Tomatoes not ripening? Here is what to do

Are you starting to wonder why your tomatoes aren’t turning red?

Are wondering what you can do when your tomatoes are not ripening?

Here I set out 5 easy techniques to help you bring your tomato growing efforts to fruition.

You’ve spent all summer carefully nurturing your tomatoes.

You’ve sown the seeds early in Spring, dreaming of eating juicy ripe tomatoes with fresh bread, mozarella and your lovely home grown basil.

You’ve seen them germinate and pricked them out into pots. You’ve grown them on, watered them and potted them on again.

You’ve improved your soil, planted them out in the garden or into a growbag in your greenhouse.

You’ve watered them, weeded them and fed them once they set fruit.

You’ve worried about the brown or purple tinges you might have seen on some of the leaves, googling to see what it might be.

You’ve pinched out the sideshoots, including the ones that appear out of nowhere at about 60cm long that you somehow missed a week or two earlier.

And you’ve watered and fed them some more.

If truth be told, and it a little bit like your plants, you’ve probably got a little bit stressed on those hot days when the plants are wilting and it looks like you’re going to lose them. And you’ve been very relieved when they regain their strength and perk up in the cool of the evening.

And with the plants laden with green fruit, you’ve rejoiced at the first sight of an orange blush on one of the tomatoes, and you’ve checked on its progress every day.

And finally, on a day that it seemed would never arrive, you carefully picked your first tomato.

You hold it carefully in your hands, you feel its warmth and you smell its unique tomato aroma. You carry it triumphantly inside to receive the acclaim that it, and you, deserve.

Then they come thick and fast. There are tomatoes ripening day by day.

It’s tomato salad, tomatoes in your sandwiches and maybe even fresh tomato juice with your vodka.

Until suddenly they are not coming so thick and so fast.

The days are getting shorter, the heat of summer is dissipating and there are a still a lot of lovely green fruit on the plant.

So you start to worry that, with your tomatoes not ripening, a lot of your hard work and effort over the months is going to have gone to waste.

Tomatoes not ripening?

20 minutes 20 minutes.

Take these 5 steps to ripen your green tomatoes

  1. Stop the plant

    First you need to stop the plant putting any more energy into growing, so that all the energy goes into the existing fruit. This means you need to pinch out or cut off the plant at the top growing point, so that it won’t get any bigger. You can see where I have done that in the picture below.

    Also, cut off any flower trusses that have not yet set fruit, or have only tiny fruit, because these will not be able to grow enough in the time that is left in the growing season.Pinched out top of tomato plant

  2. Pinch out side shoots

    Tomatoes are vigorous plant. So despite all your best efforts, side shoots keep coming back. You should have been pinching out side shoots as the plants has developed, but now is the time to keep a keen eye on this and keep pinching them out. This, again, is aimed at making sure the energy goes into ripening the fruit.

    You can see a new side shoot developing in the picture below, even though it is late in the season and I have pinched out shoots from that spot before.
    tomato side shoot

  3. Cut back the foliage

    You need as much light as possible to get to your tomatoes. It is really warmth that ripens the tomatoes, rather than light. But as the strength of the sun weakens in Autumn, it’s best to get as much direct sunlight on to the fruit as you can to maximise the amount of warming they receive.

    Now that you don’t want the plant to grow any bigger, it does not need so many leaves for the photosynthesis that fuels its growth. So, in late August or early September (Northern hemisphere), you can cut off half to two thirds of the plants leaves, making sure especially to take off those leaves that are preventing light and warmth getting to the fruit. Later in September/October, you can take off more or less all the leaves.

    This picture is from early October and you can see that I have removed most of the leaves from these plants now.
    green tomato trusses

  4. Put them in a bag – with a banana

    If all else fails and the tomatoes are not ripening on the plant, you can place the unripe fruit in a paper bag with a banana in a drawer or other dark place. Bizarre as it sounds, this works because the ripe banana gives off ethylene and ethylene promotes ripening in fruit.

    This works best with fruit that are showing signs of starting to ripen (i.e. a hint of orange flesh). Also, check regularly for any signs of rotting and remove any fruit that are starting to rot.

  5. Hang the plant upside down

    One final method (an alternative to the banana in the bag trick) is to pull up the plant and hang it upside down somewhere warm dry and away from frost (e.g. a garage). You probably won’t get all the fruit to ripen, but in this way you can harvest a few final fruits of your labours.

So there you have it. Don’t let all your efforts go to waste. Try these techniques for ripening your tomatoes.

And if you’ve got any other tips, let us know in the comments.

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