How Long Do Tomato Plants Live? – What You Need to Know

It’s never easy to watch your vegetable garden decline as the days shorten and the temperatures drop. And everyone’s favorite, the tomato, is one of the first to fall victim to the killing frosts of autumn and winter.

So how long can a tomato plant actually live and produce the luscious fruit we all love so much?

The short answer is that your tomato plants will not live forever, however, their life-span is directly impacted by your region, pests and of course your own tender loving care. Let’s look a a tomatoes life expectancy in more detail.

Perennial or Annual?

Tomatoes are usually classified as tender perennials, although for most gardeners they are grown as annuals, started each spring from seed and allowed to die back in fall when the first hard frosts hit the garden.

In their native habitat in the tropical regions of South America, an indeterminate tomato plant- one that can grow indefinitely as a sprawling vine, rather than forming a small bush with a defined final size- could theoretically keep growing for several years.

There is one variety of perennial tomato that is known as the Tamarillo Tomato Tree, or Cyphomandra betacea Sendt, which is native to the Andes and grown today in places such as Costa Rica and Haiti, as well as in India and Australia.

It’s not quite the same as the classic tomato that we usually grow, having a resinous taste and smell. Seeds of the Tamarillo Tree Tomato can be purchased through Amazon.

Another type of tomato tree has been developed by Chinese scientists, the Giant Tree Tomato, or Lycopersicon Esculentum, that takes up to a year and a half to reach its full size and can produce up to 14,000 tomatoes! One at Epcot Center at Walt Disney World produced 32,000 tomatoes in one year.

Seeds for the giant tree tomato can be bought here if you want to try this unique variety yourself!

Extending Your Tomato’s Life

In the garden, tomato plants usually run out of steam, especially as fall approaches, but it is possible to either get some tomatoes inside during the winter, or just get a head start on the next year’s season by suckering your favorite varieties before they fall victim to frost.

The standard tomato varieties that we grow in our home gardens tend to grow to their full size, flower, bear fruit, and then decline and die when the days get colder. However, you may have grown a variety that you liked so much that you want to keep it alive!

You can do that even without digging up and potting the whole plant, which, let’s face it, is probably pretty straggly by the time September comes around. Instead, you can clone that plant by taking suckers and rooting them, as this video demonstrates.

Propagating from Suckers

Every responsible tomato gardener knows that suckering your tomato plants is a great way to improve yields. This is an ongoing maintenance task from when the small plants are first set out after the last frost in spring.

Suckers are the shoots that grow out of the crotches of the branches of your growing tomato plant, and can sap the energy of the plant that is better focused on setting and growing fruit. If they are allowed to grow, you can end up with a monster of a plant without a demonstrably higher yield.

Most of the time, we just toss the suckers onto the compost heap after snapping them off, but later in the year it’s worth taking a second look at them. They can be the way to a whole new life for your tomato plants!

If you take a few of those suckers and root them in water, or in grow plugs, you will end with vigorous new plants ready to start the whole tomato cycle all over again! It can help to use some rooting hormone to get things started, but even without it, tomato suckers are pretty enthusiastic about putting out fresh roots, usually within a few days.

Plant them in fresh potting soil and bring them in to a greenhouse or a sunny window inside. They may well flower while inside, and you can set fruit by hand-pollinating.

Even if you can’t grow fruit inside and the plants get too leggy by mid-winter, just take fresh suckers, discard the first generation of clones, and keep the process going until planting weather arrives again!

Keeping Tomatoes Growing in the South

The real problem with extending the life of tomato plants where the winters are warm is the extreme heat of the summer months. Once you’ve got the plants through the hot, dry summer, there are techniques to get a second year of tomatoes from the same plant.

Northern gardeners might find it hard to believe, but in places like Florida and Texas, tomato lovers are well advised to provide some shade for their plants in July and August. Too much sun can kill them.

They also need to be kept watered if there’s not enough rain, as they can wilt and die in hot, dry soil. The other risk is too high a humidity, which will foster diseases that can wipe out your entire crop.

However, once they’ve made it through the summer, it’s possible to see a second year of growth, even if it’s too cool for winter crops. As long as there is not frost to kill off the roots, you can cut your tomato plants back to the ground and there should be regrowth as things warm up in the spring!

Can Your Tomatoes Live Forever?

Let’s face it- the chances of a Bush Beefsteak tomato plant living forever are very low.
However, if you’re willing to grow a different variety, given the right climate or a big enough greenhouse, you could have a Tomato Tree which produces fruit for several years.

You could also clone that perfect Bush Beefsteak by taking suckers and rooting them for over-wintering before planting out again in the spring.

And if you’re lucky enough to live in the sunny south, with enough care in the hot summer months, you could easily get a second year of those Beefsteak tomatoes before you need to replace the plants!

Have you had any success with long-lived tomato plants? Please let us know in the comments below!

For Further Reading:

  1. Jobe says

    I’m on my 2nd year for tomatoes from fall cuttings as well as a whole (tiny) plant making a go for year 2. A hot pepper plant grown in 2 liter soda bottle is going on year two as well, haven’t seed any flowers yet, but soon, I hope

    1. A Garden Life says

      Those first flowers are a delight to see, fingers crossed for you. Also, clever use of the soda bottle that would otherwise be thrown in the trash/recycled at a factory!

  2. G. says

    Iv got a 2 year old tomato plant in uk kept it going with a grow light over winter

    1. A Garden Life says

      That’s a good idea. Artificial light can work very well for keeping vegetables and fruit plants alive and well during the dark/colder months. I’ve set up a DIY grow tent in my shed with LED’s which, whilst not as good as a proper grow light, does work pretty well.

    2. Kyrie says

      Doing the same. Fresh-picked tomatoes are a treat in my city’s freezing winter!

  3. Katrin says

    I have had the same plant for 5 summers now, still green and produces tomatoes no matter what month it is. A a low plant, I have it on the window sill. I live in Northen Europe, so not warm at all, and in winter I haven’t had any special light on either.

  4. Janet says

    I have a cherry tomato plant that is over 30 years old. I was told that it was an ornamental cherry tomato plant. Have you heard of such a thing?

  5. Curtis says

    I bought a small cherry tomato plant called ‘ a Snacker’ in February, 2016. The plant was about a foot tall then and producing cherry tomatoes. It seemed to produce leaves and new flowers at that time also. As I ‘ snacked’ on my plant the large old leaves started to die so I cut them. The new leaves and flowers grew a second crop that matured on 3 mo. ( In May). Same thing happened. A new crop of leaves and flowers. By August I ‘snacked’ again. I brought my plant indoors in my patio window facing South. I had another crop in Novembe. Another in February, 2017. I have had this plant now for 33 months and it is on its 3rd winter and still producing sweet cherry tomatoes. I cannot find any information about it. Can you help?

    1. A Garden Life says

      Sounds like you’re doing pretty well with it despite not knowing much about it if you ask me! That’s a long time to have a tomato plant for sure!

  6. carlos moreida says

    I have a homemade greenhouse and have 3 kinds of tomatoes that have been producing for 2 yrs

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