Do tomatoes grow back

Leaving tomato roots in the ground

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more hot questionsYour friendly Planet Natural blogger never thought much about composting tomatoes until a reader sent in a question about it. We’ve always done it if, at the end of the season, the plants had been healthy and showed no signs of blight, wilt or insect infestations. Thing is, by the end of the season, especially in damper climates, tomatoes often show signs of all these things.

Add to that the fact that the dry, stringy vines don’t break down quickly and tend to get tangled up with everything else in the pile, and the result is this: I don’t end up composting tomato plants very often.

Little did I know until I started digging around into the matter of tomato composting just how controversial the subject was. More than a couple garden forums host discussions in which people say they would never compost tomato vines, usually because of the disease that might be spread, countered by people who say it’s a shame to send tomato vines to the landfill rather than returning them, in composted form, back to the garden.

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Some responders addressed the question of recycling the tomato fruits themselves into the compost pile. Yes, your pile can handle probably the acid unless you’re composting crates and crates of tomatoes. The only problem — if it is a problem — is your compost pile springing forth with volunteer tomatoes when weather starts to warm in the spring.

We’ve never much been bothered by volunteer tomato or cucumber or potato plants springing up out of our compost heap. We usually — except, sometimes, for the potatoes — turn the young plants back in with the rest of the decomposing material. Many of today’s tomatoes are hybrids of the sort that don’t breed true on their second go-around. They probably won’t bear fruit no matter how well nourished and watered they are while growing out of your compost.

But even recycling the fruit can be risky. I wouldn’t risk throwing tomatoes that show sings of anthracnose, those dark, wet spots the turn up on fruits and can grow up to a half-inch around as well as penetrating into the tomato’s flesh. I wouldn’t want to risk introducing the fungus that causes it to compost that will later be spread around the garden.

That’s the deciding factor as far as I’m concerned: risk. Anything that might introduce disease or pests into my compost pile (and then into my garden) goes into the trash. It’s argued that compost piles that get hot enough will destroy all pests, diseases and other pathogens as well as seeds. My heaps, no matter how much I turn them rarely do.

Sure, if you live in an area that allows open burning (my guess is most of us do not), do that to your diseased plants at the end of the year. Otherwise, don’t take the risk. Put them in the trash.

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We frequently make the argument that composting reduces our contribution to local landfills. So to throw some plants out with the trash seems a bit hypocritical. On the other hand, if we do spread disease into our compost and then into our gardens, we end up with even more plants that should go into the landfill.

Nothing is simple. Some plant disease, like curly top virus which twist leaves out of shape and makes plants take on a yellow hue, break down quickly in compost, hot or not, or so we’re told (the disease is most often transmitted by whiteflies and other insects). Odds are, if you’re in an area that suffers from curly top, you’re going to get it no matter what is in your compost.

Then again, what if it’s not curly top but some other, more durable virus?

So the answer is no, generally we don’t compost our tomatoes, unless they’ve been extremely healthy (we just put up with the vines). Conditions have to be right. It seems that most gardeners will make the decision for themselves, depending on their growing conditions and personal risk aversion.

Here’s what Helpful Gardener, a friendly gardening forum, has to say about the subject. What’s your practice — and why — when it comes to tomatoes in the compost pile? Tell us here or over on our Facebook page. When it comes to compost, how safe do we have to play it?

With the first frost quickly approaching, it’s hard not to worry about how much longer we will have fresh tomatoes in the garden. In just a few short weeks we will be waking up to frost on the grass and dead tomato plants.

But before everything dies, there is one thing you can do to fix that problem. Something that will make it possible for you to enjoy fresh garden tomatoes through the winter too. You can move your favorite tomato plant inside before it freezes.

Now let me tell you, transplanting a full grown tomato plant is next to impossible …. which is why we will NOT be doing that. Besides, who can fit an 8 foot tall tomato plant in their living room? Not me that’s for sure! Actually, now that I think of it, maybe we could use it as our Christmas tree …… hmmmm.

But no, transplanting a full grown tomato plant is not a good idea. It’s chances of survival are very small. So rather than transplanting your favorite tomato, we will be taking a cutting from it. Cuttings have a very good chance of survival, they will produce tomatoes quicker, and starting with a small plant allows you to keep it compact enough to be inside.

First, you will want to pick the tomato plant that you want to move indoors.

