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We are entering fall, with rainy conditions and daily temperatures below 20 °C, and my tomatoes, though (or because…) tall and robusts, are just starting flowering. Even if next weeks are more clement, I don't expect fruits to get ripe before first frosts.

Is there something I can do to save them ? I don't have greehouse.

I was thinking of maybe cutting flowered parts and transplants them into potting soil or maybe compost and get them indoor, would that help, and if yes how to optimize it (where to cut, when to transplant, water-only first or direct soil, or even pure compost, etc.) and get tasty fruits ?

PS : I know I could harvest green fruits for some recipes, but that's not the point of this question, and actually I don't see many fruits yet.

  • FWIW, we have Caro Rich, Red Cluster Pearl and Scabitha tomatoes. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Oct 3 '18 at 13:14
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    Just start flowering? Forget them. It will take too much time (when did you plant the tomatoes?). If you have small green fruits, you can create a small greenhouse with plastic sheets. – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 3 '18 at 15:06
  • Green tomatoes will ripen (slowly) after you picked them. Wait as long as you dare till you think the first frost is due, then pick everything green. The biggest ones will ripen first. Taking cuttings from a tomato sounds too far-fetched even to be worth trying, IMO - even taking the most optimistic view, you won't get any growth at all for a few weeks until the cuttings develop some roots, by which time it will be too late. (But I would bet on the fact that your success rate with tomato cuttings would be precisely zero, at any time of year). – alephzero Oct 3 '18 at 18:22
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    @alephzero disagree on the “tomato cuttings don’t work” part. There are multiple sites on the Internet with instructions (example) and my then-2-yo did it back when he was in the “stick random plucked leaves and flowers into the soil and call it planting” stage. – Stephie Oct 3 '18 at 19:43
  • @Stephie Well, you learn something new here every day ;) - but I don't think "4 to 6 weeks to get a small pot full of roots" (quote from your web link) is going to help the OP much at this time of the year. Also, I guess that cuttings would be infected by viruses carried by the parent plant? So propagating tomatoes this way for several years (as suggested in the link) seems a risky idea. – alephzero Oct 4 '18 at 8:22
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Unless your plants are already in pots or you can get/build a simple greenhouse, you won’t be able to do much with the grown plants.

If you are unwilling to give up just yet, get some wood and foil and build a “rain shelter” type of mini-greenhouse like this one (random example, not a specific recommendation) or see if your local garden center has those oversized plastic bags with holes that are mainly used to protect the plants from rain. With a bit of luck, you’ll manage to get at least some fruit if the plants have already set fruit. If you have only flowers, you’ll need a very long and warm autumn. (And you have to ensure that the flowers are pollinated, so shake the plants, get a paintbrush and play bee, or remove the cover when it’s warm enough.)

If you decide to go that route, you need to make it clear for your plants that it needs to put its energy into the fruit, so cut the tips of the plants off, remove the suckers and leave maybe two or three (or less?) fruit branches per plant.

You can make tomato cuttings, but not the way your question implies you are hoping for. Tomato cuttings are made with the suckers that are typically removed from the main plant anyway and the rules for all cuttings apply: Remove everything that draws energy from the baby plant, i.e. flowers, fruits and excess leaves. Simply cutting your plants in half and expect them to grow roots and fruit at the same time won’t work. If you want to give it a try, you could do the cuttings now (or just before frost kills your plants) overwinter them indoors and get a serious head start. Rooting in a jar of water or directly in potting soil should work. You may have to repeat the exercise though, to have young plants ready once the outdoor tomato season starts in your area.

Not part of your question but maybe worth thinking about is why are your plants so late? Ok, so if you were super late in sowing the seeds or buying the plants, you’ll already know what to do next time. If your have a very short growing season, growing the plants in pots can give you a head start in spring and allows to take them inside if autumn comes early. But if all of that’s not the case, your description of “tall and robust” plants could be a hint: Check your fertilizer composition. Yes, tomatoes are “hungry” plants but if your fertilizer has too much nitrogen, you’ll get great growth and foliage - but little fruit. This is a bit of a “stab in the dark”, but may be worth checking.

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    So glad you hit on the main problem, the WHY. Excellent, Stephie! I think it was the nitrogen aspect as well! – stormy Oct 3 '18 at 21:59
  • Not just about fertilizer, never plant beans near the roots of tomatoes. – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 4 '18 at 8:06
  • The why is probably multifactor. Anyway, maybe I could use the tomato plants ability to grow adventitious roots to prepare them to be transplanted in pots before frosts ? – Skippy le Grand Gourou Oct 9 '18 at 19:33
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Actually, I was able to breed caterpillars grow tomatoes until very late, and I'm sure I could still be.

I decided to give marcotting (air layering) a try to replant my plants into pots, but most tomatoes fell of for some reason during a night shortly after. I had already started in-pot tip layering for two plants, and managed to find three layers which still had a couple of tomatoes.

The delay was far too short for the marcotting to develop roots, but anyway a couple of plants and their tomato(es) continued to survive in-pot until last week. Though they didn't grow, lacking roots, they would have survived longer wasn't it for the caterpillars and the lack of care.

I presume they would have been able to grow better had I started marcotting during the summer and moved them indoor before the first frost.

So yes, it seems possible to extend the life of soil-cultivated tomato plants indoor to some extent. Determining to which extent (enough for growing and ripening ?) requires further experiments.

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