How to encourage tomatoes to ripen on the plant

We’ve had a great season for growing tomatoes in he UK. I grew 106 plants, many of them cherry varieties with two or three main stems, and the number of tomatoes picked has been huge.

As temperatures turn cooler and daylight hours grow shorter, it’s time to introduce a few tactics to make sure that the green tomatoes don’t stay green for too long!

Tomatoes on the plant – stress encourages ripening
It’s time to tell your plants that the season is coming to an end and they had better “get a move on”. Ways to do this include reducing their work load and creating a little stress that will encourage them to fulfil their destiny, which is, to make ripe tomatoes that make seeds to grow tomatoes next season!

Branch Trimming
A great way to reduce the work load and stress plants slightly at the same time, is to give the leaf branches a trim. This is a good method if you have a number of trusses that are still to ripen.

Leaf trimming helps ripen fruit and increases aeration.

Removing Leaf Branches
This is done gradually throughout the season, but if you remove leaf branches up to just below the truss that is still to ripen (still green), it will encourage ripening.

Small fruit
Fruit that are under-size probably won’t mature in time, so it’s best to remove them to help the tomatoes that are full size to ripen.
All flowers should also be removed of course! Generally, reducing the amount of tomatoes on each truss will improve fruit quality, growth and size – especially on medium and beefsteak tomatoes.

A pruned truss - smaller in number but more consistent in size.
A pruned truss – smaller in number but more consistent in size.

Reduce Water and Nitrogen
Cutting back on water and watering frequency can also stress plants slightly and encourage ripening – just make sure that the soil doesn’t get too dry or the next time you water, skins may split. It’s best to make sure that all ripe tomatoes are already picked.

Any feed with excess nitrogen will slow the ripening process. A “finishing feed” is sometimes used to complete the fruiting process containing only phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sulfur – no nitrogen.

Heavier stress tactics!

Root Pruning
Push a trowel into the soil at the edge of a pot or container and cut through some of the roots. This will send the plant into a state of shock and encourages ripening.

Root Lifting
A careful pull upwards at the bottom of the stem will disturb the roots below and send a signal to the plant that its days are numbered and to ripen its fruit!

Pick fruit that are turning colour – they will still ripen and taste great. Tomatoes ripen from inside out so when you see the skin turning colour, the inside is already well on the way to being ripe.

Cover outside plants with fleece
As temperatures drop and autumn approaches, cover outside plants with garden fleece to help keep them slightly above air temperature and keep fruit ripening.

By the way, tomatoes that are picked before reaching full size, won’t normally ripen after picking. But they are still good for chutney or fried green tomatoes!

Tomatoes indoors
If all else fails, pick them and put them in a large bowl with a ripe banana. The ethylene given off by the banana encourages ripening – ethylene is a ripening hormone.

Chutney and other tomato recipes
A very kind neighbour and fellow tomato grower gave me a jar of Damson and Tomato Chilli – nothing like a spicy chutney to jazz-up a salad or two in these last weeks of summer!

Fried slices of green tomatoes, chutney, jams and even tomato wine are some of the ways we can use tomatoes at the end of the season.

If you have a tried and trusted recipe, please add it below and I put it on a new recipe page.


24 Responses

  1. Will Do
    | Reply

    A really usefull and easy to read site Nick – thanks for sharing. I have recently procured cherries from supermarkets (varieties not labelled). Those from Wilko are short (apx 8″ high) but already had a fair bit of green fruit at purchase (£2 each in a sell!). Those from t’co are taller – one of which has produced two fruiting bodies after flowering, whilst the other none. The latter two are in those small square pots so I’ll pot them on now (I was visiting to enquire which soil/comp’ type to use; So it looks like GP or potting comp’).

    I have them in one of those tiny plastic greenhouses; I’m about to errect a slightly bigger one. I may try one plant on my south-facing windowsil, next to succulents.
    On consuming – I recall somebody marinading them in Worcester sauce & olive oil, so I’ve done the same with sea salt (got to be “trendy”), freshly ground black pepper & chopped basil + maybe grated garlic (when fresh, that allicin just flows out!). To my taste bud’s, its a good autumnal flavour. Cheers.

  2. Breda Sharman
    | Reply

    Can you please advise how I can get a full truss of cherry tomatoes to ripen at the same time. My trusses never ripen like the ones you buy in the shops.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Breda, the ones you buy in the shops have a long shelf life and will usually stay fresh looking for longer than the ones we grow.

  3. Terry
    | Reply

    Hi Nick.
    A big thank you for all your advise this year.
    I had heavy crops with the cherries and medium size toms.
    But the Beefsteaks got loose on me and ended up 8 feet high but a lot of very small tomatoes in big clusters.
    I think all the Tomatoes seem to have tough skins this year.
    Grease the Pan with a Banana then a large slice of brown bread with three holes. . Put a tomato in two holes and an egg in the third. Quick fry including the banana. A large mug of tea laced with whiskey and you will be fit for next year.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Now that’s a good recipe – I particularly like the whiskey part!

