overwinter tomato plants

How To Overwinter Tomato Plants with Ease

Tomato plants are native to tropical climates and can live for many years. In cold climates, they do not survive winter outdoors because they are not frost-tolerant. However, with some effort, tomato plants can be overwintered and kept alive from year to year. There are four methods you can use to overwinter tomato plants, including keeping them indoors, storing them as bare-root plants, using a greenhouse, or rooting cuttings.

Key Takeaways About Overwintering Tomatoes:

  • Tomato plants are not frost-tolerant and cannot survive winter outdoors in cold climates.
  • Overwintering tomato plants involves keeping them indoors, storing them as bare-root, using a greenhouse, or rooting cuttings.
  • Timing is crucial for overwintering tomato plants, with preparations starting about four weeks before the first expected fall frost.
  • Before overwintering, tomato plants need to be well-watered, free of pests and diseases, and transplanted into pots with new soil if necessary.
  • Transitioning overwintered tomato plants back outdoors should be done gradually to avoid shock.

Can Tomato Plants Survive Winter?

Tomato plants are not frost-tolerant and cannot survive winter outdoors in cold climates. However, in their native tropical growing range, tomato plants are perennials and can live for many years. In colder regions, most gardeners treat tomatoes as annuals, planting them in the spring, harvesting during the growing season, and composting the plants once they are killed by freezing temperatures. But with the right techniques, it is possible to overwinter tomato plants and keep them alive.

While tomato plants cannot survive on their own during winter, they can be protected and successfully overwintered. The key is to provide them with the necessary care and conditions to survive the cold months. By taking proactive measures and using methods such as indoor overwintering, greenhouse cultivation, stem cuttings, or storing them as bare-root plants, you can help tomato plants endure winter and ensure their survival.

Frost-Tolerant Tomato Cultivars

Although most tomato varieties are not frost-tolerant, there are some cultivars specifically bred for colder climates that have improved cold tolerance. These frost-tolerant tomato plants are more likely to survive light frosts without significant damage. If you live in an area with mild winters or have late frost dates, consider growing these cultivars to increase your chances of overwintering tomato plants successfully.

Frost-Tolerant Tomato Cultivars Description
Arctic Boy A determinate variety that produces small-sized fruits and can tolerate temperatures as low as 28°F (-2°C).
Siberian An early-maturing variety with medium-sized fruits that can tolerate light frosts and cooler temperatures.
Oregon Spring A compact, early-maturing variety that can tolerate lower temperatures compared to most other tomato varieties.

By selecting frost-tolerant tomato cultivars and implementing suitable overwintering techniques, you can increase the chances of your tomato plants surviving the winter and thriving for years to come.

Timing is Key for Overwintering Tomato Plants

When it comes to overwintering tomato plants, timing plays a crucial role in ensuring their successful transition to the colder months. It is recommended to start focusing on overwintering about four weeks before the first expected fall frost. This timeframe allows you enough time to prepare the plants and choose the appropriate overwintering method, maximizing your chances of success.

Waiting too long to begin your overwintering efforts can significantly reduce your chances of keeping your tomato plants alive through the winter. Starting around mid to late September, in most regions, is an ideal time to begin planning and implementing your overwintering strategy.

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By starting early, you can carefully evaluate the health and condition of your tomato plants, making any necessary adjustments before the onset of colder temperatures. You’ll also have ample time to gather the materials and resources you’ll need for the overwintering process, ensuring a smooth transition for your plants.

Factors to Consider for Overwintering Timing:

  • Local climate and average frost dates
  • Tomato plant variety and growth stage
  • Preparation time required for chosen overwintering method

By taking all these factors into account and starting your overwintering efforts with the right timing, you can give your tomato plants the best chance of survival and thriving throughout the winter months.

Preparing Tomato Plants for Overwintering

When it comes to preparing tomato plants for the winter season, there are a few important steps to follow. By taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that your tomato plants have the best chance of surviving and thriving when the cold weather hits. Here are the key steps to prepare tomato plants for overwintering:

  1. Watering: In the weeks leading up to transitioning your tomato plants, it’s crucial to keep them well-watered. This will help to ensure that they are adequately hydrated and can withstand the stress of the transition.
  2. Disease and Pest Control: Before overwintering your tomato plants, it’s essential to remove any diseased leaves or pests. This will help to prevent the spread of diseases and keep your plants healthy during the winter months.
  3. Transplanting: If your tomato plants are currently in the ground or raised beds, they will need to be dug up and transplanted into pots with fresh, sterile potting soil. This step is necessary to provide the plants with a controlled environment and prevent them from being exposed to harsh winter conditions.

