Tomatoes are one of the easiest and most popular vegetable plants to grow. But the growing season in many areas is too short for us to have fresh tomatoes for more than a few months of the year. Nevertheless, they are among the plants that are the easiest to overwinter, so we could have tomatoes all year round.
It is certainly possible to overwinter tomato plants if you want to produce fruit in winter. But in most places, you’re going to need a greenhouse or indoor environment with adequate heating and lighting. And there are a few golden rules you’re going to have to learn if you want to succeed in overwintering tomatoes.
Do you need to overwinter your tomatoes?
Having said that you can overwinter your tomatoes, we must point out that you certainly don’t have to. Tomatoes are an annual warm-season crop, so do you really need to go to the trouble of keeping some of them alive over winter?
Tomatoes are a ubiquitous crop produced by a multitude of suppliers, and they are always available in local supermarkets. At the same time, there’s no denying how much tastier home-grown tomatoes are compared to shop-bought ones.
Some more food for thought. Overwintering tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean your tomatoes will produce fruit in winter. But they may produce small amounts of fruit if they are kept in optimum conditions.
An alternative option is to process your home-grown tomatoes. That way, even though they won’t be fresh, you can freeze them and cook with them during the winter months.
Ways to overwinter your tomatoes
There aren’t many places in North America where tomatoes will grow all year-round. Exceptions include parts of Southern California’s coastal regions, and South Florida and the Keys.
That said, they’re more difficult to grow in the hot summer months in Florida! They also tend to stop setting fruit during the hottest months in inland California.
Tomatoes are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 10-12. Even then, certain cultivars will do better than others.
But the good news is that all you need to overwinter tomato plants is to ensure that your plants have sufficient light and warmth to grow.
Growing vegetables in a greenhouse have its advantages, mostly that you can grow just about anything all year round. Even during the winter months, your tomatoes will continue to bear fruit, provided they get all the growing conditions they need.
There is no doubt that a greenhouse with temperature and humidity control will provide the best conditions for growing tomatoes all year round. A good rule of thumb to remember is that tomatoes thrive in temperatures from 60-80 ℉ and humidity levels between 65% and 75%.
Some conservatories work well too, especially if they are glassed.
Plastic-covered tunnels sometimes called hoop houses, and other plastic-covered structures are another option for growing tomatoes.
They will give tomato plants winter protection in warmer areas. But they don’t provide the kind of protection a greenhouse does, and won’t work in places that get ultra-cold.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, you can grow your tomatoes indoors during winter. But you do need a space that offers the light and warmth they need to grow and produce fruit.
The caveat is that you won’t have the same control over temperature or humidity. Another issue is that they aren’t considered to be indoor plants.
Apart from light, warmth, and humidity, you will need to ensure the air inside is fresh otherwise a lack of carbon dioxide can negatively affect growth and fruiting.
While it is possible to build a raised bed into enclosed patios and sunrooms, most people opt for containers when growing tomatoes indoors. Even when they aren’t built-in, they don’t necessarily need to be easily transportable.
Tomatoes generally grow well in containers, making this a great option for overwintering. Even if you have unexpected heat waves or cold snaps you simply move the containers inside.
Just be sure the containers have drainage holes. And if you plan to move them back and forth, make certain they aren’t too big and heavy.
How to overwinter your tomato plants?
You can grow tomato plants all year round if you have a proper greenhouse that has heating and lighting installed. But it costs a lot to do this, especially in colder climates.
This is why many people opt for overwintering tomatoes and pepper plants. But you will only succeed if you have a location that is bright and with a temperature that won’t drop below 60 ℉. You may need to install grow lights.
What you’re trying to do is replicate their preferred outdoor environment as closely as possible. Outdoors generally do best if they get 8 full hours of sun every day.
You’ll need to bring them inside before the weather gets anywhere near freezing.
Tips about overwintering tomatoes
Some tomato varieties are easier to overwinter than others. So if you are going to grow tomatoes that you are going to overwinter, choose the variety wisely.
Generally, small determinate tomatoes are a good option. You cannot overwinter indeterminate varieties, but you can take cuttings from the shoot tips of most plants.
You must have a bright, warm location when overwintering tomatoes. If tomatoes don’t get enough light when they are overwintered, they often turn yellow.
But a bonus is that they also often produce side shoots. Don’t remove them.
Remember, when you grow tomatoes indoors or in a greenhouse, insects and natural wind won’t pollinate your plants. But you can manually pollinate an indoor tomato plant by shaking it gently once the flowers open.
Another tip is to look out for pests and diseases during the overwintering period. Unfortunately, they do tend to be more susceptible.
Having discovered that growing tomatoes winter style is not as difficult as some say, you’ll be delighted to find that you can also overwinter pepper plants, eggplants, and other members of the Solanaceae family.