This day always comes: It’s early September and green tomatoes abound.
So much green fruit, heavy on the vines.
This fruit would most likely not ripen before frost.
With a little foresight and a bit of effort, you’ll ripen more tomatoes than you otherwise might. Photo credit: Markus Spiske
I’m honored to share our strategies to encourage our tomatoes to ripen at the end of the season, how to enjoy your green tomatoes in the kitchen as well as set you up for success for next season.
Ripening Tomatoes on the Vine
Give them a trim!
With scissors, garden shears or large pruners, trim your vines all the way back to the green fruit. Six weeks before first frost is your optimum window to maximize your harvest. Suddenly, your plants will:
- focus their energy on ripening fruit rather than continuing to blossom
- invite more light into depths of the plant helping fruit ripen, as well as
- experience greater airflow, which discourages the spread of disease.
Trimming your tomato foliage is the single best thing you can do to ripen more tomatoes this season.
Scissors, garden shears and large pruners are all great tools to trim your tomatoes.
When to Stop Feeding Your Tomato Plants
As a general rule, resist feeding your plants any additional nutrients (like compost tea or fish emulsion) once they begin to senesce, or die back. This is true for many plants in many seasons. For example, when your snap peas begin to yellow and die back in late June, stop feeding them. Once your tomatoes begin to yellow and die back, stop feeding them. We pre-emptively stop feeding our tomatoes in late August. You can also cut back or entirely stop watering your plants as they begin to senesce, as well.
Here in the Finger Lakes of New York, in Zone 5, we stop feeding our tomatoes by late August. Photo credit: Markus Spiske
Ripening Tomatoes Off the Vine
Much of a tomato’s flavor is acquired in the final days of ripening, so only ripen tomatoes off the vine as an absolute last resort.
If you have more than a few dozen fruit or a handful of plants, cut your tomato stems at their base and hang them in a warm (over 60 F is best) place out of direct sunlight. Your garage or basement may be perfect! They’ll continue to ripen and become more flavorful for being left on the vine.
If you’re ripening a red variety, expect your pink fruits to turn red and your green fruits to turn more pink-red. For varieties with other colors, expect similar color saturations for relative ripeness.
If you’re ripening a red variety, expect your pink fruits to turn red and your green fruits to turn a lighter pink-red.
Ripen Tomatoes Out of Direct Sunlight
It’s counter-intuitive, but YES!
Tomatoes ripen from the inside out, even off the vine. If your tomatoes are exposed to direct sunlight, they will turn red quicker, but their core and overall flavor won’t have the same richness. Ripen your green tomatoes in the darkest space that still is easy for you to manage.
Will All Green Tomatoes Ripen?
Many tomatoes will ripen to a great extent. The youngest, most dense fruits will ripen least.
And Friends, I find some varieties are more worthwhile than others to ripen.
For example, I tend to focus on ripening our green slicers and roma-style tomatoes, while turning the green cherries into the compost. I find their flavor and texture more satisfying, especially for the time invested in trying to ripen them.
There are actually varieties that have been selected to ripen well when picked green. I haven’t explored these much. If you do, please let me know what you learn!
I tend to turn the cherries into the compost, focusing on ripening the slicers and romas instead. Photo credit: Dan Gold
Ripening Green Tomatoes In a Brown Paper Bag
If you have a few dozen green tomatoes or less, consider ripening them in a brown paper bag. Adding an apple to each bag will release ethylene, a naturally occurring gas that encourages ripening in many fruits, including tomatoes. Be forewarned: ethylene will help green tomatoes turn soft and red, but it does not develop sugars. So yes, you’ll have ‘fresh’ tomatoes for weeks if not months after frost, but don’t expect the same vine-ripened sweetness of homegrown tomatoes. That being said, they’ll be magnitudes more delicious than most tomatoes in a grocery store.
Pruning Peppers and Other Plants to Increase Abundance
Many fruiting crops can be coaxed into focusing on ripening fruit in fall. Six weeks before last frost is your optimum window to maximize your harvest.
Prune back your tomatillos and ground cherries as you would tomatoes, removing branches and leaves as well as flowers.
Peppers and eggplants need all the leaves they have to ripen their fruit, so leave your garden shears in the shed. Simply pluck off their flowers and voila! You’ll likely harvest much more fruit as a result.