  4. Rob
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, many thanks for your ripening tips in this and previous newsletters. I have found leaf branch removal particularly effective. I wish I’d known this fifty years ago!

    After removal of leaf branch, do you recommend treating the cut in some way to prevent infection from entering the plant? Thank you. Kind regards, Rob.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rob, no need to treat the cut as the plant will seal itself as long as the blade used is clean. I use hand sanitiser to sterilise blades and scissors etc.

  5. john
    | Reply

    first go at growing anything. couple of seeds in dirt moved the seedlings on. dirt in two large pots outside.

    somehow i’ve grown black cherry tomatoes, really enjoyed it.

    cheers nick i’ve learnt loads from your site. next year better soil also a few more plants growing.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John, I’m pleased that you have found the website helpful. Let’s hope we have another good season in 2015.

  6. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    The water starvation tip has definitely been working on some of my plants Nick. Thanks for that one (you actually flagged it up a few weeks ago, which is why I already know it works!)


  7. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Tomato Sauce in lieu of gravy: goes great with a variety of meat cuts.

    Half an onion, chopped;
    8 – 10 medium sized tomatoes (basically use what’s available – you can use 60 cherries if you want), chopped in half/quarters;
    6 mushrooms, sliced;
    Garlic clove, crushed;
    Salt, pepper and italian seasoning to taste:

    Warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and soften the onion for 5 minutes, along with the crushed garlic clove.

    Add the tomatoes and mushrooms, then the seasoning, stir and then leave on low heat with a lid on for 20 minutes.

    Transfer the sauce to a food mixer and liquidize for 15 seconds at high speed.

    Return the sauce to the pan and reduce with the lid off according taste.

    You could probably add a bit of cream if you want, but our household has those with allergies to cream, so we don’t bother.

    It goes very well with lamb chops, any form of potato and would probably work with steak as well. If you want the sauce more dilute, we’ve been known to add water previously used to steam vegetables (which does very well as a stock if you’re not cooking meat bones every day of the week) to create more liquid. Up to you.

    • stephen clark
      | Reply

      need ya address Rhys to send your black krim seeds to

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thanks Rhys, that’s a good recipe for the website!

  8. Derek Warren
    | Reply

    You say you’ve grown 106 plants this year fantastic, what do you do with all the tomatoes???

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Derek, I give them away to family, neighbours and friends etc but I won’t grow as many plants next season … I say that every season!

  9. bill
    | Reply

    thanks for all your advice over the year

  10. Valerie
    | Reply

    This is not an original recipe Nick but I use it because it is the easiest I know ,is very versatile and tastes delicious and is very quick. it also freezes very well.
    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. I use rape seed oil.
    2large shallots minced. I chop them into small dice
    1 clove of garlic. I use two because I like garlic!
    1 lb/450g fresh tomatoes skinned and diced. If I am in a hurry I don’t bother skinning but blend at end.
    Sea salt and black pepper
    10 fresh basil leaves.I use a good handful stalks and all

    Cook shallots in oil until soft,add garlic,cook for 1 minute
    Add tomatoes and all but two of the basil leaves for garnish.
    Cook for ten minutes,until thickened.
    Either use like this or blend in food processor .
    Season with salt and pepper and garnish with basil leaves.

    I freeze in 180x200mmsmall reclosable bags and freeze flat. I can store more this way

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thanks Valerie, I shall add this to the recipe page!

  11. Fred Lewis
    | Reply

    Thanks for a great year of advice

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Thank you Fred – you are welcome!

  12. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Or, fried black tomatoes!

  13. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick, I am completely at a loss regarding the indigo rose plants. I have 2/3 trusses on each plant which have beautiful medium sized fruit hanging there but they are rock hard still. I cut off one whole truss and took it into house to see if it would soften up slightly. A week later they are just as hard but one of the smaller fruit had started developing a bad bit on it’s side! I read somewhere to leave them until the real black shine turns to a purplish colour which I have tried to do and a few of them look like that though still rock hard. Do yourself or anyone else growing them have any advice? ( apart from not growing them next year LOL)!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess, mine are still rock hard too – I did have a slightly softer one and it tasted a bit like an apple. It’s a pity because they look so good! I can’t believe this is how they really are because they are being sold by established seed companies … ???

  14. ben
    | Reply

    Nick- if I use 2 400 gram jars of organic tomato pasta sauce a week, and I want to replace this with pasta sauce made from my homemade tomato harvest and frozen, how many tomato plants do I need to grow to supply me for the whole year?

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