There are some rules … or at least things to consider, before choosing which one. Although I would LOVE to grow my black krim cherry tomato inside all winter, it’s not a good idea. That particular tomato is by far the largest plant that I grow. It towers over 8 feet tall easily and sprawls out all over the place. Now imagine keeping that plant compact and happy at the same time …. not going to happen. Choose one of your smaller plants to move indoors. Although determinate varieties stay smaller, you may still want an indeterminate variety. Determinate tomatoes will produce all of their tomatoes at once. If you want your plant to produce throughout the winter instead of all at once, you will want to choose an indeterminate variety.

Once you have your tomato plant chosen, you are going to take your cutting. Find a sucker (the shoots that grow in between two other branches) 6 inches to 1 foot tall. Inspect it to make sure it has no disease on it. Then hold it gently and simply snip it off near the base. I suggest taking three or four cuttings in case they don’t all root.

Place them all in a glass of water. You will want the water to go up several inches, almost to the base of the leaves.

Leave it in a place you won’t forget about it. I don’t even put mine in the sun during this time and they do just fine. After a week or two you will see white roots coming out of the stem. Once they start, they grow quickly. Some tomato plants root slower than others. One of mine took nearly four weeks to root, so don’t give up on them for awhile. I can’t find my picture of the roots, when I do I will put it on here.

When your tomato plant has roots, it’s ready to be planted into your container of choice. Make sure your container has good drainage or your tomatoes will not do well. You will probably have to put it on a pan or something to catch the drainage water. Choose a larger container because tomato roots grow big and like plenty of room. Fill your pot with potting soil and plant your new little tomato being sure to bury all of the roots. Give it a nice big drink, and find it a sunny window to sit in front of. It needs sunlight, but it will also get pretty big, so finding a suitable spot for it might be a little difficult. Mine will probably have to go in the middle of my bathroom floor this year. I suppose it might be fun to get out of the shower and grab a tomato for breakfast on my way out!

The last thing you need to do is stick one of those pathetic wimpy store bought cages around it. Yes, they do have a use after all. You need something to hold your tomato plant up, but you also need a reference for where to prune it. You can prune tomato plants and keep them a reasonable size to be inside. Try to keep the pruning to a minimum, which is why you chose a smaller plant remember? But whenever a branch starts to grow way out of your support cage, you can prune it off a little bit to keep it in check. Don’t cut it off at the base, just cut the branch back a few inches to get it to stop growing in that direction. The plant will put its energy into a different branch and, more importantly, growing tomatoes. While I don’t prune my outdoor tomatoes because I prefer to let the plant get as large as it can, I do prune mine when they are being grown indoors. Different situations call for different methods. Maybe you prune yours outside, or maybe you choose not to prune yours indoors. It’s perfectly fine to do any of those options, just know that pruning tomatoes or not pruning tomatoes will not kill your plant.

Now you can happily pick tomatoes through the winter as well as the summer. In fact, in the spring you could simply take another cutting from your indoor tomato plant to move it back outside.

If you are a tomato lover like I am, be sure to check out my other posts about this wonderful garden treasure!

3 things you need to know about growing tomatoes that nobody ever tells you

How to guarantee you will have the first ripe tomatoes on the block

2 things everyone says to do to your tomatoes that you need to stop doing right now

Or watch this video to learn how to plant a low maintenance weed free tomato patch.

Subscribe now to The Real Farmhouse and get my free Tomato Freaks Guide to Choosing, Growing, and Selling High End Tomatoes. 8 days full of tomato growing information that will turn you into a tomato growing expert!

Now one last thing… If you are serious about your tomatoes, you need to know this. Tomatofest.com has the largest and most impressive selection of organic and heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen. They have over 600 beautiful, unique, and rare varieties of all different colors, sizes, shapes, and flavors. In fact, this year I am trying out a blue tomato for the first time. Yes, blue! You can’t believe some of the stuff they have until you see it with your own eyes. to visit this incredible organic and heirloom tomato seed supplier that is run by a couple who harvest their own seeds. If you aren’t buying your seeds through these guys, you are truly missing out on some great tomatoes.

Enjoy your winter tomatoes!

~Farmer’s Wife

How Long Do Tomato Plants Live? – What You Need to Know

It’s never easy to watch your vegetable garden decline as the days shorten and the temperatures drop. And everyone’s favorite, the tomato, is one of the first to fall victim to the killing frosts of autumn and winter.

So how long can a tomato plant actually live and produce the luscious fruit we all love so much?

The short answer is that your tomato plants will not live forever, however, their life-span is directly impacted by your region, pests and of course your own tender loving care. Let’s look a a tomatoes life expectancy in more detail.

Perennial or Annual?

