we water at least twice a day. I thought tomatoes loved full sun but can it get to hot for them. They are getting leaf curl and some dark spots on leaves. They also have loats of tomatoes but don’t seem to be turning red or yellow. Any suggestions? Also they new plants of cherry tomatoes we just planted 3 weeks ago are already getting blooms. they are only 2 ft high isn’t it too early.

    • Let’s answer each question in order: (1) Tomatoes do love the sun, but the intense sun can cause leaves and fruit to sunburn; shield the plants from the midday sun by placing a shade cloth directly above the plant draped over a frame. Leave curl is natural to some tomato varieties, but it can be an indication of low soil moisture in others. (2) Tomatoes will begin to turn color about two to three weeks before they are fully ripe; if the plant is stressed by hot temperatures or lack of moisture it will essentially go dormant until temperatures drop into the 80sF. (3) If you are concerned the cherry tomatoes are too small; nip off the flowers; let the plant gain size, and it will bloom again.

    • If you do not have cold temperatures coming, let the tomatoes ripen on the vine. Temperatures too high or too low can slow ripening in the garden. Once a tomato reaches mature size, it begins to ripen from the inside out; you should see color change soon.

  9. Very helpful, comprehensive review. Had no idea that hot temps hindered ripening, which is a factor here ź it’s 103 right now.
    Thank you!

  10. Any tips for growing tomatoes in west texas??? We are dry, hot, but we have a very long growing season. We don’t tend to get our first frost until the middle of December, and it gets warm enough to plant in April… what would be the best varieties to use??? My current plant is over 5 ft tall and almost as wide…. any tips for how to best support it??? Looking for ideas for next year as well!

    • If summers are very hot and long, plant two crops of bush tomatoes (determination), one in spring for harvest in early summer, and plant a second crop in late summer or early fall for harvest in mid to late autumn. Determinate tomatoes require about 55 to 70 days in the garden from transplanting. That means you will want to start the plants indoors about 6 weeks before setting them in the garden. Try Early Girl or Stupice. For the large plant now in the garden, drive a long stake into the ground on either side of the plant and tie the may stem or stems loosely to the stakes with elastic horticultural tape. You can also begin nipping off the growth buds at the top of the plant to keep it from growing taller.

  11. Hi. It’s lovndown in England. Spell of hot weather then cooler then hot. Plants strong healthy and staying green. Help please. The basil growing in partnership is doing well. Variety is money maker.

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