Tomatoes famously come in a huge assortment of shapes and sizes, with over 10,000 varieties to experiment with.
For those home gardeners that live in more Northern, cooler climates, you may struggle to find the perfect tomato cultivars to grow in your area whose season isn’t cut short of a bountiful harvest due to an early frost.
For short-season growing climates the best tomatoes to select are the fast-maturing ones, which will shoot up and set fruit early in the season so that the tomatoes have sufficient time to ripen before temperatures drop.
Short Season vs Long Season Growing Regions
Short season growing climates are those locations where the date of last frost and first frost are close together, and you might only have 4-5 months of warm temperatures in which to grow your fruits and veggies.
Long season growing regions will have the last and first frost dates far apart, or may not even experience a true winter with freezing temperatures!
Since tomatoes are heat and sun-loving fruits, they do need soil temperatures to be sufficiently warm before planting and lots of direct sunlight to grow big and bountiful.
On average, tomatoes take around 70 days to mature from the date of transplant to harvest, but there are both short-season and long-season varieties that have been bred to produce ripe fruits in less or more time.
Short-season tomato cultivars are usually ready for harvest after around 50-60 days, and long-season ones can take over 75 days to ripen.
According to the USDA growing zones, short-season areas are zones 4 and below, midseason areas are zones 5-9, and the longest growing seasons are subtropical to tropical in zone 9 and above.
Determinate vs Indeterminate tomatoes: Which is Best For Short Season Tomato Growers
Determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are loosely associated with short and long growing seasons, with determinate varieties more suitable for short seasons and indeterminate for long.
This is because determinate tomatoes max out at a certain height and set all their fruits around the same time, but indeterminate tomatoes grow continuously and continue to set fruit throughout the season.
You get more bang for your buck with indeterminate tomatoes but only if you have a growing season long enough to harvest continuously throughout the late summer and fall, otherwise the frost will cut off your season before your tomatoes have even got going.
Determinate tomatoes tend to set all their fruits earlier, so they are more suitable for short growing seasons, but in long growing seasons you will have harvested all their fruits and be done before your season is over.
The Benefits of Growing Early Season Tomatoes
If you are gardening in USDA zone 4 or below, you have a short growing season that requires fast-ripening cultivars of many fruits and veggies to make the most of your season.
The benefit of fast-growing tomatoes is that you can get a full harvest off your plants before the first frost settles in, giving you plenty of time to can up and freeze any excess harvest for winter use.
Many of the fastest growing tomatoes are cherry and grape tomatoes since they produce smaller fruits that set fruit and ripen quickly.
15 Early Ripening Tomato Varieties For Short-Season Growers
Now that you’re convinced of the benefits fast-growing tomatoes can provide you in a shorter growing season, here are our top picks for the fast growing tomato plants cultivars that combine speedy growing with a great flavor and disease resistance.
Note that days to maturity refer to the number of days from the date of transplanting seedlings.
Fast-Growing Slicing And Grape Tomatoes
The bread and butter of tomatoes, slicing tomatoes are great for eating raw in sandwiches and salads but also essential for making pastes and sauces in the fall. Here are the best ones for short season growers:
1. Black Prince
An indeterminate heirloom variety, Black Prine produces juicy, purple-y red fruits that weigh in at about 3-4 ounces per fruit.
It is a highly productive variety that is more of a mid-season producer than an early season producer at 65-70 days until maturity, but it is able to set fruit in slightly cooler temperatures which makes it a great option for short growing seasons.
Tigerella is another indeterminate heirloom that is popular for its beautiful orange and yellow stripes that pattern the fruits and will start producing shortly after transplanting at just 55-60 days to maturity.
Each tomato weighs approximately 2-4 ounces, and they have a tart, tangy flavor that sets them apart from other varieties.
Moskvich is a popular indeterminate heirloom tomato producing 4-6 ounce fruits that are resistant to cracking.
The fruits are a rich red color and perfect globe shapes that have a meaty flavor, growing in clusters on thick vines that mature in just 60 days.
This variety hails from Russia, so they are well suited for short growing seasons that experience a heavy winter!
Another tomato tolerant of cool temperatures, Siberian tomato seeds will even germinate at a lower temperature of around 75℉ and mature 60 days from transplanting.
They are determinate plants that usually reach around 6 feet tall, and fruits are between 2-5 ounces and sweet at peak ripeness.
5. Fourth Of July
This tomato is a hybrid, indeterminate tomato that produces delicious 4-ounce fruits shockingly early at just under two months (50 days) after transplanting- wow! For an indeterminate tomato it remains quite compact, and usually reaches just 55-60 inches tall.
Fast-Growing Cherry Tomatoes
Nothing compares to the pop of flavor cherry tomatoes bring to any dish, and there are plenty of varieties that will grow and produce quickly for colder climates since by nature cherry tomatoes are speedy to grow and ripen.
Here are some of the tastiest:
As the name might suggest, Glacier tomatoes are well adapted to cooler springtime temperatures and will be one of the first tomatoes to produce fruit in the summer.
