As Fall progresses and tomato season comes to an end you can use these tips to learn how to ripen green tomatoes.
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Fall is my favorite time of year. But one thing that I don’t like about fall is the fact that very soon we will no longer have fresh tomatoes from the garden. Our first frost arrives roughly the 1st of October, we are usually able to protect our tomatoes for a week or two longer with fabric row covers. But sooner or later mother nature is going to take our tomato plants and leave us with a bunch of tomatoes that are either green or at best not fully ripe.
Below is a list of topics I will cover in this ripening tomatoes guide. Clicking on a topic will let you quickly jump to the information you want to learn about.
- What are the two methods for ripening green tomatoes
- How to Ripen Green Tomatoes on the vine
- How to Ripen Green tomatoes indoors
Over the years we have learned how to ripen green tomatoes inside our house or garage. These tomatoes are never as tasty as those that we pick, sun-ripened, in August and September. But they are still pretty good and way better than store-bought tomatoes.
Two methods for Ripening Green Tomatoes
There are 2 different methods to learn how to ripen green tomatoes. First I will teach you how to get your tomatoes to ripen quickly while they are still outside in the garden. Second, I will give you a great method for dealing with tomatoes that haven’t ripened late in the season by bringing them indoors. You can give these methods a try to see which works best to get those green tomatoes to ripen.
How to get tomatoes to ripen on the vine
First, let’s talk about a few ideas to use late in the season to help your tomatoes ripen on the vine.
Root Pruning or Shocking the plant
The idea here is to cause the plant a significant amount of stress without actually killing it. If the plant becomes stressed it sees the end of its life is coming soon so it will focus on ripening the existing fruit as quickly as it can. This can be done using one of 2 ideas, root pruning or shocking the plant.
Root pruning tomatoes
In order to root prune a tomato plant, you will need a spade or shovel. You will start about 6 inches from the base of the plant cut straight down with the spade as deep as you can go. Do this in a circle all the way around the plant. This will prune off many of the plant’s roots and cause some stress to the plant and help trigger that final ripening process.
Shocking tomato plants
Shocking involves grabbing your tomato plant at the base and giving the plant a good tug. You don’t want to pull the plant all the way out of the ground but the idea is to put stress on the roots and the stem of the plant, causing some damage. This will stress the plant and trigger it to ripen the existing fruit
Removing tomatoes that will not mature before your first frost
Under the best summertime conditions, it usually takes about 5 weeks for a full-sized tomato to grow from fruit set to full maturity. In the fall it can take even longer with the shorter days. So if your tomato plant has a lot of fruit that just recently set and you are less than 4 weeks away from your first frost it is unlikely that those fruits are going to mature. To help your plant focus on ripening the fruit that will make it before the frost you should remove all of those smaller recently set fruit. This will help your tomato plant put its energy and resources into ripening the larger fruit.
Topping your tomato plants
In their native environment tomatoes are perennial plants that will just keep growing and growing. For those of us in the colder climates, we will eventually lose the plants to frost, but the plants don’t know that so they continue to add vines and flowers. All of those flowers and vines are just wasting resources late in the year.
To stop this you can “top” your plant by cutting off the growing top of the plant. This will stop the vining and again make the plant focus on ripening the existing fruit.
Removing any new flowers
Once you reach about 4 to 6 weeks before your first frost any new fruit that sets will not grow and ripen in time. So you can prevent the fruit from setting in the first place by removing any new flower clusters from the plant. Simply pinch them off. Then your tomato plant can focus on ripening existing fruit.
Less water to your tomato plants will do a couple of different things for the plant. First, the stress caused by less water will reduce extra vining and flower production. Second, it will cause stress to the plant which will make the plant rush to ripen the existing fruit.
Cover Your plants to protect from early frost.
It happens to us nearly every year. Right around October 1st we will have a cold spell and get our first frost, which can easily kill our tomato plants. But then 2 days later temperatures have bounced back into the mid-’70s and they stay there for 2 or 3 more weeks before things really turn cold.
This is frustrating because if we let our tomato plants succumb to that first early frost then we lose 2 or 3 good weeks of ripening time.
The easy solution is to cover our tomato plants with some heavy fabric row cover on those cold nights. These fabric row covers offer enough protection to the plant to help it survive the cold weather and ripen the rest of its fruit.
5 tips on how to ripen green tomatoes indoors
Eventually, your weather is going to get too cold at night and you will lose your tomato plants. If you leave the fruit on your plants it will get frozen and will never ripen. So now let’s talk about how to ripen green tomatoes indoors. Here are 5 tips to help you continue to enjoy your garden-grown tomatoes for a month or two after the cold weather arrives.
1. Don’t bother with the small stuff
A day or two before the really cold weather arrives you need to get out in your garden and pick all of the unripe tomatoes. While we are going through our tomato plants we only pick decent-sized tomatoes. It’s not worth the bother with all the millions of little tomatoes. Just choose tomatoes that are roughly “baseball” size or bigger. Pick any tomatoes that are already starting to ripen and as many larger green tomatoes as you think you will need for the next month or two.
2. Sort your tomatoes well
Any tomatoes that are showing even the smallest sign of ripening need to be in a box by themselves. Ripening tomatoes (and many other fruits) put off a chemical that causes other tomatoes to ripen. If one of your tomatoes is ripening and you leave it with the others they will all start to ripen. We like to pull any ripening fruit out and keep it separate that way the whole box doesn’t ripen at once.
3. Store your Tomatoes 1 layer deep
After about a week of being indoors put all your green tomatoes in open boxes (or just on a tabletop) only one layer deep. Again this keeps the ripening from spreading too quickly. Keep your tomatoes in a very cool spot. We like to keep ours in the garage where it is cold all winter but never freezes.
4. Pull any ripening tomatoes out of your boxes
As the tomatoes start to ripen separate the ripening fruit from the green. Check your tomatoes often and any time you see one that is ripening, pull it out of the box. We have found that if we do this we get a nice slow ripening process over the course of a couple of months. If you leave the tomatoes that are turning red in the box with your green ones that ripening will quickly spread through the whole box. Pulling the ripening tomatoes out slows down the process for the rest of the box.
Some years we have had garden-grown tomatoes as late as New Year and have used them to make salsa! Of course, if you want them to ripen sooner then you can leave a ripening fruit in the box with the others or bring them in the warm house where they will ripen much sooner.
5. Keep your expectations low
These are NOT the vine-ripened mouth-watering beauties you are harvesting in August and September. We often compare ripened green tomatoes to store-bought tomatoes. They just don’t have the same flavor and texture that their vine-ripened counterparts have. But they are homegrown and organic, and are perfect for soups and casseroles in the early winter months! I even slap them on a sandwich every once in a while.
So that is how to ripen green tomatoes. If you manage the process well you can have a few ripe tomatoes every week for two or more months after the season ends.
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