If you notice winter squash still producing little green fruit, harvest their young, tender fruits and enjoy them as zucchini.
Six weeks before frost, pluck your pepper and eggplant flowers to help ripen more fruit, leaving their leaves to photosynthesize more sugars. Photo credit: Martin Adams
When Life Gives You Green Tomatoes…
Make fried green tomatoes!
My dear friend Leah makes fried green tomatoes for breakfast all summer long. She simply cannot wait to enjoy them after frost, when most people finally make them. I confess I resisted until she made fresh garlic aoili to dip them in!
I’ve also relished green tomato mincemeat and sumptuous chutneys that will help you forget that you miss your red, soft tomatoes.
Fried green tomatoes with garlic aioli is an ideal way to celebrate, the end of tomato season. Photo credit: Monika Grabkowska
Cleaning Up Your Tomatoes for Next Season
Oh, Friends. This is perhaps the hardest part of growing tomatoes: Admitting the end has come. Cleaning up well is just as important as caring for your seedlings. I beg you, take the time. Your efforts will be rewarded with the ease and lack of disease in your gardens to come.
To button up your tomatoes for the season:
- Pull up all your tomato plants, including as much of the roots as are easily pulled.
- If your plants are not diseased, feel free to turn them into your compost. Ideally, chop the large stems a bit to help them decompose quicker.
- If your plants are diseased, wrangle them into large plastic bags and, as much as I cringe to say, send them to the landfill. If you’re not sure, err on the side sending them off. The last thing you want to do is inoculate your tomatoes next season. Here is more about identifying and managing tomato disease organically.
- Pull up your stakes, removing any twine you used for trellising. Rinse them with water (using the jet setting on your hose sprayer is the dream) and then give them a quick rinse/spray of dilute white vinegar. If we have a lot of disease on our tomatoes, we dunk our stakes in a dilute bleach solution.
One final note:
Each season I learn things I wish I had known days, months and often years ago. My hope in sharing it all with you is to save you time, heartache and money as you grow the garden of your dreams.
Ask questions. Look for patterns. Laugh as you learn! And know you are not alone.
Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,
& the whole Fruition crew
What are your favorite strategies for ripening tomatoes and enjoying your green tomatoes? I’d love to know!
10 thoughts on “How to Ripen Green Tomatoes in September”
Y’all are great! I have learned so much and so enjoy all your hard work for our gardening benefit. Thank you, thank you!
P.S. For some reason correspondence has decided I am a Mr. Not! Please don’t call me Mr. Mitzy Bricker
Thank YOU for being why we do what we do! Oh no! So sorry that you were given a Mr. Tilte! I will look into that in your account!
Don’t hesitate to reach out anytime and have a wonderful end to the season.- Heather & The Fruition Crew
Thank you very much Petra! Great article, I learned a lot and will apply it to my garden next year!
YAhooOOO! So glad that you enjoyed the blog Don’t hesitate to reach out and enjoy the end to the season!- Heather & The Fruition Crew
Hi- to ripen my romas I put them in a colander, cover with a thin towel, and place them on my kitchen counter where it’s warm and they receive my attention. Some will redden faster than others so I pull them out as they ripen. The holes in the colander allow for air circulation and this discourages a hidden spoiler at the bottom!
AMAZZZINNNGGG Stephanie! Thanks for sharing, I am sure this trick will help many other gardeners. Have a wonderful end to the season and don’t be shy :)-Heather & The Fruition Team
Love this! I’ll be trimming a TON this afternoon! Thank you!
I tend to leave the growth on my tomatoes as the buzzy activity remains high. I harvest what is left when the last frost comes and ripen what I can and make chutney with the rest. I have good populations of solitary bees so I leave them as much as I can. I also do the same with squash vines as the bees just love those big yellow flowers.
wow – I did this yesterday for exactly these reasons, cut off all the leave and topped them. But did the peppers too cause the leaves are very diseased this year.
I am a cherry tomato lover so i save as many as i can (can search for recipe) – freeze in small batches with seal n saver for cherry tomato pasta – fantastic – discovered last year –
planted too many beefsteak this year and so been picking partially red to try to stop the cracking, ripening them in a basket with paper over the top to keep the gasses in to ripen. Been good – and giving lots away
Shared wisdom is a beautiful thing. Thank you for being part of the Fruition family Cassi! -Sylvia and the rest of the Fruition Crew