Frost Damaged Tomatoes: How to Tell and What To Do

I forgot to tell you guys what happened to my plants after that hard frost the other day. It was so sad.

Even though I covered them, 32 of my 38 tomatoes were killed by the unexpected cold streak:

I don’t know what temperature it got down to that night, but after weeks of being almost 80F that morning, when I went outside the frost was so thick on the ground it looked like it had snowed.

When I went to uncover all of my plants, they were shriveled, and limp. And by the next day, almost all had turned brown and dried completely up.

Live and learn…

At least I left a couple of plants in the greenhouse. And I’m grateful that there are still a few remaining tomato plants alive in the garden.

How to Protect Tomatoes from Frost

Although they are tough, even tomatoes can be susceptible to frost. If you’re a tomato gardener, it’s important to know how to protect your plants from the cold. Here are a few tips to keep your tomatoes safe during a frost.

1. Cover Them Up

One of the most feared hazards for tomato growers is frost. While tomatoes are typically considered a warm-weather crop, there are varieties that can tolerate cooler temperatures.

However, even these varieties can be damaged by frost, and it is important to take steps to protect your tomatoes if frost is in the forecast.

One way to protect tomatoes from frost is to cover them with a tarp or sheet. This will help to trap heat and protect the plants from the cold.

You can also cover them with a fabric such as burlap or placing them in a greenhouse. Another method of protection is to create a wall of hay bales around the plants. This will act as a barrier against the cold air.

2. Water Deeply

Like peppers, pumpkins, corn, sweet potato, cucumbers, and eggplant, tomatoes are a warm-weather crop, and they are sensitive to frost. Other warm weather crops that can’t handle that late spring frost include okra, watermelons, and collards.

Tomatoes hate freezing temperatures! If tomatoes are exposed to frosty weather or a cold climate, the water inside their plant cells freezes, rupturing the cell walls and damaging the plant tissue.

This damage can cause the fruit to become watery and mushy. To protect tomatoes from frost, water them deeply about a week before the first frost is expected. This extra moisture will help insulate the roots and keep them from freezing.

In addition, try to choose a location for your tomatoes that will receive some shelter from the wind. A wall or fence can help to deflect some of the cold air, and a row of taller plants can provide additional protection.

3. Keep Track of Weather Conditions

Frost can be devastating to a tomato crop, but there are steps that growers can take to protect their plants.

Keep track of weather conditions. If frost is forecast, take measures to protect the plants.

4. Move Container Plants

One option is to move container plants indoors or into a greenhouse. If this is not possible, covering the plants with a frost blanket or tarp can provide some protection.

For outdoor plants, mulching around the base of the plant can help to insulate against the cold.

5. Use Hybrid Frost-Resistant Tomato Strains

One way to reduce the risk of frost damage to your tomatoes is to purchase hybrid strains that are advertised as being resistant to frost.

While there is no such thing as a truly “frost-proof” tomato, these varieties have been bred to withstand lower temperatures and are less likely to be damaged by a sudden frost.

6. Provide Supplemental Heat

Many gardeners choose to supplement the heat provided by the sun with additional heat sources, such as electric blankets or space heaters. This extra warmth can help to protect the plants from frost damage, allowing them to continue producing fruit even when the weather turns cold.

In addition, supplemental heat can also extend the growing season by a few weeks, giving gardeners a chance to enjoy fresh tomatoes well into the autumn months.

Obviously, these solutions may only work for container plants or those grown in a greenhouse, but it’s worth the shot!

7. Try Anti-Transpirant Products

Anti-transpirants work by creating a barrier on the plant’s leaves that helps to prevent water loss. This can be especially helpful for tomatoes, as it can help to reduce the amount of water that is lost through the leaves during a frost.

When applied before a frost is expected, anti-transpirants can help to minimize the damage that frost can cause to your tomatoes.

8. Remove Coverings ASAP

While a late-season frost can damage tomatoes that are still ripening on the vine, there are ways to protect them.

One method is to cover the plants with a tarp or sheet overnight, which will help to trap heat and prevent the frost from damaging the fruit. Row covers can also help protect your plants.

However, it’s important to remove the covering the next day, as tomatoes need sunlight in order to ripen.

Additionally, covering the plants for too long can cause them to overheat, leading to sunscald. By taking these precautions, you can help ensure that your tomatoes are safe from frost damage.

9. Don’t Let Frost Coverings Touch Tomato Leaves

If you live in an area where frost is a problem for tomatoes, you may be thinking about covering the plants to protect them.

However, it’s important to make sure that the frost coverings don’t touch the leaves of the tomato plants. If they do, the leaves will become damaged and the plant will be less likely to produce fruit.

One way to prevent this problem is to use stakes or cages to support the frost coverings. This will keep them from coming into contact with the leaves while still providing protection from the cold.