If your tomato plants are already in pots, you can skip the transplanting step and move on to the next phase of overwintering preparation. Remember to choose a suitable location for your overwintered tomato plants, such as a cool but frost-free area like a basement or garage.

Table: Steps to Prepare Tomato Plants for Overwintering

Step Description
1 Watering
2 Disease and Pest Control
3 Transplanting

By following these steps, you can ensure that your tomato plants are well-prepared for the winter season. Taking the time to properly prepare your plants will increase their chances of surviving the cold and thriving once spring arrives. With a little extra care and attention, you can enjoy the beauty and bounty of your tomato plants year after year.

preparing tomato plants for winter

Method 1: Overwintering Tomato Plants Indoors

One method to overwinter tomato plants is to bring them indoors for the winter. This is best suited for determinate tomato plants, dwarf varieties, micro dwarf types, or those that can be kept compact through pruning. growing tomato plants indoors may not result in fruit production if they do not receive enough light. It is essential to provide adequate sunlight or use grow lights to supplement the light requirements. Transition the plants back outdoors gradually when spring arrives.

Benefits of Overwintering Tomato Plants Indoors

  • Protection from extreme cold temperatures
  • Continued growth and potential fruit production
  • Preserving favorite or unique tomato plant varieties
  • Control over growing conditions
Indoor Overwintering Requirements Key Considerations
Light Tomato plants require at least 8-12 hours of light per day, so supplement with grow lights if needed.
Temperature Maintain indoor temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C) for optimal growth.
Humidity Tomato plants prefer higher humidity levels, so use a humidifier or mist the leaves regularly.
Pests and Disease Inspect plants regularly for signs of pests or disease and take appropriate measures for control.
Pruning Keep the plants compact and manageable by pruning as necessary.

Overwintering tomato plants indoors requires careful attention to their light, temperature, humidity, and overall health. By meeting their specific needs, you can successfully keep your tomato plants alive and thriving during the winter months.

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Method 2: Overwintering Tomato Plants in a Greenhouse

Overwintering tomato plants in a greenhouse is an effective method to protect them from harsh winter conditions while providing the necessary warmth and sunlight. A greenhouse creates a controlled environment, allowing the plants to thrive even in colder climates. The consistent temperature and protection from frost ensure that the tomato plants can continue to grow and potentially produce fruit during the winter months.

One of the main advantages of using a greenhouse for overwintering tomato plants is the ability to provide ample sunlight. While natural light may be limited during winter, a greenhouse can be equipped with supplemental grow lights to ensure the plants receive the necessary light for photosynthesis. This is crucial for flower and fruit production, as tomatoes require a certain level of light intensity to thrive.

Additionally, a greenhouse provides protection from pests and diseases, reducing the chances of infestations or infections that can harm the plants. With proper ventilation and monitoring, you can create an optimal environment for the tomato plants, minimizing the risks associated with outdoor cultivation.

In terms of maintenance, it’s important to stake or support the tomato vines in a greenhouse due to lower light levels. This helps maintain their structure and prevents them from becoming tangled or sprawling. Regularly check the plants for any signs of nutrient deficiencies and supplement as needed to ensure healthy growth. While heating a greenhouse can be costly, it offers an ideal environment for overwintering tomato plants and can yield successful results.

overwinter tomato plants in greenhouse

Pros Cons
Protection from harsh winter conditions Costly to heat the greenhouse
Ample sunlight with supplemental grow lights Requires regular maintenance and monitoring
Enhanced protection against pests and diseases Can result in higher energy consumption
Optimal environment for overwintering tomato plants

Method 3: Overwintering Tomato Plants as Stem Cuttings

If you want to overwinter your tomato plants in a simple and efficient way, rooting stem cuttings is a great method to consider. It allows you to easily store and multiply your tomato plants for the next growing season. Here’s how you can do it:

Taking Stem Cuttings

  1. Before the first frost, cut 3-5 inch stem pieces from your healthy tomato plants. Choose stems that are disease-free and have several sets of leaves.
  2. Remove the lower leaves from the stem cuttings, leaving only a couple of leaves at the top.
  3. Place the cut ends of the stem cuttings in a container filled with water. Make sure the cut ends are fully submerged.
  4. Put the container on a sunny windowsill or in a well-lit area, where the stem cuttings can receive adequate sunlight.

