Growing tomatoes in Nebraska may be difficult due to a sometimes extreme climate, but that will just make the tomatoes you’ll grow all the sweeter. Nebraska has hot summers and cold winters, with significant temperature fluctuations throughout the year, making it difficult to maintain optimal growing conditions for the plants. With the foreknowledge and a proper setup, you and your tomatoes will be able to handle anything the Nebraska climate has in store.
Tomatoes in Nebraska’s Climate
Nebraska’s climate is characterized by hot summers and cold winters, with a semi-arid climate in the western regions and a humid continental climate in the east. The state experiences high winds, heavy rainfall, and temperature fluctuations throughout the year, which can create challenges for tomato growth.
In the summer, high temperatures can cause the plants to wilt, while low temperatures in the spring can stunt growth. The state’s relatively low humidity levels can also cause problems with blossom-end rot and cracking in the fruit. To combat these issues, growers in Nebraska may use techniques such as mulching to regulate soil temperature and moisture levels. Shade may be necessary for the plants during the hottest parts of the day. Additionally, drip irrigation can help maintain consistent moisture levels in the soil, reducing the risk of blossom-end rot. Be cautious when transplanting tomato plants outdoors, they are not frost tolerant! In case of a late or early frost, you can use row covers, or greenhouses to protect the plants from the elements. Starting your tomato seeds indoors raises your success greatly as they are stronger and more mature when moved outside.
When to Start Tomatoes Indoors in Nebraska
If you want to get an early start on cultivating tomatoes, begin growing the seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the final spring frost in your area, regardless of the tomato variety you’re growing. In Nebraska, start sowing your tomato seeds indoors around March 22nd to April 5th.
You may want to get them going even earlier than that and plant them in a large pot ahead of producing them outdoors, just to give them even more of a head start. To start tomato seeds indoors:
- Select a planting container. Choose a container at least 6-8 inches deep, with holes in the bottom for drainage.
- Fill with a seed starter potting soil.
- Plant 2-3 tomato seeds ⅛ inch deep in the soil and cover.
- Water the soil until it is moist but not soggy.
- Place the container in a warm, sunny spot indoors and keep the soil moist.
- When the seedlings reach 2-3 inches tall, thin them out so there is only one seedling per container.
Tomato Varieties That do Well in Nebraska
Growing early-harvest tomatoes is essential in Nebraska, due to the shortened growing season. Some varieties of tomatoes are ready to harvest in under 60 days, which is ideal in the short growing season of Nebraska. I recommend one of the following varieties:
- ‘Early Girl’ Tomato – 55 Days to Harvest
- ‘Sun Gold’ Tomato – 55 Days to Harvest
- ‘Sungold’ Tomato – 50 Days to Harvest
- ‘Stupice’ Tomato – 52 Days to Harvest
- ‘Fourth of July’ Tomato – 49 Days to Harvest
- ‘Sweet Million’ Tomato – 45 Days to Harvest
- ‘Oregon Spring’ Tomato – 50 Days to Harvest
- ‘Celebrity’ Tomato – 70 Days to Harvest
- ‘Yellow Pear’ Tomato – 60 Days to Harvest
- ‘Gardener’s Delight Tomato – 52 Days to Harvests
Hardening Off Your Tomatoes
Hardening off tomatoes that you’ve started indoors before planting outdoors is essential to ensure they can thrive in the outdoor environment. When tomatoes are started indoors, they become accustomed to the warm and more stable environment. When planted outdoors, they are exposed to more extreme temperatures, wind, and sun. Hardening off tomatoes helps them slowly adjust to their new environment by exposing them to these elements for an extended period.
The process of hardening off tomatoes begins by slowly introducing them to the outdoors. Start by placing them in a sheltered spot, such as a porch or a partially shaded area, for a few hours each day. Over a week, gradually increase the amount of time they are kept outdoors and the amount of sun they are exposed to. After a week of hardening off, the tomatoes should be ready to move to their final outdoor planting location.
When to Plant Tomatoes in Nebraska
It’s generally safe to plant tomatoes outdoors when there is no risk of frost or freezing temperatures. In most climates, this means waiting until at least late spring or early summer. In Nebraska, your final freeze date is expected around April 30th to May 12th depending on where you live. Still, be mindful of your weather forecast. If it seems like you’re in for a late freeze, wait to plant your tomatoes! The last freeze dates in Nebraska are:
- Zone 4: Around May 12th
- Zone 5: Around April 30th
When to Harvest Tomatoes in Nebraska
When tomatoes have turned a deep red (or the ripe color of their particular variety) and have no green spots visible, they are ripe and ready to be picked. If there are still green patches on the tomato, it has not yet ripened and should remain on the vine. The ideal way to pick ripe tomatoes is to cup the tomato in your hand and give it a gentle twist- it should come off the vine with ease. When in doubt, you can leave it on the vine an extra couple of days, or harvest the entire branch of tomatoes and allow it to ripen on the vine on your window sill.