10. Harden Them Off Before Planting

Hardening off tomatoes protects them from frost. It is done by setting seedlings out in a sheltered spot for a week before planting them in the garden. This gives them time to acclimate to the new conditions and prevents transplant shock.

Transplanting is stressful for plants, and they need time to adjust to their new environment. Hardening off tomatoes helps them to transition smoothly and reduces the risk of damage from frost.

11. Harvest Too Early Rather Than Too Late

Harvesting tomatoes too late can lead to frost damage, which can significantly reduce the quality of the fruit. Frost damage is caused by the exposure of the fruit to low temperatures, which causes the water inside the cells to freeze. This results in the cell walls rupturing, which leads to the loss of flavor and texture.

By harvesting tomatoes early, you can avoid this type of damage. While the fruit may not be as ripe as you would like, it will still be of high quality. In addition, early harvesting also helps to protect the plant itself from frost damage.

By removing the fruit before frost arrives, you can reduce the risk of damage to the leaves and stems. As a result, early harvesting is often the best option for protecting both tomatoes and tomato plants from frost damage.

Signs of Frost Damage on Tomato Plants

One of the most feared conditions for gardeners is a late frost. A hard frost can damage or kill many types of plants, and tomatoes are particularly vulnerable.

Some of the most common signs of frost damage on tomato plants include frozen dew balls, frost between the stems, and frozen fruit. The leaves may also show extensive discoloration, and the plant may sag to the ground.

In addition, the stems may become soft and the leaves may wilt.

Frost-damaged tomatoes will typically have dark brown or black patches on their skin, and they will be soft and bruised.

If you see any of these signs in your tomato plants, it is important to take action immediately.

Remove any damaged leaves or fruit, and give the plant extra protection from the cold if possible. With timely treatment, you can often save your tomato plants from frost damage.

Can Tomato Plants Survive a Frost?

Tomato plants are frost-sensitive and can be damaged by temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, mature plants are generally more resistant to frost than young plants.

Mature plants are more likely to survive a frost than young plants. The reasoning is that mature plants have thicker stems and leaves, which provide better insulation against the cold.

Additionally, mature plants have typically been exposed to a wider range of temperatures, making them more adaptable to sudden changes in temperature.

While there is no guarantee that a mature plant will survive a frost, it is certainly worth a try for those who are willing to take the risk..

Some plants, like parsley, radish, winter squash, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, and onion, can handle frost like champs. Tomatoes aren’t that hardy.

A good way to tell if your tomato plants will bounce back from the onslaught of cold weather is to look at the stem.

If the stem appears heavily damaged or the tomato plant is sagging all the way to the ground, the plant has slim odds (if any) of living. If only a few leaves appear damaged, you might be able to save the plant.

How to Save Tomatoes Affected By a Frost

It’s that time of year again when the overnight temperatures start to dip below freezing. For gardeners, this can be a cause for concern, especially if your plants are not frost-resistant. One such plant that is affected by frost is the tomato. Here are some tips on how to save tomatoes affected by a frost.

1. Make Sure the Frost is Over

Any gardener knows that frost can be devastating to tomatoes. The cold temperatures can damage the fruit, leaving it bruised and misshapen. In severe cases, frost can kill the plant entirely.

Being vigilant is key to preventing frost damage on your tomatoes – but unfortunately, the local weather forecast can really only go so far.

So how can you tell if a frost is coming?

One way to check is to look at the forecast. If the temperature is expected to dip below freezing, then there’s a good chance that frost will form. Another way to check is by monitoring the temperature of the air and soil.

If the air temperature drops below freezing but the soil remains above freezing, then frost is likely to form.

Educate yourself on your plant hardiness zone and know when your average first and last frost date is. That way, you can provide your tomato seedlings or plants frost protection as needed based on those frost dates.

Not all plants need frost protection – cold weather crops like carrots, broccoli, beets, and spinach can handle colder weather. Tomatoes, unfortunately, don’t fall into that category.

Finally, you can also look for signs of frost on your tomato plants. If you see any white or grayish spots on the leaves, then it’s a good indication that frost is starting to form. By keeping an eye out for these signs, you can help to ensure that your tomatoes are protected from Frost damage.

2. Spray With Water

One of the most effective methods is to spray the plants with water before the temperature starts to drop. The water will form a protective layer around the fruit, helping to insulate it from the cold air.

It’s a good idea to give your tomato plants a long drink of water after the frost, too. This will help them recover and bounce back from any damage they may have suffered.

3. Move Indoors (if Possible)

Late spring and early fall can bring perfect weather for growing tomatoes. But if a late frost hits, it can damage the fruit. If you see signs of frost damage on your tomato plants, there are a few things you can do to try to save them.

First, if possible, move the plants indoors. A garage or porch is usually enough to protect them from further damage. If you can’t move the plants, try covering them with a tarp or cloth overnight. This will provide some protection from the cold.

