What makes tomatoes ripen?

Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

I am trying 4 heirloom tomatoes this year, plus two hybrids.

The plants are big and robust, and have a lot of green tomatoes on them.... but they just don't seem to be ripening.

A woman who lives about 10 miles south of me has several of the same kinds, bought the same nursery. She has lots of ripe tomatoes, although her plants are smaller than mine.

My elderly Mom lives with me and she is threatening to trim half the leaves off the plants because she thinks they are to bushy "to let the sun in to ripen the fruits".... now, seems to me that the amount of leaves should not keep the tomatoes from ripening. She sees 7-8 foot plants and thinks they are "just to big" --- But they look very very healthy. Some of the nicest plants I have ever grown. Must be partly due to the mulch I used this year. Wanted to be ahead of the weeds, so put a good layer of pine bark chips on them. Has really helped keep moisture in the soil. We have had such a DRY summer. I water them every 4-5 days or so, and water deep.

What tomatoes I have had are wonderful. First year for Aunt Ruby's German Green - never had a green tomato before.... we have picked one fruit off the plant so far, and it was really GOOD!! probably our favorite so far, but only 4 plants have had any ripe fruit. Druzba, Aunt Ruby's Cherokee Purple and Big Beef. Mortgage Lifter, Park's Whopper have not had any yet.. they are all really green.

Am I just being impatient?


Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

Jules, that's a good question and I don't know the answer. My first guess would be mine will start ripening when the groundhogs figure out how to get under or over the fence. LOL

Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

Isn't that the truth! Groundhogs have not taken a liking to my veggies yet, but they are causing a REAL issue under my deck and small pole barn. GRRRR!!!!!

It's so frustrating to have all these really pretty big green tomatoes..... and everyone else is harvesting theirs.


Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

They do NOT need the direct sunlight to ripen. I'm sure they'll come along in no time! We tomato freaks are not a patient lot, but the tomatoes plants sure are!

(I do beilve the ML is a late-season variety, so...

Tell ma to "put away the clippers and back away from the plants"!

Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

I agree - keep the sharp tools away from Mom. I'm pretty sure that I have flying groundhogs here. I bought a trap for them and take them for a ride. I also grow radishes for them. They seem t like the radish tops. I only plant radishes for the compost so I'm thrilled when they eat them rather than tomatoes.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

We're out in the country here, and can take more direct measures.

My wife and I have created a lot of wildlife habitat on our six acres, and we sure enjoy the critters. We see deer, turkeys, quail, 'coons, possums, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, armadillos, lots of birds. I have to keep a good fence around my garden.

But groundhogs eating my tomatoes, no way. Gunfire would quickly ensue - and that's well understood around here.

"BANG." (Neighbor's voice in the far distance) "Hey, did ya get him?"

Audubon, PA(Zone 6b)

aata boy, ozark!! that's th' way we used to take care of 'em down in OK... CAN'T do that where I live now!!

Wilsonville, OR(Zone 8b)


No no no! I agree with Elsie and Sequee - don't let her near your plants. Your tomatoes will ripen!

Some of my plants are now taller than 8 feet, and very bushy. They are starting to ripen, enough to keep us supplied from day to day - but that total tomato deluge has not happened just yet.

Anyone trying to trim my tomatoes would be in for a world of trouble!!

Warren, PA(Zone 5a)


I'm growing four varieties this season and only one (the cherry tomato) is ripe yet. Same situation as you, exactly. Huge, healthy plants with lots of good looking green tomatoes. Our day will come. I know I have to wait because we just cannot plant them much earlier than Memorial Day in my area. Keep the faith.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I'm in a higher zone than ya'll, and I still have a quite a few that haven't given it up for me yet! The ones that are producing are going gangbusters though, making me quite popular at work and in the 'hood!

We'll be looking forward to seeing your photos posted once they give forth!

Warren, PA(Zone 5a)


The `hood?

Thanks for giving a "shout out" to your heirloom tomato "peeps" here at DG. :)

Peace out,

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

Just too lazy to spell it out, Smarty Pants!

Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

You guys just got me laughing so hard - thanks I needed that.

I just picked a cherry tomato from one of my plants and I don't think I planted any cherries. Why is that the only plant that doesn't have a plant stake in it?

Richmond, VA


To answer your question. What causes a tomato to ripen. One word... stress. Yep. Either in the form of dry weather, extreme temperatures, lack of water, or just plain neglect. Stress will cause the tomatoes to complete the ripening cycle. Farmers know this, and don't water, just go collect the harvest when it's time. Humans operate under the same principle, we do our best under pressure and stress. [Some of us do anyway]. Nothing beats a deadline. Same in the vegetable world. Stop feeding them, and give them only a little water. The tomatoes will ripen in no time.

p.s. might want to remove the mulch, the soil could be too cool for them to ripen.

