Tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, are an amazing crop species that is loved by many for their plentiful harvests of nutritional fruit that is truly one of the most versatile culinary assets of all time. But their long growing season and confusing growth classification make the tomato plant truly difficult to master.
Many experienced gardeners still wonder how long tomato plants live, or how do I extend the life of my tomato plant. This article provides a look into why tomato plants aren’t as straightforward as we once perceived.
How Long Do Tomato Plants Live
Tomatoes are classified as perennials in their native tropical habitat and have a growth cycle that lasts for 2 years. So, if left to grow in the right conditions, tomato plants could survive for several seasons.
Although, the tomato plant would not flower and produce fruit during that entire period because those stages are still triggered by environmental factors such as the length of the day, the intensity of the light source, and the temperature of the growing environment.
In most regions of the world tomato plants are treated as annuals because their cold-intolerant characteristics make them die back once the first frost arrives. If the tomato plants were started within 4 to 6 weeks before the area’s last frost, then the plants would have a chance of living for 4 to 6 months. At this point, the tomato plant would senesce (deteriorate with age) due to cold temperatures and lack of adequate sunlight.
Tomato Plant Growth Cycle
The tomato plant has a long growing cycle, which is why in colder climates it is very important to start tomato plants indoors. Depending on the tomato variety, it takes at least 60 days and up to 100 days before they are ready to be harvested.
Tomato seed germination will take between 5 to 10 days in warm, moist conditions. Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your area’s last frost. Place a few seeds no more than ¼ inch deep into a seed-starting potting mix. Keep the seedling under a grow light, use a heating pad, and keep the room temperature near 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Small cotyledons should be up to an inch tall within a week.
Harden should occur during the week before transplanting outdoors by bringing them outside for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their time spent outdoors. They will be ready for transplanting once the tomato seedlings have developed at least 6 to 8 leaves and are around 1 foot tall, which is usually within 4 to 6 weeks.
During the vegetative growth stage, tomato plants will grow rapidly and stretch toward the sun. Many varieties will reach 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide within a month in ideal conditions. Once the plants near the end of the vegetative stage, they stop focusing on rapid growth and begin preparing for flowering.
Adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer during this stage is helpful to the plant as it prepares to enter the fruiting stage. Yellow and white flowers grow in cymes on numerous shoots with centrifugal timing, meaning 1 to 3 flower buds will open each day. This makes both flowers and fruit abundantly available on a single branch throughout the season.
Tomato plants typically take 60 – 100 days to begin producing fruit. They will then continue to flower and produce fruit until the end of the season. Once the tomato’s fruit is fully formed, it will take around 25 days for the tomato to turn red.
What Causes Tomato Plants to Die
Tomato plants will naturally senesce after they complete their two-year growing cycle if the cold doesn’t kill them first. Cold or frost is the most common cause of tomato plant death. But, if the tomato plants are dying during the growing season, then an environmental factor is most likely the cause.
Inadequate watering, lack of sunlight, extreme hot or cold temperatures, and pests can all wreak havoc on growing tomato plants. Diseases such as leaf curl viruses are a common cause of early-season tomato plant death.
How Long Can Tomatoes Live Outdoors
Tomato plants can live outdoors for as long as a single growing season allows, typically 5 months. In tropical climates, or when grown indoors, plants can continue to grow for up to 2 years. Once temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit on a consistent basis, the tomato plants will begin to die. In most regions, tomato plants can survive for 6 months out of the year.
How Long Do Tomato Plants Grow in a Greenhouse
Greenhouses can extend the growing season for tomato plants by several months. If the greenhouse is kept at a temperature of at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, then the tomato plants could theoretically last for several seasons. But if the temperature drops below that threshold, these cold-sensitive species will start to die.
Growing Tomato Plants Indoors
Growing tomato plants indoors is become increasingly more common because the grower can control the environment and prolong their growing season, while many times producing superior results. To keep harvesting tomatoes at a steady rate without seasonal fluctuations, indoor growers can cycle in new plants and remove old plants as they dimmish their production rates.
This technique keeps everything running smoothly throughout the entire year, although, growing tomatoes indoors typically yields less and costs a considerable amount more than growing tomatoes outside.
Tomato plants that are brought indoors before winter arrives will continue to survive but will likely not produce any new flowers. The fruit that remains on the plant will continue to ripen and eventually the plant will senesce.
How Long Can Tomato Plants Produce Fruit
Tomato plants can produce fruit during both growing seasons that occur during their perennial life cycle, but the second growing season will produce considerably less fruit than the first year.
What month do Tomatoes Stop Producing Fruit
Tomato plants stop producing fruit when the temperature drops, the day length shortens, and the sunlight gets less intense. In most climates, this begins to occur in October or November.
Do Tomato Plants Die After Fruiting
Tomato plants do not naturally senesce or die directly after fruiting unless the plants have already completely their two-year perennial life cycle.
Tips to Extend the Life of Tomato Plants
Extending the life of your tomato plants means that you will have access to their bountiful harvest for as long as possible. Placing your tomatoes in a greenhouse or bringing any potted tomatoes inside during the winter will prolong the life of your tomato plants and give them a shot at flowering again the next season.
The Ideal Growing Conditions
Creating the ideal growing conditions will set your tomato plants up for success by limiting their stress and increasing their pest and disease resistance.
Tomatoes need a lot of consistent watering. They need over an inch of water per plant during the growing season and require daily watering during the hottest part of the summer. Maintaining even soil moisture is important in keeping the tomato plant’s roots healthy. If tomato plants don’t receive enough water, then they will delay fruiting.
Tomato plants love the sun! They require at least 6 hours of sunlight per day but can easily tolerate 8 hours of direct sunlight. While tomato plants need a lot of sunlight, they can wilt in high heat. Don’t water during the hottest part of the day because water left on the leaves can heat up and burn sensitive leaf tissue.
Tomato plants need well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter or compost. A sandy loam with a slightly acidic pH of 6.2 to 6.8 is ideal. Tomato plants prefer loose soil that is easy for their delicate roots to navigate, so make sure to not pack down the soil mounded near the base of the stem.
Tomato plants require a tremendous amount of nutrients to create beautiful and bountiful fruits. If the soil is lacking in those nutrients, then a fertilizer must be used to supplement the plants. During the fruiting stage, nitrogen deficiencies are most common and can be diagnosed by the yellowing of leaves.
Verdict: How Long Do Tomato Plants Live
Tomatoes are classified as perennials in their native tropical habitat and have a growth cycle that lasts 2 years, but in most regions of the world, tomato plants are treated as annuals because their cold-intolerant characteristics make them die back once the first frost arrives. If the tomato plants were started early enough in the season, preferably inside 4 to 6 weeks before your area’s last frost, then most climates would have a chance of a tomato plant living 4 to 6 months.
Extending the life of your tomato plants is possible by bringing the tomato plants inside a house or heated greenhouse during the winter, and by creating the ideal growing conditions that will set your tomato plants up for success by limiting their stress and increasing their pest and disease resistance.