Keeping Up with Late-Season Tomato Plants

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September may be my favorite month of the year. Even though summer is basically over, days are still reliably warm and less humid. Nights and early mornings are cool, hinting that fall is on its way.

The garden likes this month, too. The heat isn’t unbearable and plants seem to perk up just a tad. They are happy. I am happy.

Despite this, September poses several challenges to the gardener, specifically the tomato gardener.

Managing late-season tomato plants

The near-perfect conditions help the indeterminate tomato plants grow out of control. They keep growing and growing until frost. It’s hard to keep up. Plus, the increasingly heavy tomato plants are causing great strain on my tomato trellis, pulling at least one section ever closer to the ground. In fact, one lone plant in a fairly large metal tomato cage is so full and heavy it has tipped over its support.

The shorter days mean less daylight. Less daylight means it takes longer for the tomatoes on the vine to ripen. It seems they’ll never be anything but green.

And not only is there less sunshine, the ever-growing tomato plant puts out more and more foliage. This dense canopy blocks light from reaching the developing fruit. Fruit ripening is delayed even more.

Back in early summer, it was a wise thing to snip off the “suckers” – the branches that grew between the leader stem and a side branch. Well, in late summer/early fall, it’s time to take another shot at pruning off as many unnecessary leaves as possible. Open the plant to expose more fruit to sunlight. There aren’t many weeks left for the fruit to ripen, so help your tomatoes take advantage of the time left.

And what happens if you don’t? Well, I have several green tomato recipes to share.

Meet Ellen Wells

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