Choosing cold-tolerant, fast-growing tomato varieties is only part of the challenge for an early harvest—you also need to know how to grow them.
Here are seven strategies for coaxing your tomato crop to ripen faster for a jump on your growing season this summer.
1. Warm Up the Soil Before Planting
Tomatoes are tropical plants that require warm soil to take off. Several weeks before you plan to transplant, consider taking steps to heat it. Rake off any mulch covering the surface so the sunlight can warm it directly, and consider laying down clear plastic or dark-colored tarps to concentrate the heat further.
You can replace the mulch after planting to help the soil retain moisture.
2. Harden Off Your Plants
If you’ve started tomatoes from seed, the most precarious part of their lifespan is introducing them to the outdoors. Plant them too soon, and winds and chilly weather may shock them into dormancy and put you several weeks behind in the growing season.
A better option is to harden your plants off slowly by taking them outdoors for a few minutes each day, starting several weeks before your last frost date. Keep them around the south side of your house in a semi-protected space so that they aren’t overwhelmed by harsh winds.
3. Grow in Containers or Raised Beds
Give your tomato plants an extra boost by growing them in pots or raised beds. The extra height helps the soil warm up faster, and it won’t get waterlogged by heavy spring rains.
4. Maximize Spacing Between Plants
Provide each tomato plant with plenty of space to ensure it gets enough sunlight and airflow. Packed too tightly, and your plants are at risk of staying too damp, developing fungus or disease problems, and suffering stunted growth.
5. Plant Deep
Tomato plants do well when buried deep, especially when the weather isn’t ideal yet. You can bury up to three-quarters of each plant in each planting hole, removing the branches along the stem as you do so. The buried stem will sprout new roots and better anchor your plant in the ground.
6. Provide Plenty of Support
Keep your plant upright and supported so that each branch receives the maximum amount of sunlight. This encourages early ripening.
7. Prune for Quality, Not Quantity
Help your tomato plant produce the best fruit possible by pruning off each sucker and unnecessary branch. You want the plant to put all its effort into making larger, earlier-ripening tomatoes.