When to Pick Tomatoes

Do vine ripened tomatoes taste better? How long should you wait to pick tomatoes? So many questions! But we’ve got answers! Keep reading to learn the best time to pick tomatoes and how to make them ripen faster.

collage of photos of vine ripened tomatoes; text overlay "When to Pick Tomatoes"

Are Vine Ripened Tomatoes Better?

The term “vine ripened” is often used as a selling point when it comes to tomatoes. However, it doesn’t mean exactly what it sounds.

When it comes to the produce sold in a supermarket, vine ripened tomatoes are actually picked before they are fully ripe. That way they will continue to ripen as they are transported to the store and eventually the consumer’s home.

If tomatoes were not picked until they were completely ripe, they would likely spoil by the time they got to the store.

So to recap, the technical definition of vine-ripened tomatoes are tomatoes that are picked at the “breaker” stage, which we’ll discuss a bit below.

They’re not usually left on the vine until they’re completely red and juicy, though you can do this in your own garden if you have good weather and low incidence of pests.

When is the Best Time to Pick Tomatoes?

This is a hotly contested topic among gardeners. Many will argue that you should leave tomatoes on the vine as long as possible and only pick them at the last minute. Trust me, when I posted a TikTok video on this I got a LOT of feedback saying I was flat out wrong!

Here’s the thing…the best time to pick tomatoes is when it works for you and when you’ll have the best harvest.

If you have moderate weather and a low incidence of pests, you may be able to leave your tomatoes on the vine longer.

Here in Texas (and many southern states as well), late spring and summer brings HOT temperatures, humid conditions, and bugs galore. These are all things that can threaten your tomatoes.

Tomatoes prefer warm — not hot — temperatures. They will struggle when it gets hotter than about 85 degrees or so.

Extreme temperatures can even cause tomatoes to NOT ripen fully, no matter how long you leave them on the vine. They may even die before they ripen, and that would be a waste! In this case, it is ideal to pick your tomatoes at the breaker stage and ripen inside.

Another thing to consider is that the longer you leave tomatoes on the vine, the higher the chance they will suffer damage from pests or disease. That’s not to say they will be damaged, but that they could. Don’t want to chance it? Pick your tomatoes at first blush and let them ripen inside.

The choice is up to you! I personally choose to ripen mine inside, especially when they weather turns hot. My harvest has increased and spoilage went down dramatically.

I usually “eyeball it” — I’ll let my tomatoes stay on the vine as long as they look healthy. Then I pick them at the first sign that there could be an issue — before it becomes a true problem. A hint of a split? Time to pick! One of the tomatoes on the vine starting to rot from heavy rains? Time to pick them all before the others do!

picking a tomato from the vine

I would much rather pick my tomatoes “early” then lose them! I haven’t been able to tell any difference in taste whatsoever and no matter when I harvest my tomatoes, they taste WAY better than store bought! Way WAY better!

Now, let’s talk a little bit about what causes tomatoes to ripen and how this works, even off the vine.

Do Tomatoes Ripen Off the Vine?

Yes! A plant hormone called ethylene causes tomatoes to turn red, or start ripening. Tomatoes begin to produce ethylene when they reach maturity, even if they are still green.

As soon as you notice that your tomatoes are starting to “blush” or turn a hint of orange, it’s ok to go ahead and pick them. They will continue to ripen off the vine.

Different varieties of tomatoes can also ripen off the vine. For example, I sometimes pick my yellow tomatoes as soon as I see a swath of bright yellow start to appear.

Of course, you can leave them on the vine to ripen. However, if your plants are prone to pests or the weather conditions are not ideal (such as a hot, dry spell), you may opt to go ahead and pick your tomatoes before they are fully ripe. That way they can ripen safely inside without danger of spoilage.

Also, if your plants are affected by tomato blight, you may want to pick the fruit earlier so it is not infected too. Severely affected plants may stop growing fruit.

Related: Learn more about how to prevent and treat tomato blight here.

damaged tomato on vine
If your tomatoes are prone to damage from extreme weather conditions or pests, it may be best to pick them early and ripen indoors.

How Long Does it Take for Tomatoes to Ripen?

This can vary depending on your specific conditions. Under ideal conditions, your tomatoes can ripen in as little as a few days.

Related: Click here to learn how to store tomatoes so they ripen evenly and stay fresher longer!

Here’s a look at a tomato that I photographed over the course of a few days. As you can see, it was a gorgeous red color and perfectly ready to enjoy by day four. And actually, if you were in a hurry, you could use by day three or so.

No secrets, no trickery here! Just wanted to show you that tomatoes will ripen just fine indoors. And they taste fantastic!

How to Make Tomatoes Ripen Faster

Remember ethylene? It’s not only present in tomatoes, but in many other fruits too. (Tomato is technically a fruit).

If you want to speed up the ripening process, keep your tomatoes close to other fruits that are known to produce high quantities of ethylene, such as apples or bananas.

Not every fruit produces a lot of ethylene, so check our list here for more ideas.

On the flip side, if you want to keep your tomatoes around for longer, you’ll want to store them away from ethylene producing fruits.

More Tomato Tips

How to Grow Bigger and Better Tomatoes

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