Skip to Content

What To Do With Tomato Plants When They Die – How To Clear Your Garden

Believe it or not, what you do with your tomato plants this fall when they die off can play a big role in the success or failure of next year’s crop.

As the end of the garden season approaches, many gardeners begin to clear their garden of spent plants. For those that have a compost pile, most simply toss their decaying plants in to slowly decompose.

In most cases and for most plants, that is one of the best things a gardener can do. After all, the plants break down, give back their remaining nutrients, and help to create amazing compost. Compost that can then be used next year to help power a new garden with new plants.

old tomato plants
What you do with your old tomato plants when they die off can play a big role in next year’s garden. Especially when it comes to preventing future disease and pests.

But unfortunately, not all vegetable plants are the same when it comes to composting. Some, like beans and peas are an incredible addition for compost piles.

Not only do they add good foliage that breaks down fast, they also are filled with nutrients and carry little disease. Others meanwhile, such as your tomato plants, are not exactly a good fit for composting. At least not for the majority of home composting piles that simply don’t get hot enough to kill pathogens, seeds and disease.

With that in mind, here is a look at the issues old tomato plants can cause, and the best ways to clear them from your garden.

What To Do With Tomato Plants When They Die

Clearing Plants Quickly From The Garden

One thing that is extremely important to do with tomato plants when they begin to die is to remove them quickly from their growing space. Whether it be in a traditional garden, raised beds or even a container garden. The faster the better!

rotton tomatoes
One of the most important things to do with old tomato plants is get them out of the soil quickly. The longer they stay, the more issues they will cause.

In fact, the longer you leave dying tomato plants in their space, the more issues you will have with that soil next year. Whether it be mildew, blight, or a host of other diseases, tomato plants are one of the biggest carriers of disease.

And unfortunately, the longer the plants stick around, the more likely they are to become infected. And, in the process, infect other plants and the soil around them.

That is especially true when it comes to the dreaded soil borne disease of blight. As decaying foliage and fruit fall, they can drop infected spores onto the soil surface. Spores that can then live for years to infect future tomato crops. (See : How To Prevent Blight)

Why Composting Is A Bad Idea – What To Do With Old Tomato Plants

As mentioned earlier, composting is simply not a good solution for disposing of tomato plants. In order to kill blight spores and other pathogens, a compost pile needs to get extremely hot. And for an extended period of time.

Most home composting bins and piles simply do not have the size, air flow or ingredients to reach those temperatures. And that means the pathogens can live and then infect other plants as the compost is used.

blight
Late season tomato blight on a tomato plant. Blight is one of the biggest issues with tomatoes and can spread quickly from plant to plant. Keeping infected plants out of the compost pile is one a big key to keeping blight out of your garden.

As for the any decaying tomatoes on the vine or the ground, they are best left out as well. Just as with the pathogens, a home pile does not get hot enough to kill the seeds from the tomato fruits.

A single tomato can have hundreds of tiny seeds. And when passed through compost, that means they will sprout all over the garden to become next year’s weeding problem.

What To Do With Old Tomato Plants When They Die

So what can you do with the old tomato plants and fruit? Obviously, the key is to keep them far from your garden space.

ad for herbs

At the same time, simply throwing them in your weekly trash is such a waste. Especially when it is needlessly filling landfills with materials that still have value. With that in mind, here are some of the best options for disposal:

Community / Commercial Composting Centers – What To Do With Tomato Plants When They Die

A great place to dispose of old tomato plants is at a community or local municipal composting facilities. These facilities use high heat composting methods that kill off pathogens and seeds. The result is perfectly safe and blended compost that is great for powering flowers and vegetables.

Simply clear the plants and place into approved compostable yard waste bags. Always be sure to clear any fruit that has fallen down to the soil as well to keep it out of your garden.

community compost pile
Many communities now have composting facilities that can handle yard and garden waste with ease. The process used to compost at these facilities can kill off harmful pathogens with higher temperatures.

If you happen to have leaves and other yard waste, these composting centers are a great option in place of burning or throwing to the curb.

Trench & Bury Method – What To Do With Tomato Plants When They Die

Another efficient and environmentally friendly way to dispose of old tomato plants is to bury them using a trench composting method. Trench composting is actually a great way to compost everything if you don’t have a compost pile. (See: How To Trench Compost)

Trench composting is as easy as digging a deep hole and burying the plant material. As long as it is done where vegetables will not be grown, there is no chance of spreading any disease. The plants then break down, and add their resources back to the soil.

Burning – What To Do With Tomato Plants When They Die

If you live an area where burning is allowed and is safe, it is an option to destroy the plants. A burn pit or pile will kill off most of the pathogens and seeds from plants.

Whether or not to place the ashes into the compost pile continues to be debated. Some consider it safe, others play it safe and simply spread the ashes out away from the garden or compost pile.

Whatever you do, one thing is for sure – it is important to not leave your plants up all winter long! The risk for disease, pests and volunteer seeds is simply too big. Here is to getting your old tomato plants out of your garden this fall, and to disposing of them properly.

This Is My Garden is a garden website created by gardeners, for gardeners. We publish two articles every week, 52 weeks a year. Sign up today to follow via email, or follow along on Facebook.