Rooting the Cuttings

Within a few weeks, the stem cuttings will develop roots. It’s important to regularly maintain and care for them:

  • Rinse the roots of the cuttings every few days to prevent algae or bacterial growth.
  • Once the roots have developed, you can either plant the cuttings directly into pots with well-draining soil or continue growing them in water.
  • To create more tomato plants, you can take new cuttings from the original ones and follow the same rooting process.
  • Make sure to keep the water level in the container adequate, ensuring the cut ends of the stem cuttings are always submerged.
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This method of overwintering tomato plants as stem cuttings is not only effective but also allows you to propagate multiple plants from a single parent plant. It’s a cost-effective way to continue growing your favorite tomato varieties year after year.

Method 4: Storing Tomato Plants as Bare-Root

Storing tomato plants as bare-root is an effective method for overwintering and preserving the plants in a dormant state. This approach involves uprooting the plants, removing excess soil from the roots, and storing them in a cool, dark location. By following the proper steps, you can successfully store your tomato plants and ensure their survival until spring.

To store tomato plants as bare-root, start by gently uprooting them from the ground or pots. Shake off any loose soil and remove any damaged or diseased parts. Next, trim the foliage to about six inches, leaving a small portion of the stem intact.

Once the plants are prepared, find a suitable storage location such as a basement or garage. The temperature should be cool, ideally around 50°F (10°C), and the area should be dark to prevent any unwanted growth. Place the bare-root plants in containers or boxes, and make sure they are not crowded together. Inspect the plants regularly for signs of rot or decay, and remove any affected ones immediately.

Steps to Store Tomato Plants as Bare-Root
Carefully uproot the tomato plants
Remove excess soil and trim the foliage
Choose a cool, dark storage location
Inspect the plants regularly for signs of rot or decay
Transplant the dormant plants back into the garden or pots in spring

When spring arrives, it’s time to transplant the stored tomato plants back into the garden or pots. Be mindful of the weather and soil conditions before making the move. Gradually reintroduce the plants to outdoor conditions by placing them outside for short periods initially. Increase the exposure time gradually over a period of two weeks to allow the plants to acclimate to the new environment.

Properly stored dormant tomato plants can resume growth and continue to thrive in the upcoming growing season. This method is a great option for gardeners who want to preserve their favorite tomato varieties and ensure a successful harvest year after year.

Transitioning Overwintered Tomato Plants Outdoors

After successfully overwintering tomato plants using one of the four methods mentioned earlier, it’s time to transition them back outdoors when the weather is suitable. Gradual transitioning is important to help the plants adjust to the new environment and prevent shock.

Transitioning Process

  1. Start by exposing the overwintered tomato plants to outdoor conditions for short periods, such as a few hours a day. Choose a mild day with temperatures around 60-70°F.
  2. Gradually increase the time the plants spend outdoors over a period of two weeks, allowing them to acclimate to the natural sunlight and fluctuating temperatures.
  3. During this transition period, it’s recommended to trim the plants to about half their height. This helps to reduce stress on the plants and encourages new growth.
  4. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and protect the plants from any late frost or extremely cold nights by covering them with frost blankets or bringing them indoors temporarily.
  5. Resume regular watering and fertilizing once the plants are fully transitioned outdoors. Provide adequate water to keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering.
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This gradual transitioning process allows the overwintered tomato plants to gradually adapt to the outdoor conditions, ensuring a successful transition and giving them a head start for the upcoming growing season.

Avoiding Plant Stress

Transitioning overwintered tomato plants directly from an indoor or protected environment to the harsh outdoor conditions can lead to plant stress, which may affect their growth and productivity. By following the gradual transition process, you can minimize the risk of stress and give your plants the best chance for success.

Tomato Plants as Perennials and Volunteer Plants

Did you know that tomato plants are technically perennials? While they are commonly grown as annuals in most regions, tomato plants have the potential to regrow from seeds that fall to the ground and sprout in the following spring, creating volunteer plants. These volunteer plants may not produce fruits identical to the parent plant, especially for hybrid varieties, but they can be a fun way to grow unique varieties or continue the lineage of a favorite plant.

Volunteer tomato plants can be a pleasant surprise in your garden, adding a touch of diversity and excitement to your growing season. They can pop up in unexpected places, but if you’re willing to embrace their spontaneity, they can bring a sense of adventure to your gardening experience. Keep in mind that volunteer plants may need some care and attention to thrive, as they may face competition from other plants and may require additional watering and nutrient supplementation.

