Tomatoes are among the most popular garden vegetables for casual home gardeners. For this reason, it would be nice if tomatoes could simply grow back each year without the need to replant.
In this article, I’ll discuss the question, do tomato plants regrow every year? The answer depends on both the variety being grown, and the climate in which it is planted.
Quick Answer: Tomatoes are perennial in their native tropical climate, but will die to freezing temperatures in cold climates. Tomatoes can regrow from fallen seeds when warm spring weather arrives (volunteer plants), or can be propagated from cuttings in the fall.
Natural Climate of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are indigenous to South and Central America, meaning they are essentially tropical plants. In these climates, the plants are naturally perennial, meaning they live for several years before dying.
However, tomatoes are not cold hardy and won’t tolerate freezing temperatures. In other words, tomato plants die when it drops below freezing. For many home gardeners, this becomes an issue when the first date of frost approaches.
Why does freezing weather kill plants? Non-cold hardy plants will die in a hard freeze due to ice crystals rupturing the cells. Water expands when it freezes, and plants are made up of primarily water – a bad combination! Some plants (deciduous trees, etc.) enter a dormant state to survive winter weather, but many do not, becoming susceptible to frost damage.
So, the first consideration to make is your particular climate. Here in the Northeast US, our winter temperatures drop well below freezing for multiple months. For this reason, any tomato plant will die from the cold without some form of heating.
If you happen to live in a climate that does not get a hard freeze (hardiness zones 10b+), then your tomatoes can likely survive for multiple years. For temperate regions, the plants will die to frost, or can be overwintered indoors.
Tomato Plant Life Cycle
Tomatoes follow a simple life cycle, going through two major stages when planted from seed. Put simply, the plants start as seedlings, grow quickly to form branches and leaves, begin producing flowers, and finally ripen fruits.
Vegetative Growth Stage
The first stage is known as vegetative growth. This is because the plant is busy producing lots of new foliage, branches, and a strong main stem.
During the vegetative stage, tomatoes use lots of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to build a healthy and strong plant. I recommend using a high-nitrogen fertilizer at this stage, especially for potted plants.
Once the plant is about 6-8 weeks old, you should begin to see some flower trusses. This marks the beginning of the fruiting stage, or the bloom stage.
Specific fertilizers are made to enhance fruit set rates and avoid issues like blossom end rot. I provide a list of highly effective fertilizers for the fruiting stage.
Death and Re-growth
As the season draws to a close and the weather is cooling down, many ripe tomatoes will be falling, full of viable seeds. While frost does kill a tomato plant, the seeds can overwinter for several years and germinate when it is warm again.
Volunteer Tomato Plants
If you have grown tomato plants from seed before, you likely know that each plant can produce impressive harvests. Highly-productive plants can leave you with more fruit than you can use, and sometimes fruits get left to fall naturally.
These fallen tomatoes contain seeds, many of which will become exposed as the fruits decompose, and can naturally survive the winter months by going dormant. In the spring, some of these seeds will often germinate naturally.
Fun fact: Tomato seeds contain a gelatinous material that inhibits germination. This allows the seeds to sit through fall weather and only begin germinating next season when the conditions are right.
Through this natural self-planting cycle, tomatoes can technically ‘regrow’ each year in a cold climate. However, this is very different from a truly perennial plant that is the same organism surviving multiple years.
Should you keep volunteer tomatoes? I like to control my tomatoes from planting through to harvest, so I usually pull volunteer plants in the spring. However, if your volunteers look healthy and are growing in a location that works for you, there is no need to pull them! As long as they are not crowding other plants, they can often produce healthy, strong plants with little effort.
Overwintering Tomato Plants
If you don’t want to let your plants go when the season is over, there are some ways to overwinter tomatoes. However, this will usually only work with indeterminate varieties, as determinate plants usually die after fruiting.
Indeterminates also grow very tall through the course of a season, making transporting the plants cumbersome and sometimes impossible. The main stems are simply too easy to break, so I recommend saving a cutting (or multiple) instead.
Saving Tomato Cuttings
Tomatoes readily produce roots from main stems across the plant. If the weather is particularly humid, it is common to see the start of these roots around nodes. They look like small white nubs and are known as “adventitious roots.”
You can take advantage of this to propagate or clone your tomato plant to save it over the winter. The cutting is from the main plant, meaning it shares 100% of the DNA of the original plant – it is still the same organism!
How to propagate tomato cuttings
Simply snip off a main branch (not a leaf stem) and submerge the cut end in water. Keep the plant indoors near a window and wait for the roots to begin growing into the water.
Keep the plant trimmed, as it may try to grow taller or grow flowers. The goal is to keep the trimming alive and healthy until it can be repotted into soil in spring. Once the plant is back in soil, it can be grown as if from seed and will have a great head start on other plants.
Do Tomato Plants Fruit More Than Once?
Indeterminate tomato plants will fruit continually throughout the season. The plants can produce staggering numbers of fruits if kept healthy. I grow primarily indeterminate tomatoes and they usually only stop fruiting when the weather gets cold.
Determinate plants are different in that they produce a flush of fruits all at once, then shut down and usually die. Some types can produce a second round of fruits, but only if given enough time.
To encourage more fruits to develop, I recommend harvesting ripe tomatoes promptly. This encourages the plant to send more energy to the next set of fruits for faster ripening. It can also help increase yields.
I hope this article helped you learn about the natural life cycle of tomatoes. Will they regrow every year? Not in most climates, although they can stay alive for many years in warm climates. Feel free to leave any thoughts in the comments below.