4. Prune Affected Leaves or Pinch Them Off

While a light frost usually won’t cause much damage to tomato plants, a hard frost can damage leaves and fruits. If you notice that your tomatoes have been hit by frost o r even see ice crystals, there are two things you can do to help them recover.

First, you can prune away any affected leaves. This will help to prevent the spread of disease and encourage the plant to focus its energy on producing new growth.

Second, you can pinch off any damaged fruits or leaves. This will prevent the plant from wasting energy on fruits that will never ripen and leaves that will no longer grow.

5. Give Them Some Food

First, remove any damaged leaves or fruit. This will prevent disease from spreading and allow the plant to focus its energy on healing. Next, fertilize the plant with a high-phosphorus fertilizer. This will help the plant to produce new growth.

6. Prevent Future (or Additional) Frost Damage

Frost damage is a particular problem for tomato plants. The damage can range from a light browning of the leaves to complete defoliation and death of the plant.

If your tomato plants have been hit by frost, there are a few things you can do to prevent future (or additional) frost damage. First, remove any damaged leaves or stems. Damaged tissue is more susceptible to further cold damage, so it’s best to remove it.

Next, water your plants well. A healthy root system is better able to withstand cold temperatures than a dry one.

Finally, mulch around the base of your plants. This will help insulate the roots and protect them from the cold. By taking these steps, you can help your tomato plants recover from frost damage and prevent future problems.

Use Frost Damaged Tomatoes Promptly – Don’t Try to Store Them

If you’ve ever suffered through a cold snap, only to find your tomatoes frozen solid, you may be wondering if there’s any way to salvage them.

Unfortunately, once tomatoes have been frost-damaged, they’re not suitable for storing. The flesh of the fruit will be mealy and watery, and the flavor will be bland.

However, all is not lost – frost-damaged tomatoes can still be used in cooked dishes. So don’t despair if your winter crop is looking a little worse for wear – just turn them into sauce or soup, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Harvest Green Fruits

Frost can be devastating for tomato plants, causing the fruits to turn brown and rot.

However, there is a way to salvage some of the crop- by harvesting the green tomatoes. These fruits can be ripened indoors, and while they may not have the full flavor of sun-ripened tomatoes, they will still be edible.

To harvest frost-damaged tomatoes, gently twist the fruit to detach it from the vine. Avoid bruising the fruit, as this will speed up the rotting process. Once the fruits are picked, store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to ripen them.

Place the tomatoes in a paper bag or boxes with holes punched in them, and store them at room temperature out of direct sunlight.

Depending on the degree of damage, it may take a week or more for the tomatoes to ripen. Once they turn red or orange, they are ready to eat. By taking quick action after a frost hits, you can salvage some of your tomato crop and enjoy fresh tomatoes even in the middle of winter.

I’m wondering, have you ever had frost damaged plants come back?

19 thoughts on “Frost Damaged Tomatoes: How to Tell and What To Do”

  1. I had a couple of tomato’s that were hit by a freak frost in June of all times, I had them covered with water walls since late April so I thought I was doing great and they were large. I had just uncovered them when we had a dip in temp and got two frosts in one week. I covered them the second time but the first one did them in. I lost half my peppers, and the ones that survived lost all their leaves and had to start over. So much for my early start. But my tomato’s although they did survive in the long run, they are weird looking. The leaves are curled up and do not open like they are supposed to. They are putting out a few flowers but not as many as they should have. I went out and bought one other tomato plant to replace them if they died so I will get a decent showing from it, but I am not so sure what the frost damaged ones will do. Does anyone know what I might be able to do with them? I cut back a lot of the extra growth so they can focus on the area with the flowers on it, but? still just not that sure about what I am doing to say for sure. I would appreciate any advice or knowledge.

    Reply
    • Trixiefly,

      I’d say just leave them and see what happens. Maybe you can give them some Miracle Grow, they might be lacking something. I always sprinkle dried egg shells and coffee grounds around my plants to help with the calcium and stuff. Good luck!!

      Reply
  2. I was hardening off my tomatoes and I forgot to bring them in the night we had frost, and the next day I was going out of town…so they died, too. I was so sad. I was hoping to have a few early tomatoes this year, but that’s not going to happen. I’ll just have to wait until next month to plant tomatoes.