The fruits are smaller, at around 1-2 ounces apiece, and grow abundantly on this determinate plant that matures in 55 days.
2. Green Envy
Green envy is an indeterminate cherry tomato that will remain a rich green color when ripe. The tart and tangy fruits are slightly longer and more oval than standard cherry tomatoes and also have quite translucent skin.
The plant will mature at around the 65-day mark after transplanting, making them less ambitious growers than others on this list, but it is certainly worth it.
3. Gardener’s Delight
Gardener’s delight is an heirloom tomato cultivar from Germany, where certain regions experience very short growing seasons.
Their picture-perfect bright red, circular cherry tomatoes grow on long vines that can get to six feet tall and are ready for harvest after 65 days.
4. Midnight Snack
These indeterminate tomatoes develop a striking glossy red and purple Ombre across their surface when ripe. The fruits set and ripen early at around 60-65 days, and then produce a long harvesting season that will leave you with hundreds of ½ ounce, sweet fruits.
5. Sweet Pea Currant
These tiny tomatoes are only ¼ inch in diameter, making them the smallest tomato on this list, but also a great tomato to enjoy early in the season 60 days after planting. It is an indeterminate tomato variety that usually reaches around 5 feet in height.
An heirloom indeterminate cherry tomato, Sweetie produces clusters of bright red fruits that are resistant to cracking. The stem is also resistant to stem canker, making them a good option for areas that receive lots of rain in the spring.
They are right on the border of an early and mid-season producing tomato at 65-70 days to maturity but offer many benefits that make them worth growing in short seasons.
7. Tiny Tim
Tiny Tim is a determinate heirloom variety that is very compact and great for those growers who have the double whammy of a short growing season and limited space.
This tomato can be easily planted in a container and kept on a balcony or bright window, as the plants reach around only 20 inches in height and mature after 55 days!
8. Washington Cherry
This particular determinate cherry tomato was actually intentionally bred for cooler climates by Washington State University, so you can be certain it is a good option for a short growing season.
The fruits are small and firm with a meaty flavor and are around 1 inch wide, and will start their ripening process after about 60 days.
9. Baby Boomer
This determinate cherry provides a win-win scenario as it is super compact but also a huge producer.
Even though it is determinate, the number of fruits that grow on the branches can be heavy enough to snap branches, so provide a stake or cage for support. Get ready for a bountiful harvest sooner rather than later, as this variety matures after just 50-55 days.
10. Patio Choice Yellow
We saved the best for last with this variety which is the fastest grower of them all and can mature just 45 days after transplanting, and only gets to 18-20 inches tall! It is a determinate variety that produces bright yellow fruits that are sweet and tangy.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Cool, Short-Season Locations
Even with these excellent fast-growing varieties, there are a few other ways you can make the most of your shorter growing season and provide your plants with the protection they need from unexpected temperature drops.
Start seeds indoors early
Starting your tomatoes indoors is a common practice amongst gardeners in most growing zones to get a head start on the season and maximize the harvesting period.
But if you live somewhere with a short growing season, it’s essential to start your tomatoes indoors sufficiently early so that you can transplant them once the weather is sufficiently warm.
You should plant seeds according to your specific region’s planting calendar, but for zones 4 and below sometime around March is usually the best time to plant tomatoes or 6-8 weeks before the last frost.
Make sure to harden off seedlings
Hardening off young tomato seedlings is essential in cool-season climates, as the temperature fluctuations and cooler nighttime temperatures that are typical to these regions can kill young plants if they haven’t been well adjusted.
Ideally, provide your seedlings with two weeks to adjust to outdoor conditions and shaky temperatures- as long as they remain above 50 degrees- but the process can be completed in a week with a cold frame.
Grow in raised beds
Raised beds provide more insulation to plants and can heat up soils more quickly in the springtime, making them ideal for short growing seasons where every week of warm soil can make a difference.
Raised beds are especially good for short seasons that have mild summer temperatures and need to give their tomatoes an extra boost in soil warmth. This also applies to potted plants.
Plant seedlings in a south-facing location
In any growing zone, tomatoes should be planted somewhere that they can receive at least 8 hours of sunlight, but in short growing zones planting them somewhere that faces south will add the extra sunlight time that your plants need to grow quickly and set fruit as early as possible.
Use Water Teepees or mini-greenhouses To Protect Your Plants From Cold Temperatures
Several gardening stores sell water-filled pouches or cones, often called ‘water filled teepees’, that are placed around young seedlings and create a greenhouse effect with a little micro-climate of warmth.
Although these come at an extra cost, they can be very valuable in the spring and early summer to protect plants, especially if there is concern about a temperature drop that could harm your plants.
Top plants to maximize your harvest
In shorter growing seasons, most tomatoes- but especially indeterminate varieties- may have their harvest season cut short by the first frost.
Although the tomatoes on this list are all earlier producers that will start setting fruit in the middle or even beginning of summer, some may still have small green fruits that won’t have time to ripen before the first freeze sets it.
Topping plants about 3-4 weeks before the first predicted frost will direct all the plant’s energy into fruit development and ripening so that you can maximize your end-of-year harvest.