Soon my tomato harvest is done and I wonder whether I can leave the roots in the ground for rotting or whether I should get them out.

I heard that for some other annuals leaving the root in the ground as adding nitrogen to it. Does this apply to tomatoes as well?

Are there any risks? Are there any benefits?

UPDATE: Thanks to a comment I forgot to mention that I assume that the roots won't survive my -10 °C winter.

  • 2
    Patrick B, it's beans which hold nitrogen in nodules on their roots, not tomatoes. There's no real advantage to leaving them in situ over winter, agree with WebChemist below.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 15:30
  • @Bamboo, thanks for your explanation. It was exactly the fact that bean-roots help the soil, which made me ask this question.
    – Patrick B.
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 5:47

4 Answers 4


I would say pull the whole plants if they will not survive the winter, just in case they became infected with something like Verticillium Wilt in their weakened state prior to dying, which might then build up and overwinter in the soil and infect your new plants next spring. Plus think about gophers or insects that might feed on the roots, you're providing these pests a free meal, inviting them to come back to your garden later, while not really providing any benefit to yourself.

I'm not sure how much nitrogen they would give back, but I suspect you'd be better off composting the spent plants in a dedicated bin or pile than leaving them in the ground.

  • Diseases might infect the compost. I know a man who burns his tomatoes and I believe he uses the ashes. Of course, the benefit there isn't nitrogen (but rather other nutrients). That would probably kill off any diseases while not depleting your soil of everything tomatoes use. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 9:56

I like volunteer tomato plants better than ones planted from seed. They seem to grow more and better tasting tomatoes. When we get the first freeze of fall, I would pull the old tomato plants (including any fruit still on them) and place them on the ground where I'd like to have tomatoes next year and put compost over them for the winter. Tomatoes can deplete the soil so I try to put back as much as possible using compost.


It's best to clean up all plants at the end of the season to prevent any pest or fungal disease for next season.

  • 1
    Can you expand on your answer? For every type of plant, just for vegetables, only for tomatoes?
    – kevinskio
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 17:38

I would ask the "You Bet Your Garden" host on public radio, Mike McGrath. But am betting (pardon the pun) he would say "pull 'em". Tomatoes seem prone to too many diseases.

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