Ripening Tomatoes

Every time mid to late summer rolls around, gardeners everywhere ask the same question. Why won’t my tomatoes ripen? The conditions seem fine, why won’t they turn red? It’s a source of frustration for many as tomatoes can be some of the most fickle and persnickety plants around. We, of course, recommend that you use our Dr. Willard’s PlantCatalyst® as part of your weekly gardening regimen, but there are a host of other factors that can help you get the most out of your tomato plants. Here’s a good list of ideas for you to consider.

The Problem

First you should feel relieved to discover you aren’t the only one encountering this problem.  Having problems getting your tomatoes to ripen doesn’t mean you’re a terrible gardener so don’t be too hard on yourself. Tomato plants can be unpredictable at times, and while conditions may seem ideal, it’s hard to determine exactly when they’ll be ready for harvest. It can take anywhere from a week to months to reach “red tomato” status, and depending on how hot your summer is or how early the first frost will hit, you might find yourself still waiting as late as the end of August or early September to finally start seeing red. However, it’s also entirely possible that you find yourself with exclusively green, non-ripened tomatoes – that’s just the nature of growing food.

There are several things we can do to ensure the ripening process occurs if your plants are struggling to do it themselves. But first, we need to understand what causes it. A natural hormone called “ethylene” is primarily responsible for the change in color, along with carotene and lycopene, although they can’t actually be produced if temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. When exposed to temperatures above 85 degrees, tomatoes will stop producing these hormones all-together, turning yellowish orange or green instead of red.

Soil temperatures also play a vital role in determining whether or not your tomatoes ripen. As heat rises below the surface of the soil, tomato plants respond be developing deeper root systems to escape the warmth. Causing a plant to develop a more robust network of roots only serves to divert necessary energy away from the ripening of your tomatoes. The more stress a plant experiences, the less likely it is to produce good yields. Soil temps below 80 degrees are optimal.

The Solution

If you notice any of these trends, you’re going to want to act fast. While you can’t always regulate temperatures above the surface, you can lessen the strain being put on your tomato plant. Start by plucking away fruit that isn’t likely to fully mature by the time the growing season is over – they’re basically a resource sink. By cutting your losses now, you give the more established tomatoes a better chance at success. This goes for any new shoots as well. Cut them to make sure every last resource is focused on the tomatoes.

Root systems can also be trimmed, albeit carefully, to trick your plant into speeding the ripening process. Dig a shovel all the way around the base of the plant 8-12 inches out. This induces a “panic mode”, triggering your plant to produce offspring before it dies.

As with anything plant or garden related, you need to make sure your crop is getting the appropriate amount of water and nutrients. Instead of adding additional fertilizer to your routine, which can often times kill plants or cause them to have growth spurts at inappropriate intervals, simply add Dr. Willard’s PlantCatalyst® to your water. Serving the same function as it does with humans and animals, PlantCatalyst® bolsters cell absorption and nutrient assimilation. It also reduces stress caused by things like heat or over-burdening, which is perfect for helping crops like tomato plants produce bright red yields.

Ripening Indoors

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, tomatoes are flat out unresponsive. In a last attempt to preserve your fruits, you can pick them all and bring them indoors to ripen somewhere out of direct sunlight. They’re more likely to rot and decay this way, but it’s better than losing 100% of your crop to the onset of frost. Once inside, tomatoes should be wrapped in newspaper and placed somewhere dark and dry. Interestingly enough, being placed in a bag alongside an apple or a banana can speed the ripening process, as they give off ethylene in the form of gas. Tomato plants can also be uprooted in their entirety and hung upside down somewhere dark and cool; simply pluck ripe fruits from the vine until there’s nothing left.

Various Tips

  • Mulch is a great way to moderate ground temperatures. Soils will be cooler in the summer and stay warmer for longer in the fall and winter seasons.
  • Tomatoes are more stable sitting on their stem side, which means they’re less prone to rotting if you place them blossom side down.
  • A row cover is a great way to extend the growing season an extra couple of days or weeks, trapping heat in and keeping frost out.



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