Ready for red? Tips to ripen green tomatoes

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green tomatoes on vine
Ivory Harlow photo

Nothing says summer like ripe juicy tomatoes. When plants hang heavy with green fruit but you are restless for red, try these tips to speed up the ripening process:

Tip #1: Prune plants

There are two main types of tomato plants. Determinate plants grow to a point, and then flower, fruit and die. Indeterminate plants produce fruit continually until frost.
Pruning plants speeds up ripening by redirecting energy from foliage growth to fruit development.

How to prune tomato plants:

• Remove suckers
• Clip leaflets below the first flower cluster
• Trim too-tall plants to prevent toppling over
• Prune to improve air circulation
• Remove dead foliage
• Cut back brush to improve light infiltration
• Remove some green fruit to encourage remaining fruit to turn red. Put green tomatoes to good use with this recipe for Fried Green Tomato Biscuits or just fried green tomatoes.

Tip #2: Ideal temperature

Tomatoes develop best color, flavor and texture at an average temperature of 75 degrees F. Lower temperatures deter fruit from ripening. Higher temperatures turn tomatoes yellow.

Create artificial ideal temperate conditions to speed up ripening. Cover tomato plants with row covers on cool nights to increase temperature. To beat the heat, ripen green tomatoes indoors.

Tip #3: Fertilize

All plants require nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) to grow. Nitrogen aids foliage growth. Lush vegetation and few fruits may indicate too much nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium promote flowering and fruit development.

Depending on soil nutrient levels, you may need to fertilize 2-3 times throughout the season. Conventional and organic fertilizers are available at your local garden center. Fertilizers formulated specifically for tomato production are good, but any well-balanced fertilizer will do. Always follow directions as described on the product label.

Homemade compost is my favorite way to feed plants. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, gardeners can’t overfeed with organic matter. Compost never burns plants or damages soil.

Tip #4: Water

Ensure plants have adequate water to support growth and fruit development. Like most plants in the garden, tomatoes need 1” inch of water each week. Tomatoes grown in containers and raised beds have higher water needs.

The best time to water is early morning. Water once a week, at a depth of 8”- 10” inches to saturate soil.

Tip #5: Plant support

Plant support guards against breakage, preventing energy loss to healing. Plants held off the ground are less likely to become diseased. Stakes and cages provide adequate support to keep plants healthy and productive.

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