    Reply
  3. Don’t pull them out yet. This happened to me before and if any tiny piece is still alive, you can expect them to rebound. Also, if they do all die, do this: take cuttings from the other tomato plants you have. Put them in water (in a jar) in a south- facing window. They will root and you can plant them in place of your frozen plants. I had to do this one year and it worked. Don’t give up! 😀

    Reply
  4. I’m with “Gone Country”. Don’t pull those plants just yet. New plants will probably grow from the roots. I’m not sure how fruitful they will be, but it’s worth a try and also plant new ones if you have them. With the unusually warm weather we’ve had this year it’s tempting to plant stuff right now, but around here we normally have threat of frost until May, so nothing will get planted till Memorial Day except frost tolerant stuff like peas, cabbage and broccoli or whatever comes up on it’s own. We don’t start tomatoes from seed ’cause I have no place to keep them till April. It’s a waste of time and money. I usually invest in 12 tomato plants… six early girls and six roma or some type of paste tomato. We have some tomatoes that come up from drops from last year, but they aren’t even up ’til middle of June. They give us a few cherry tomatoes to munch on before fall frost, but they don’t really produce any large fruit. I’d say you have plenty of time to start over. I have a strip of burlap and many burlap bags that I put over all my stuff in the fall to keep the frost from killing everything. Plastic is not the best insulator. I think the Christmas light idea is interesting. We’ve also used “water towers”, but they can be expensive. We picked some up from a “going out of business” sale one time and keep them in the greenhouse away from the mice. Yes, I have a greenhouse, but it is being used for storage at this time and filled with canning jars.

    Hope you have success with the tomatoes. I will be interested to hear how it goes.

    Reply
  5. i cover my tomatoes and fall vegies with a large plastic painters tarp over 1/2 inch pvc bowed pipe with christmas lights ….i live in az and the temp this week will be 101 a few weeks ago it was freezing and several inches of snow in northern az

    Reply
  6. After waiting a while to see what survives, I would consider at least replacing some with a few plants from a local greenhouse. Even if you have to pay $2-3 a plant (and I have seen them as little as .33) it will still be worth the investment for the food and canning value. Also check the greenhouses at the end of their selling season. They often get rid of the last bit of stock for pennies a plant.

    Reply
  7. It’s always heartbreaking when that happens, I’m sorry. 🙁
    I’m no help though since my tomato seedlings just came up in the greenhouse (can’t put in the ground until Memorial Day).

    Reply
  8. Ahhh!!! I totally feel your pain, I lost over 40 tomato plants last spring! Then, in the fall, I had a couple of tomato plants that were on the verge of being frost bitten, so I brought them inside. I later found out they were pretty crispy! But, they survived the winter, grew back, and I am eating fresh tomatoes now from those plants! 🙂

    Reply
  9. Covered mine as well, and seems I lost two out of 7. I’m with you in leaving them be for a while to see if they might recover…I’ve got nothing to lose by waiting. Did you mulch with wood chips or what? Looks good! I need to figure out something to put around my plants for cheap.

    Reply
  10. Kendra if you need more seeds I am swimming in Roma and am more then willing to share. Message me if interested [email protected] they are from peacefully valley seeds and sprouted very well for me (I have about 130 plants inside from these seeds)

    My hubby blessed me with tons of pretty herbs and we almot planted them but I still hesitate since my last frost is still a month away.

    Reply
  11. Hi Kendra,
    I don’t start my tomatoes until the first weeks of April. I’m in No. Illinois. I would think you still have time to start them from seed without any problems. Sometimes when I have started them later they catch up with the ones I started earlier when the weather heats up they just take off!

    Reply
  12. I’m so sorry to hear about your tomatoes! I have a ton of volunteers from my worm composting bin that are looking great – wishing I could share them with you! This is just one more “lesson” that will make you a better gardener in the long run. I find that mistakes like these are engraved in our mind and we don’t forget them nearly as easily in the future! Kind of like my bee thing last year (remember how I starved them? Won’t happen again!).

    As far as protecting them against frost… a covering is usually only going to protect for a light frost that is short in duration. And different covers protect to different degrees. Eliot Coleman talks about this in his book Four Season Harvest if I remember correctly. For example, most frost blankets will give you about a 4 degree window – that’s all. And because different plants can tolerate cold differently, that 4 degrees is either plenty of protection or not nearly enough. Tomatoes – not enough; they are more tropical and heat loving. Next time, I would cover like you did and then throw the Christmas lights in and a blanket on top, but you must remember to remove it or you’ll fry them later when it warms up. I did this to my Chard recently. One day left covered and they were toast. I’m learning that checking my garden has to be 100% routine – every. single. morning. without. fail. and every. single. evening. without. fail.

    Reply
  13. I also got frost after unseasonable warm weather. The first night I watered the plants before sunset and then went out before the sun rose and rewatered them. The second night I did not water them but got up the next morning and watered them. I lost a few green bean plants but everything else looks good. I did not cover them at all just watered them. I read that by watering before the sun comes up the frost does not expand and cause cell damage. It seemed to work since I only lost 3 plants.

    Reply
  14. I was glad when you said you hadn’t pulled the tomatoes out yet thinking that they might come back. If there is a next time, try laying some Christmas lights on the ground around your plants and then cover them. The heat from the lights should help protect them.

    Reply

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