Tomatoes are usually classified as tender perennials, although for most gardeners they are grown as annuals, started each spring from seed and allowed to die back in fall when the first hard frosts hit the garden.

In their native habitat in the tropical regions of South America, an indeterminate tomato plant- one that can grow indefinitely as a sprawling vine, rather than forming a small bush with a defined final size- could theoretically keep growing for several years.

There is one variety of perennial tomato that is known as the Tamarillo Tomato Tree, or Cyphomandra betacea Sendt, which is native to the Andes and grown today in places such as Costa Rica and Haiti, as well as in India and Australia.

It’s not quite the same as the classic tomato that we usually grow, having a resinous taste and smell. Seeds of the Tamarillo Tree Tomato can be purchased through Amazon.

Another type of tomato tree has been developed by Chinese scientists, the Giant Tree Tomato, or Lycopersicon Esculentum, that takes up to a year and a half to reach its full size and can produce up to 14,000 tomatoes! One at Epcot Center at Walt Disney World produced 32,000 tomatoes in one year.

Seeds for the giant tree tomato can be bought here if you want to try this unique variety yourself!

Extending Your Tomato’s Life

In the garden, tomato plants usually run out of steam, especially as fall approaches, but it is possible to either get some tomatoes inside during the winter, or just get a head start on the next year’s season by suckering your favorite varieties before they fall victim to frost.

The standard tomato varieties that we grow in our home gardens tend to grow to their full size, flower, bear fruit, and then decline and die when the days get colder. However, you may have grown a variety that you liked so much that you want to keep it alive!

You can do that even without digging up and potting the whole plant, which, let’s face it, is probably pretty straggly by the time September comes around. Instead, you can clone that plant by taking suckers and rooting them, as this video demonstrates.

Propagating from Suckers

Every responsible tomato gardener knows that suckering your tomato plants is a great way to improve yields. This is an ongoing maintenance task from when the small plants are first set out after the last frost in spring.

Suckers are the shoots that grow out of the crotches of the branches of your growing tomato plant, and can sap the energy of the plant that is better focused on setting and growing fruit. If they are allowed to grow, you can end up with a monster of a plant without a demonstrably higher yield.

Most of the time, we just toss the suckers onto the compost heap after snapping them off, but later in the year it’s worth taking a second look at them. They can be the way to a whole new life for your tomato plants!

If you take a few of those suckers and root them in water, or in grow plugs, you will end with vigorous new plants ready to start the whole tomato cycle all over again! It can help to use some rooting hormone to get things started, but even without it, tomato suckers are pretty enthusiastic about putting out fresh roots, usually within a few days.

Plant them in fresh potting soil and bring them in to a greenhouse or a sunny window inside. They may well flower while inside, and you can set fruit by hand-pollinating.

Even if you can’t grow fruit inside and the plants get too leggy by mid-winter, just take fresh suckers, discard the first generation of clones, and keep the process going until planting weather arrives again!

Keeping Tomatoes Growing in the South

The real problem with extending the life of tomato plants where the winters are warm is the extreme heat of the summer months. Once you’ve got the plants through the hot, dry summer, there are techniques to get a second year of tomatoes from the same plant.

Northern gardeners might find it hard to believe, but in places like Florida and Texas, tomato lovers are well advised to provide some shade for their plants in July and August. Too much sun can kill them.

They also need to be kept watered if there’s not enough rain, as they can wilt and die in hot, dry soil. The other risk is too high a humidity, which will foster diseases that can wipe out your entire crop.

However, once they’ve made it through the summer, it’s possible to see a second year of growth, even if it’s too cool for winter crops. As long as there is not frost to kill off the roots, you can cut your tomato plants back to the ground and there should be regrowth as things warm up in the spring!

Can Your Tomatoes Live Forever?

Let’s face it- the chances of a Bush Beefsteak tomato plant living forever are very low.
However, if you’re willing to grow a different variety, given the right climate or a big enough greenhouse, you could have a Tomato Tree which produces fruit for several years.

You could also clone that perfect Bush Beefsteak by taking suckers and rooting them for over-wintering before planting out again in the spring.

And if you’re lucky enough to live in the sunny south, with enough care in the hot summer months, you could easily get a second year of those Beefsteak tomatoes before you need to replace the plants!

Have you had any success with long-lived tomato plants? Please let us know in the comments below!

For Further Reading:

  • How to Move Your Favorite Tomato Plant Indoors for the Winter
  • How to Root Tomato Suckers
  • Tree Tomato Cyphomandra betacea Sendt
  • University of Florida Gardening Solutions

What’s the difference between annual, biennial, and perennial plants?

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