Tomatoes: Slow to Ripen

Sudden changes in weather can lengthen the time it takes for tomatoes to ripen

I’ve been hearing from many impatient gardeners lately. They all have the same question; “My tomatoes are big and green on the vine, but they just don’t seem to be getting ripe. What’s happened?!?”

If you stop and think about it, tomato plants have a lot going on at the same time. While they are ripening fruit, they are still putting on new growth to support future tomato fruit. And tomato plants are equipped to handle this multi-tasking quite well. That is as long as things are status quo, such as favorable climates and plenty of spring showers to create perfect tomato growing conditions.

However, as we experience drastic changes in weather as I suspect is true with many parts of the country, plants bear the burden. The perfect spring weather, so pleasing to tomato plant growth, suddenly hits the heat of summer. Tomato plants are abruptly faced with demands that require a change in how they grow and how their energy must be distributed. One of the first responses is for shallow rooted tomato plants to develop a deeper, more robust root system.

Tomato plants are quite adaptable and they will adjust to this sudden change. But, until the plant has made these adjustments, the green tomatoes will appear to just sit there. The beautiful red color of a ripe tomato seems like it will never come. Fortunately, it will, although it takes longer because of these changes. So, staying power is all that is required of you and some supplemental water is all that is needed by your tomato plants while they adjust to these changes. Consider it delayed gratification. You will be rewarded for your patience!


Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, Compost Confidential blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

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  2. Kerry says

    August 9th and I finally picked my first batch of cherry tomatoes….they have been sitting on the vine since early July…very high heat here in Toronto I suspect is the cause…25+ days of 30 to 45 degree Celsius heat.

    • Sharon says

      Yes, it is August 10th and we finally saw a few cherry tomatoes starting to turn red. I believe between the weather and the fact that I had to many tomato plants in one area it slowed the process. My husband and I went out the other day and cleared out the tomato plants that had vines but no tomatoes. That must have done the trick. I am so happy!!

  3. patricia says

    I am in St Louis, plants have plenty of green tomatoes; infact one plant has 22 tomatoes but none are ripening. Read that the extreme heat we are having is probably affecting their ripening

    • says

      Patricia, you are indeed right. High heat can certainly shut down the ripening process temporarily. The ripening engine will start up again with the return of cooler temps.

  4. says

    Blossom End Rot can also be controlled by adding a couple of handfuls of powered lime to the soil mix . My tomatoes have been slow to ripen this summer been extra hot.

  5. Peter says

    I figured that what the problem was. My tomato plants have produced more than they did last year but none have ripened ( so far ). But I guess I should be thankful. Last year most of my tomatoes developed blossom end rot. This year I added Epsom Salts to the soil around the base of each plant. The number of tomatoes with end rot have dropped off dramatically.

  6. Kat says

    I am in north central Louisiana, picking 20 or so every day. Even with the drought conditions the tomatoes continue to produce, guess we are lucky. I am giving away several bags a day of tomatoes, jalapeno, cucumber, japanese eggplant. I have roasted, canned, frozen whole, you name it. I’m done, but they aren’t hahaha! Only thing happening is that they are getting really golden looking from the heat/watering, but inside they are ripe and juicy.

  7. Jeri Walker says

    Here in the south the tomatoes turned ripe and are now done. However, a fried green tomato is pretty darned good!

  8. Sharon Wolf says

    We were wondering what is happening this year. Now that we understand the wait is no so bad. There is nothing like a fresh tomato from your own garden.

  9. says

    I have not had that problem they seem to be ripening right on schedule. Which is 4th of July, & New Girl first week of July Early Pick started yesterday. North Tewksbury MA

    • Bill G says

      Here in Montana I’m in early August still waiting for any of my 7 various tomato plants (including an early girl) to show any hint of ripening.

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