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Volunteer Tomatoes – Tomato Plants Gone Rogue!

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Have you ever found surprise tomato plants in the garden? We find volunteer tomatoes all the time! I’ve found cherry tomato plants, Romas, and San Marzano tomato volunteers in the garden.

One time, I even found a tomato sprout growing from a seed on my counter!

That tiny tomato seed happened to get caught up in a small drop of water near the sink. It must’ve escaped the cutting board when I made homemade tomato sauce from our tomato haul.

Of course, I took that little volunteer tomato seedling outside to grow into a proper tomato plant!

Just this year, in 2021, we’ve found at least two volunteer tomatoes in our flower bed!

The flower bed is right below the deck, where we had tomatoes in grow bags all last year. And, in the same places where squirrels came across and stole bites of tomatoes randomly!

I definitely blame the critters on these volunteer tomatoes, but for once it’s a happy outcome by the garden pests!

Now, let’s get started talking about volunteer tomatoes in the garden!

Volunteer Tomato Seedling Growing on its own in a white raised garden bed
Volunteer Tomato Seedling Growing on its own in our white raised garden bed, 2021.

What are volunteer tomato plants?

Volunteer tomato plants are essentially surprise tomato plants that you did not plant yourself. These volunteers start as tomato seedlings that appear in the garden totally unexpectedly. Generally, tomato volunteers occur in nature as a result of animals eating the fruit and leaving the seeds behind in their droppings, by the wind, or another act of nature.

You can find out more about volunteer plants so you can find and recognize other surprises in your garden!

Sometimes the tomato seeds may escape from the mouth of a hungry animal eating the fruit, or simply when the fruit falls from the plant. The wind may blow seeds into viable soil, too. Seeds can survive the winter and may start to grow as volunteers in the following spring or summer.

You can find out more about volunteer plants to better understand this amazing process.

Will volunteer tomatoes produce fruit?

Yes, volunteer tomatoes will usually produce fruit. If grown from a quality seed, tomato volunteers will look, grow, and ultimately taste much like those you’ve planted on purpose.

Of course, it does depend on the time of year in your growing zone when you end up finding the young tomato plants.

Here we are in October and I just found a few volunteer baby tomato seedlings. These will not survive long enough to bear fruit, since we can expect frost any week now here in PA Zone 6b. Your mileage may vary!

Are volunteer tomatoes safe to eat?

You might be wondering, can you eat volunteer tomatoes—the answer is, yes! The fruits of volunteer tomatoes should be just as tasty as the tomatoes you’ve grown intentionally.

Just make sure you wait for the tomatoes to ripen and turn red before eating them. The green tomatoes, like green potatoes, contain the toxic alkaloid solanine, which can cause GI problems, headaches, and other ailments.

Benefits of Volunteer Tomatoes

Finding tomato volunteers in the garden can feel like hitting the jackpot! Here are some of the best benefits of volunteer tomato plants:

  • Free Tomato Plants!
  • Mother Nature at Her Finest
  • Exciting Surprises in the Garden

If you’re anything like me, you likely wanted to plant even more seeds this year. Finding a volunteer tomato plant makes you feel like you’ve hit the garden lottery.

Finding and Caring for Volunteer Tomatoes

It’s so exciting to find volunteer tomato plants in the garden! Once you find them, be sure to give them regular care to help them grow and thrive.

Where do volunteer tomatoes come from?

Volunteer garden tomatoes may turn up without warning! Watch for them in raised beds and garden spaces where you’ve previously grown tomatoes.

Also, you may find volunteer tomato plants in soil where you’ve never grown tomatoes before. It could be a gift from a bird, squirrel, or other animal, or simply from Mother Nature, herself.

Roma Tomato Dropped, Lying on the Soil in the Garden
Here a Roma Tomato Dropped, Lying on the Soil in the Garden – This is one way you may find Tomato Volunteers next season!

How do you find surprise tomatoes in the garden?

Check around the spaces where you’ve grown tomatoes in the past. Often, the seeds drop and new tomato plants grow. This can happen across the winter or even during the same growing season in the summer.

You may also find tomato plants where you least expect them. Birds, squirrels, mice, and other animals may help spread the seeds for germination when they meet soil.

Volunteer Tomato Care

Take care of baby tomato volunteers just as you would regular tomato seedlings.

  • Ensure the tomato plants have ample room to grow where they’ve planted themselves.
  • Provide water throughout the week as needed. You can also fertilize, if desired.
  • Transplant the volunteer tomato seedlings to another location if necessary. You can bury a bit of the stem if needed.
  • Watch the tomato plant for signs of growth and maturity. Help pollinate the flowers by gently tapping on them from above when they appear.

Transplanting Volunteer Tomatoes

There’s nothing like free tomato plants! Transplanting volunteer tomatoes is easier than you might expect. Simply follow these steps on how to transplant volunteer tomatoes:

  1. Check out the volunteer tomato plant and examine its root system.
  2. Use a garden trowel to gently dig up the volunteer tomato plant or seedling.
  3. Dig a hole in the desired garden or planter for the young tomato.
  4. Plant the tomato seedling in its new home. Fill in the hole. Bury the stem a bit to encourage more roots.
  5. Water the tomato plant volunteer.
  6. Check on it daily to ensure the plant is acclimating to its new location.

Final Thoughts: Tomatoes Gone Rogue

Of all the volunteers I’ve found in my gardens, I’ve certainly found the most volunteer tomatoes.

For whatever reason, these plants grow easily from seed and require very little to germinate successfully.

I loved finding volunteer tomatoes in our flower bed, garden boxes, and even in some used potting soil here and there.

Volunteer Tomatoes Growing in a Flowerbed next to Four O'clock Flowers
Here are my Volunteer Tomatoes Growing in our Flowerbed next to Four O’clock Flowers – which may also be Volunteers!

Have you found any interesting volunteer tomatoes in your garden? Do you have questions about volunteer tomatoes?

Be sure to hit us up in the comments below to chat about volunteer garden tomatoes!

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  1. In my backyard a tomatoe plant started growing out of nowhere and in just a few weeks it has grown so big and has over 25-30 green tomatoes on it. The vines on this plant is thick. I have never grown a plant like this before and curious when the tomatoes will turn red or if it’s meant to stay green? How can I tell what kind of plant it is?

    1. Hi Amanda! It’s so much fun to find a surprise plant. Glad that happened for you. I think it can take 30 days or more for certain tomatoes to turn red, although some may be quicker and also, some are yellow, purple, intentionally green, striped, etc. I’d suggest giving a little time to see what they do. You can also take a photo and post to a social media gardening group (ex: Gardening for Beginners on Facebook) and hopefully someone growing the same type can help identify the variety.

  2. Hello! I just came across a handful if volunteers and transplanted them to pots to bring indoors. So their temp should not go below 60°? I’m still learning

    1. Hi Tala! That’s so fun finding the volunteer tomatoes! I found a bunch this year as well. 🙂 I believe they can survive down to 45 degrees, but it isn’t advisable for long – the warmer the better and the happier they will be! Best of luck!

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