So, what can you do with these green tomato volunteers? Well, you have a few options. First, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can transplant them to a more suitable location in your garden. This allows you to continue the growth of these surprise tomato plants and observe their unique characteristics. Alternatively, you can also choose to leave them where they sprouted and see how they fare alongside your other plants. It’s always interesting to see how volunteer plants interact with the rest of your garden!

Table: Tomato Plant Varieties and Their Volunteer Traits

Tomato Variety Volunteer Traits
Heirloom Varieties Volunteers often exhibit traits similar to the parent plant
Hybrid Varieties Volunteers may display a range of characteristics from the parent plants and may not produce fruit true to the original
Determinate Varieties Volunteers typically grow as compact, bushy plants
Indeterminate Varieties Volunteers can grow as sprawling vines that require staking or support

Whether you choose to transplant them or leave them in place, volunteer tomato plants can bring unexpected delights to your garden. So embrace these surprise plants and let them add a touch of spontaneity and charm to your growing space!

What to Do with Green Tomatoes in Winter

As the winter approaches, you may find yourself with green tomatoes still hanging on the vine. Instead of letting them go to waste, there are several creative and delicious options for using green tomatoes during the winter months.

A classic choice is to cook with green tomatoes. You can try making fried green tomatoes, a Southern delicacy that is crispy, tangy, and oh-so-satisfying. Another option is to make green tomato relish, which adds a zesty kick to sandwiches, burgers, or even as a condiment for charcuterie platters.

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Alternatively, you can harvest the green tomatoes and bring them indoors to ripen gradually. Store them in a cool, dark place, and check on them regularly. As they ripen, you can enjoy the fresh taste of homegrown tomatoes even during the winter months. Just be sure to give them plenty of air circulation and remove any rotten ones to prevent spoilage.

So, don’t let those green tomatoes go to waste this winter. Get creative in the kitchen or allow them to ripen indoors, and savor the taste of fresh tomatoes all year round.


Can tomato plants survive winter?

Tomato plants cannot survive winter outdoors in cold climates because they are not frost-tolerant.

When is the best time to start overwintering tomato plants?

It is recommended to start focusing on overwintering about four weeks before the first expected fall frost, usually around mid to late September in most regions.

How should I prepare tomato plants for overwintering?

Before transitioning tomato plants for overwintering, keep them well-watered, remove any diseased leaves or pests, and transplant them into pots with new, sterile potting soil if they are currently in the ground or raised beds.

How can I overwinter tomato plants indoors?

To overwinter tomato plants indoors, bring them inside and provide adequate sunlight or use grow lights to supplement the light requirements. Transition the plants back outdoors gradually when spring arrives.

Can I overwinter tomato plants in a greenhouse?

Yes, if you have access to a greenhouse with heating capabilities, you can easily overwinter tomato plants inside. Greenhouses provide controlled temperatures, ventilation, and ample sunlight. Staking or supporting the vines and nutrient supplementation may be required for fruiting.

How do I overwinter tomato plants as stem cuttings?

Take 3-5 inch stem pieces from the plants before the first frost, remove lower leaves, and place the cut ends in a container of water. Place the container on a sunny windowsill. The cuttings will develop roots within a few weeks. Regular maintenance includes rinsing the roots, cutting new cuttings, and keeping the water level adequate.

Can I store tomato plants as bare-root for overwintering?

Yes, you can store tomato plants as bare-root for overwintering. Uproot the plants, remove excess soil from the roots, and store them in a cool, dark location such as a basement or garage. Regularly check the plants for any signs of rot or decay.

How should I transition overwintered tomato plants back outdoors?

Transition overwintered tomato plants outdoors gradually by exposing them to outdoor conditions for short periods, gradually increasing the time over a period of two weeks. Trim the plants to half their height and resume regular watering and fertilizing.

Are tomato plants perennials or annuals?

Tomato plants are technically perennials in their native tropical climates but are mostly grown as annuals in colder regions. They can produce volunteer plants from seeds that fall to the ground and sprout in the following spring.

What can I do with green tomatoes in winter?

Green tomatoes can be used in various ways, such as cooking with them or allowing them to ripen indoors. Recipes like fried green tomatoes or green tomato relish are popular choices. Green tomatoes can also be stored and ripened gradually for later use.

Blair Witkowski
Author: Blair Witkowski

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