I am growing squash, cucs, and tomatoes in containers. The tomatoes seem spent in terms of fruit, but I continue to prune dead stems and to fertilize...
when does the season end #851186
Asked September 25, 2023, 2:20 PM EDT
I am growing squash, cucs, and tomatoes in containers. The tomatoes seem spent in terms of fruit, but I continue to prune dead stems and to fertilize (calcium/mag) because the plants seem to be getting a lot of new growth, including flowers. Am I wasting my time? On the other hand, the cucs and squash plants don't look robust anymore, but are still producing fruit, albeit smaller and at a slower rate, so I'm also continuing to fertilize them, and I guess I will continue to do so until something kills them. (So my main question is about the tomatoes).
Baltimore City CountyMaryland
The growing season ends with the autumn frost/freeze, either the first one or not many occurrences afterwards since frost-tender plants might be growing in a location that gives them a few degrees of protection. Our Fall Frost or Freeze Dates page provides information about how you can look up average frost timing for your area. Not only does active growth cease, but cold-intolerant plants will die off, and will not regrow or resume fruiting even if temperatures moderate again. This includes warm-season veggies like tomato, cucumber, and squash. (Even if it weren't for cold, the harvest season is also just about finished due to waning daylight, which is one reason why plants can't be brought indoors for the winter for a continued harvest in sheltered conditions.)
If you were growing a determinate tomato variety, then they are finished once their main crop is ready for picking because they do not keep flowering and fruiting later into the season the way indeterminate varieties do. While indeterminate tomatoes might keep producing right up until a killing frost, it would be somewhat pointless to keep fertilizing and maintaining them since chilly weather will reduce pollination and/or not allow any newly-formed fruits time to ripen. Even though you can finish ripening tomatoes indoors, they need to start coloring-up first before being picked, unless you are aiming for green tomatoes. As for the cucumber and squash, fertilizing this late probably won't have much impact unless you happen to have cool-season crops nearby (kale, etc.) that were recently planted which can pick up the unused nutrients. The warm-season plants would need time to absorb the nutrients applied (especially if soil microbes first need to break them down, which will slow considerably as it cools) so it's unlikely fertilizer applied now would be of much benefit to those kinds of crops.
This work is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.