Gardeners urged ‘take simple steps’ to ‘avoid tomato plant death’ from ‘late spring frost’

How and when is the best time to pick tomatoes

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‘Never cast a clout till May is out’ the saying goes, and many gardeners believe this means their tender plants or seedlings can be caught out by a cold spell right up until the end of May. The forecast for the month suggests unsettled periods, with dominant winds and a few cold spells. With that in mind, here’s how to “reduce the risk of frost” and “protect” tomato plants according to the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Tomatoes are sun-loving plants, but as the summer months approach, they can suffer from spells of cold weather. 

The ideal temperature for a tomato plant is 18-24 degrees Celcius, and no lower than 13 degrees Celcius. 

If it is too cold, it might lead to curling of leaves and poor pollination. 

And when the plant grows fruit, it could end up being misshapen, ‘catfaced’ or scarred with holes. 

Some gardeners will have their tomatoes in their final position in the soil already, as they are usually transplanted outdoors from zero to four weeks after the last frost date. 

And many will be considering planting them out later this month. 

But what happens if there is a “late spring frost”? 

The RHS’ official website says: “Frost can affect many plants, and is particularly damaging to tender new growth and blossom in the spring. 

“The risks of frost damage can be reduced by taking some simple steps to protect the plants in your garden.

“As a result of late spring frosts summer bedding plants and tender vegetables, such as potatoes and tomatoes, may suffer from leaf scorch, browning and even total plant death.” 

There are several things to do to ensure “total plant death” does not occur. 

For gardeners who haven’t planted tomatoes outside yet, there are a few things they can do to prepare the plant. 

Tomato plants might be resilient, but moving them from a warm and cosy greenhouse or windowsill to straight outside will shock them. 

Climatise the plant by standing them outside on warm days, and bringing them indoors when the temperature drops in the evening. 

Make sure the plant is also in a generous-sized pot, this will give the roots plenty of room to grow strong.

For any tomato plants already outside, install overnight protection such as horticultural fleece. 

Garden cloches can also be used – either plastic or glass domes that are placed over the individual plant to protect it from the cold. 

Milk cartons or 2l plastic bottles can be used instead, simply cut them in half and place them over the plant, gently pushing it into the soil. 

Looking ahead, one way to ensure the plant has the best chance of surviving and producing a large harvest is by including potassium in the soil or feed at transplanting time. 

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