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Garden Help Desk: What to know when it comes to picking tomatoes

By USU Extension - | Oct 1, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Once local forecasts show that overnight temperatures will be in the mid-30s or lower, it’s time to bring in any mature green tomatoes like these so that they can ripen indoors.

Is it better to leave tomatoes on the vine when temperatures are going to dip into the low 40s or to pick them. I’ve heard that putting tomatoes into a refrigerator will ruin their flavor. Will the same thing happen to tomatoes in the garden, or will the flavor be better if they are left on the vine?

Whether to pick or leave on the vine depends on a few factors. It’s true that time in the refrigerator can affect the flavor of a tomato, and when overnight temperatures in the garden are consistently below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, your tomatoes can get off flavors. But if it’s warming up to 55 degrees or more during day, the tomato fruits can get some normal ripening and flavor development that may help. Of course, if you can provide your plants with some cold protection, that will also help.

Our area commonly has short periods of cool or chilly weather and then milder conditions return for a while. It’s best to leave tomatoes that aren’t quite ripe yet on the vine so they can develop the right flavor profiles instead of picking them green and bringing them indoors to ripen and color up (like winter grocery store tomatoes). As we get later into fall, the increasingly cooler days and colder nights will impact the color and flavor development. That’s when it’s time to pick your full-sized, mature green tomatoes, and let them ripen indoors.

The takeaway?

  • Pick your ripe tomatoes frequently
  • Watch the forecast
  • It’s better to leave your tomatoes on the vine unless the temperature is expected to drop below the mid-to-upper 30s
  • Bring in your mature green tomatoes when frosty weather is expected

I took my houseplants outside at the beginning of the summer. How long can I leave them out there? I’m pretty sure none of them will tolerate frost.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

As long as overnight temperatures stay above the upper 30s, and daytime temperatures will be above 55, nearly ripe tomatoes like these will benefit from extra time on the vine.

None of the popular houseplants will tolerate frost, and most are actually so tender that they need to be safely back indoors before our overnight lows start dipping below 50 degrees. Some plants are a little tougher and others a little more tender, so the best plan is to read a little about the temperature limits of your particular plants and keep an eye on the weather forecast.

In addition to keeping an eye on the outdoor temperature, there are two other things that need your attention: pests and placement.

Even though your plants have been exposed to many pests, there were many natural controls outdoors that helped to manage the situation. The challenge comes when you’re ready to bring your plants back indoors. Pests can travel back inside on your plants where they’ll thrive, but those beneficial insects won’t do well in your home.

Many pests can be washed off your plants with strong sprays of water before you bring them in. After you bring them in, you’ll need to check your plants carefully for mites, aphids and other common pests. Look on the undersides of leaves and along stems. Pay special attention to leaf and flower buds and examine leaf axils (the places where leaves attach to stems).

Most of the pests that you find can be controlled by applying insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Make sure your houseplants can tolerate an oil or soap treatment by first testing it on just a small portion of your plant. Wait a few days before treating the rest of the plant. Another option is to use a systemic insecticide. It’s best applied a week or two before you bring your plants indoors. Systemic insecticides aren’t always effective for mites, but give good control for aphids, scale and mealy bug.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Many indoor plants do well outdoors in the summer with light to moderate shade, but they won’t tolerate very cold weather and need to be brought back indoors once temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees at night.

Placing your plants in the right location is also important. Don’t place your plants near any furnace vents, room heaters, or fireplaces. Avoiding drafty locations like windows and exterior doors is also best.

The humidity in your house may be lower than your plants are accustomed to when you bring them indoors. Check soil moisture a little more frequently to make sure they’ve aren’t drought stressed while getting acclimated to being indoors, but don’t overwater either.

It won’t take long for your plants to adjust to being back indoors, but you’ll want to inspect them frequently for the first few weeks to make sure there aren’t any remaining pests or diseases waiting to cause problems.

All parts of a tender indoor plant should be inspected when it’s time to bring the plant back indoors from the landscape for the winter.

It’s easy to overlook insects on the undersides of leaves, but a careful inspection when plants first come back indoors will save time and prevent plant injury later.

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