Gardening is a long game that requires a healthy amount of patience.
Even though you know not to expect instant gratification, you might still catch yourself wondering just how long it will take your tomato plants to produce the sweet, juicy fruits that we salivate over in summer. After all, you started your tomatoes from seed months ago, so what gives? When will you get to reap the fruit of your labor?
There are many factors at play that determine how long it takes a tomato plant to produce fruit. Environmental factors like soil and air temperature impact a plant’s growth timeline, and biological factors like variety genetics affect the time it takes the plant to transition from flower to fruit.
Generally speaking, a tomato plant can take 113 to 156 days to grow from seed to ripe fruit. Germination takes 7 to 10 days under ideal conditions, and seedling growth generally takes 57 to 60 days until transplant. On average, flowers usually form within 21 days after transplant, and mature fruit will be ready for harvest 49 to 64 days after the flowers appear.
To estimate how long it takes a tomato plant to fruit, you first need to understand the four different growth phases and how much time the typical tomato plant spends in each. Only then you can add in other elements like variety genetics and external factors like pollination.
How Long Does It Take For A Tomato Plant To Bear Fruit?
If you start your own seeds, it will take between 113 to 156 days for tomatoes to grow from seed to harvest. But if you’ve ever bought tomato seeds you’ve probably noticed that the ‘Days to Maturity’ on the packet is somewhere between 65-80. Why the discrepancy?
Remember that the time to maturity (days to maturity) listed on a seed packet is telling you the time from transplant to mature fruit, and not from seed to mature fruit.
So if you’re counting days from seed to harvest, you’re looking at some number in the triple digits. This timeframe accounts for all of the different phases that tomatoes undergo as part of their growth cycle: seed germination, seedling growth, flower development, and fruit development.
All fruiting plants undergo a similar four-phase growth timeline, but the time spent in each phase varies based on genetics and growing conditions:
- Seed Germination (from planting a seed to seeing it sprout) – 6 to 11 days (1 to 1.5 weeks)
- Seedling Growth (from germination to transplanting outdoors) – 57 to 60 days (8 to 8.5 weeks)
- Flower Development (from transplant to flower appearance) – 0 to 21 days (0 to 3 weeks)
- Fruit Development (from flower appearance to ripe fruit) – 49 to 64 days (7 to 9 weeks)
|6 to 11|
|57 to 60|
|0 to 21|
|49 to 64|
|Total||112 to 156|
growth phases, outlined in
the above chart.
Knowing these numbers will allow you to plan when to start tomato seeds to get harvestable fruit before the first killing frost. You might need to start seeds indoors and choose fast-maturing tomato varieties if you live in a cold area with a short growing season.
Remember that these times can vary widely, due to various factors such as:
- Soil temperature during germination (cooler soil means longer time to seed germination)
- Soil and air temperature during seedling growth (cool temperatures can slow or stunt growth)
- Presence of pollinators (a lack of bees can delay flower fertilization)
Technically, tomato plants will survive down to 33 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures below 40 degrees can result in stunted growth and even damaged flowers. Download my Temperature Ranges for Tomato Plants pdf to quickly check if temperatures are safe for your tomatoes.
It’s time to take a closer look at each of the 4 phases of tomato development from planted seed to mature fruit. Let’s start at the beginning with seed germination.
How Long Does It Take Tomato Seeds To Germinate? (Phase 1: Tomato Seed Germination)
Tomato seeds will take 6 to 11 days to germinate under ideal conditions. But what exactly do “ideal conditions” mean in terms of soil moisture and temperature?
Ideal Soil Moisture For Tomato Seed Germination
Ideal soil moisture simply means that the soil stays wet, but not soggy or soaked. If the soil dries out, the seeds might succumb to drought before they germinate.
Equally as dangerous, if not more, is overwatering to the point that seedlings develop fungal diseases like damping off. Watch out for drooping foliage, brown stems, and mold on the soil surface, as these are signs that you are overwatering your seedlings.
Ideal Soil Temperature For Tomato Seed Germination
The ideal soil temperature for tomato seed germination is 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 29 degrees Celsius). A study by the University of California demonstrates that tomato seeds can germinate in as little as 6 days when soil temperatures are 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 30 degrees Celsius).
On the other hand, tomato seeds can take up to 43 days (6 weeks!) to germinate at a soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Below this temperature, tomato seeds won’t germinate.
A soil temperature above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) will also prevent tomato seeds from germinating. Of course, the time to seed germination can vary a bit depending on the tomato variety.
If soil temperatures are within the ideal range but your tomato seeds still aren’t germinating, remember that tomato seeds that are more than 3 years old will see a decline in germination rate.
How Long Before Transplanting Tomato Seedlings? (Phase 2: Tomato Seedling Growth)
After seed germination, tomato seedlings will need 57 to 60 days (8 to 8.5 weeks) to grow into plants that are ready to move outdoors. Even if your seedlings reach a healthy size, wait until all danger of frost has passed before you transplant tomatoes into the garden.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends 64 to 70 days (9 to 10 weeks) between planting seeds to transplanting outdoors. Since it takes 7 to 10 days for tomato seeds to germinate, that gives us the figure of 57 to 60 days for seedling growth.