This message was edited Aug 4, 2007 11:14 AM

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

Ain't that jes the way, elsie??? What I hate is when I find the "perfect" tomato in the garden and it turns out to be the only one with a missing tag. Or marked "unk" because I mixed up my seedling tray. My friend Herbie43 has a wonderful cluster of huge yellow tomatoes...but swears he didn't plant any yellows this year! Hrmph! Now we'll never know what it might have been. And because of that, I'm sure it will be the BEST ever yellow tomato!

Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

Sequee, all of my plants are purchased and all are in containers. Where the tag is - I have no idea. I will have to get closer so see if the tag is hiding. Then I need to map out the tomatoes so if the tags vanish I can identify them. I really didn't think I would have a problem with tags this summer.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

I'd be totally lost without my maps, though my neighbors think I'm nuts running around with pencil and pad all Spring. (And writing on my tomatoes all summer.) Hey, what's a girl to do. I simply cannot remember what I've picked by the time I've picked and plucked and brought them inside. It's a crime they way my brain works - or not!

Hopkinsville, KY

Aries good info on the stress causing ripening but if that applied to me I would have been ripe 5 years ago :>0) After coming out of the tomato garden on a hot humid day, my wife tells me I am pretty ripe.

Sequee, I too have teflon brain, nothing sticks so I have to use perma marker on my tomatoes as I pick them and have a map.

Warren, PA(Zone 5a)

Kygreg: LOL

We've got a garden map up on the side of the fridge. (Our garden is small enough that I can make a map on one piece of paper). Nice to be able to check when I'm wondering about a variety in some corner of the garden, especially when we are growing a lot of "one of each" types of things side by side each other. Thinking I might have to expand to two sheets of paper next season!

Hopkinsville, KY

I am having in a couple of instances, the same problem as some of the others; in that what I planted according to my map of 76 spaces or containers, is not what is growing there. My Juliet, that I have planted for 3 straight years is not a Juliet, but some type of red cherry that is quite productive. My Large Red Cherry is producing some really large cherries 6-8ozs. Either a planting mistake, a seed starting mistake, or was sent incorrect seed. Am going to be much more careful in process and recording keeping next year, if I can remember to do so.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

LOL! I say that every year, and every year I find some new way to screw up!

This year I mapped all of my seed starters correctly (as opposed to last year when I neglected to mark which was the top and which was the bottom, so when I planted out, each slot had 2 numbers - the first being either slot #1 or slot #18, etc.) This year I solved that problem by placing a toothpick in the upper left corner, indicating that was where I started. My "issues" arose when I potted up the plants, as they were ready at different times. As I removed them to plant out, I decided to re-use the slots, numbering the B1, etc. Somehow I managed to get myself very confused and STILL ended up with half a dozen "either-or". And we won't even mentioning the batch I forgot to label in the pot-up containers. Towards the end I developed a system of making a plant marker for each seed/plant as it germinated, then I just took the seedlingette and the label and "planted" them together.

Next year, of course, all labeling will be done perfectly! (Hahahahahahaha!)

Hopkinsville, KY

I am not even going to ask the color of your hair? I will leave that BDale

Warren, PA(Zone 5a)

Hey, some of us don't have much hair Kygreg (and I resemble that remark) so I'm not pointing any fingers on this topic! :)

Hopkinsville, KY

May not want to point your head either, especially if its in a direction that will relfect the sun off of it. :>)

Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

Thanks everyone for your responses.

I always try to keep clippers, scissors etc. away from my Mom outside! LOL Never know what she is going to "give a haircut to" otherwise! But at 84, I hope I am able to get outside and do the things she does. She does all my grass mowing - loves to ride the mower and run her little electric weed eater. We mow about one and a half acres of grass, so it keeps her busy.

I had to laugh at the comment of writing the names on the tomatoes with a perm. marker. I have been doing that (with the FEW that have ripened), since I am growing all new varieties to me. My Mom was really puzzled there for a minute when she saw the names written on the top. Really confused her - she thought where did she get these with labels on them? LOLOL

I went to the local Farmer's Market today to buy some tomatoes (and corn - boy was it good!) I bought a few "Red Lightening" and they are really great. Bought a Black Russian too.... anxious to try that one.

I talked to a few growers at the farmers market... and the ones who had ripe tomatoes there often were growing them in a hoop house - the others are buying them from along the Ohio River to have some to sell until the ones they planted are ready. Everyone said tomato ripening was behind this year. One woman plants 2500 tomatoes and said by first of August they are usually in FULL pick your own mode - yet this year they have not even opened the fields for people to come pick, as so few are ripe. She said they are having a terrible time with the crows coming and pecking into the green ones looking for moisture. It has really been dry here. Just 10 miles south of me they have had quite few more rains than my area, and things are in a lot better shape there. I noticed today that some of the younger trees in my woods are wilty.

I'll try to find some patience. In the mean time, I got the name / address of the place I got the Red Lightening tomatoes. I'll go pick some to tide me over........


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

daylily_ohio - I looked up Red Lightning, since you mentioned it here.

The pictures and descriptions seem identical to the Red Zebra I'm growing. The only difference - Burpee says Red Lightning is a hybrid but that seems to be in doubt.

Anyway, I'd say Red Zebra is an OP variety that''s very close if not identical to Red Lightning. I'm getting a lot of tomatoes off that plant. They're pretty and the flavor is good, but not among the best.

Toledo, OH(Zone 6a)

It could be elsie's mystery tomato is a volunteer? She said she didn't plant any cherries.

Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

Bolino, all of my plants are in containers. I looked again this morning and cannot find the tag. No I'm wondering if I did get a cherry? I'm guessing the tags are with the missing socks somewhere. I just tried the cherry - not bad but not worth it to me. My co-workers might be happy with my mistake.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

LOL! Happy co-workers are a very good thing! It always amazes me how many friends I have at this time of year!!!

Maybe you got caught up in the moment while you were seedling shopping. Or, more likely, pulled the tag out of it to read it and put it back in the wrong pot. I see that at Home Depot all the time. (I guess they figure, "Oh well - it's close!") That's part of the reason I prefer to grow my own. I went into HD to buy an Eggplant because mine were doing so poorly. There was an entire row marked "Dusty" - and they were all pepper seedlings. YIKES!

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

What a great thread this is. Makes me feel a BIT better that none of my 21 mater-plants--some in the ground; most in containers-- seem to be red enough to pick EXCEPT the cherries. I take comfort that it's a "late ripening-season"--well, OK, that IS in Ohio, but still. . . actually, the Cape is always late, since we can't put much in the ground till after Memorial Day either. But the sight of all those big green maters is driving me crazy!

A probably stupid question: do you really write with a permanent marker on your tomatoes to identify them? Isn't this slightly toxic? Or perhaps, the ink adds just that touch of flavor. . . .

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

Seeing that this thread was up to so many posts I just had to read through to see what was up. LOL

Stress: can be used to ripen tomatoes faster as frost approaches, but I wouldn't do it in the middle of the season. To stress the plants pull up on them a bit and twist the plant or take a spade and cut down about 4 inches or so in a circle around the plant about a foot to two out from the main stem.

What that does, in both cases, is to sever the feeder roots and the resultant stress hastens ripening, not of greenies, but of those that already have a blush.

What makes a tomato ripen?

Well, I would have said that it's an internal mechanism that turns on a series of genes that leads to synthesis of ethylene gas and many other products that allow for a change from full green to various shades of ripening to full ripenening. Yes, I know most of you wouldn't have said that. LOL

What the initial trigger is I don't think is known. But whatever it is we all know that those fruits will ripen in their own sweet time and not before.

I've written here before:

Patience is a virtue
Find it if you can
You'll find it in a woman
But seldom in a man

.....from my Swedish grandmother and don't get upset guys. LOL

Carolyn, who is looking out the back sliding door at her pathetic looking tomato plants. Sigh.

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

LOL! I use a Sharpie or a Ball Point Pen. I figure it's no big deal since you cut the top off anyway. (Besides, after all the cr*p I put in my body in the 60's and 70's, it would seem silly to start worrying now!)

Carmel, NY(Zone 6b)

What's up Carolyn? Is it that they just don't get the care you accustomed to giving them, or is it this weather? What all do you have growing out there anyway???

Toledo, OH(Zone 6a)

I hear ya, Sequee!

Hopkinsville, KY

Impatience seems not be a sex linked trait when it comes to waiting for tomatoes to ripen.

Warren, PA(Zone 5a)


I like the patience quote! It definitely fits me.

Northern Michigan, MI(Zone 5a)

Everyday I have hope I will be blessed with a ripe tomato as I start to actually salivate while tending the plants.... how pathetic is that !?!!?

Today I got my first glimmer of hope as I realized a wee cherry 'mater was in the first flush of color.

Now if I can just keep the chickens from stealin it all will be right in the world...lol


Warren, PA(Zone 5a)


Hahaha! Right. The chickens get the ones at the other end of the season, the overripe ones that "got away" when the tomatoes are coming at you fast and furious. (And they enjoy them too!)

Danbury, CT(Zone 6a)

I don't have chickens. So my friendly neighborhood deer get to eat the ones that got away. While picking this morning, I threw all the split cherry tomatoes over my garden fence into the woods. Minutes later some deer came along and ate them.

After reading this thread, I feel fortunate to have some tomatoes ripening. Not long ago, I was reading posts bitterly jealous. Hang in there. They gotta ripen some time!

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