This means that tomato seeds should be started indoors 42 to 57 days (6 to 8 weeks) before the last spring frost date. They should be transplanted outdoors 7 to 21 days (1 to 3 weeks) after the last spring frost date.
Let’s go through an example. In Boston, Massachusetts, the last spring frost date is April 10.
Working backward from April 10 on the calendar, we find that we should start tomato seeds indoors between February 12 and February 27 in Boston, MA (42 to 57 days before April 10, the last spring frost date.)
Working forwards from April 10 on the calendar, we find that we should transplant tomatoes outside between April 17 and May 1 (7 to 21 days after April 10, the last spring frost date).
There you go! It takes just a little bit of math to figure out when to start tomato seeds indoors, but the Old Farmer’s Almanac Frost Date Calculator makes the math easy.
When Do Tomatoes Produce Flowers? (Phase 3: Tomato Flower Development)
Tomato plants can produce fruit from 0 to 21 days after transplant. I say 0 days at the low end because it is possible to see flowers forming on tomato plants before they are transplanted outside!
On the high end, it can take 21 days after transplant to start seeing flowers on a tomato plant. Be sure to mark your calendar with your transplant date – if you don’t see flowers after a few weeks, it might be time to troubleshoot.
- Soil that is too wet or too dry
- Extreme temperatures (too hot or too cold)
- Lack of sunlight (shade from trees or buildings)
- Excessive nitrogen (encourages green growth, but no flowers)
If your tomato plants aren’t flowering and you think any of these reasons may be to blame, make an adjustment and watch for a change. Pay special attention to your watering habits, and use row cover or shade cloth to bring temperatures to a range that tomatoes can tolerate. Prune back any neighboring platns that are shading your tomatoes, and apply a balanced or tomato-specific fertilizer to encourage flowering and fruiting.
How Long After Tomatoes Flower Do They Produce Fruit? (Phase 4: Tomato Fruit Development)
After successful self-pollination, tomato plants can produce fruit 28 to 85 days after flowering, depending on the variety.
Some of the fastest-maturing tomato varieties, such as the Fourth of July Hybrid, can produce fruit as soon as 28 days after flowering (49 days after transplant).
On the other hand, some varieties take a lot longer to produce fruit. For example, Marnouar can take 64 to 85 days after flowering to produce fruit (85 days after transplant).
After initial fruit production, tomato plants can continue to bear fruit for weeks or months – right up until the first fall frost. You might be able to get a little more out of them in a greenhouse or with proper cold protection (such as row covers).
Why Does My Tomato Plant Flower But No Fruit?
There are a few different reasons that a tomato plant will flower without producing fruit:
- Lack of pollination (this can happen with extreme temperatures or humidity)
- Improper watering (too much or too little)
- Lack of sunlight
- Nutrient deficiencies
Lack of pollination will occur if it is too cold for bees to work. Bees will work in temperatures as cold as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) but will slow down or stop if it is colder.
If the air is too humid and sticky, it can prevent the male part of the flower from releasing its pollen. If the air is too dry, the pollen might not stick to the female part of the flower.
Improper watering, lack of sunlight, nutrient deficiencies, pests, and diseases can all cause stress to tomato plants. This stress can prevent tomato plants from producing flowers or fruit, and it can even cause the vines to drop existing flowers or fruit.
Maybe the issue isn’t that your tomato plants didn’t flower, but that they flowered too early. Don’t pitch off these early blooms, but protect the plants from cold and give them a feeding with a balanced fertilizer blend specifically for tomatoes.
Why Are My Tomatoes Not Ripening?
Extreme temperatures are a common cause of slow ripening in tomato plants. Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) will prevent tomatoes from ripening.
Intense sunlight can also cause tomato fruit to overheat, leading to green or yellow “shoulders” (tops) on the fruit.
Now you know–there’s not one magic number for how long tomato plants take to bear fruit, but the process can take anywhere from 113-156 days depending on the variety, soil and air temperatures, and pollinator activity.
Tomatoes aren’t difficult to grow, but they are one of the more high-maintenance crops. Between planting, pruning, and harvesting, there’s a lot of work that goes into each delicious, homegrown tomato. But don’t let that scare you away from growing your own! I can teach you everything you need to know about pruning tomato suckers and I can guide you through harvesting tomatoes for peak ripeness.
And once your garden really starts producing, you might realize that you have a little too much to eat fresh. But don’t worry–it’s a good problem to have! Preserving tomatoes is easy, and you have several options. If you’re canning tomatoes, it might be helpful to know how much different kinds of tomatoes weigh.
There you have it. Now that you know what to expect, go forth and grow the best-tasting tomatoes on the block!
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