To harvest or not to harvest: that is the question!
Every year there comes a point where you have to accept the fact that summer is over and with it, the tomato-growing season and that the tomatoes growing on your plants need to be harvested. Just when that is the case varies from year to year and from region to region. It comes earliest in cold climates and much later in warm ones. Not only can’t you put a date on it, but also what you do with the fruit when that point comes depends on their stage of development.
But your tomatoes don’t know that. They evolved in a tropical climate and have no special adaptations to cold weather in their genes. They therefore continue to grow, especially indeterminate tomatoes, until frost puts an end to their life. So your plants will probably still be bearing flowers and fruits well into fall. When do you need to harvest the latecomers?
Let’s do a little math. It takes about 25-30 days after the flower first opens for a cherry tomato or small tomato to ripen and about 45 to 60 days for a large tomato. So when there are no longer at least 30 days of relatively warm temperatures (nights above 55˚F/13˚C) left in the season (45 days for larger fruits), there is little chance that any new flowers produced will produce ripe fruit. Also, fruits often ripen a bit more slowly in the fall than in the summer, not only because of the cooler nights, but also because the shorter days that supply the plant with a little less energy.
Once a fruit has reached its full size and started to change color, it will mature indoors.
But the fruit doesn’t need to ripen on the plant to be useful. Once the fruit has reached its maximum size and begins to change color, it can ripen when you bring it indoors, especially if you place it in darkness (in a brown paper bag, a pantry, etc.) at room temperature. (Never place immature tomatoes in the fridge: temperatures below 5˚C will completely end their ripening!)
And even if the fruit is still small, hard and green, it can still be used in cooking. There are many recipes for green tomatoes.
Finally, even if you have in mind a date in mind when you figure the tomato season is certainly over, every now and then, Mother Nature gives you a reprieve: a nice, long warm fall that will allow many more of them to ripen on the vine.
Can You Hasten Ripening?
Gardeners like to believe they can stimulate their tomatoes to ripen more quickly… and they can to a certain degree. You can hasten the maturation of remaining fruits by removing all flowers and immature fruits. The difference is relatively modest, though: you might gain a day or so.
That sounds great: you pluck a few fruits to gain a bit of time with the others. But you still have to think before you act.
If you don’t have at least 30 days of frost-free weather ahead of you, certainly you can remove the flowers, but the small fruits already on the plant, even if you doubt they will mature, may still give you useful green tomatoes. So are you willing to sacrifice many green tomatoes in order to push one or two nearly mature ones tomatoes to maturity? That becomes a personal choice. I mean, if you don’t even like fried green tomatoes, it’s a no-brainer: get out there and pull off the smallest green fruits!
You can also hasten ripening, or at least keep it on course, by making sure your plants don’t suffer from a serious lack of water during the fall. On the other hand, fertilizing tomatoes late in the season is unlikely to give worthwhile results.
One Technique That Certainly Doesn’t Work
On the other hand, the old belief that removing leaves from a tomato plant to expose the fruit to the sun will hasten its maturation has been thoroughly debunked. Read Gardening Myth: De-leafing Tomato Plants for more details.
So if you grow tomatoes, you have some decisions to make. Are you going to leave the fruits on the vine hoping they will mature or are you going to cut your losses by harvesting them green? And are you going to remove the flowers and very immature fruits or take a chance they might grow some more?
In case of early frost, you can cover your tomato plants overnight.
Personally, I pretty much let my tomatoes continue their lives without really doing much… other than keeping an eye on the weather, that is. I enjoy going out every few days and picking the ripest fruits even if there are fewer and fewer of them. When the weatherman announces 3 or 4 cold nights in a row (temperatures below 40˚F/ 5˚C pretty much stop the fruits from maturing) or temperatures near freezing, I usually harvest what is left: green, reddening or red. Unless of course the weather report says there is to be an early frost (or near frost) followed by weeks of warm weather. That happens every 3 or 4 years and in those cases, I often offer my plants frost protection and over them up at night with an old blanket or floating row cover to hold the warmth in.
Finally, though, whether you harvest early or keep your fingers crossed that more tomatoes will mature, that’s your decision.
I’ll let you think it over!
Determine which variety you’re growing. Before you make any cuts, figure out whether you’re growing an indeterminate or determinate variety of tomato plant. Indeterminate varieties grow like vines, and they must be trained upright on poles and pruned in order to grow correctly. Determinate varieties contain themselves before they grow into a bush, and they naturally direct their energy toward fruiting without needing as much intervention. Here are the common varieties of each:
- Indeterminate: Big Boy, Beef Master, Black Prince, German Queen, most cherry tomato varieties and most heirloom varieties.
- Determinate:Ace 55, Amelia, Better Bush, Biltmore, Heatmaster, Heinz Classic, Mountain Pride and Patio.
Locate the suckers for removal. Look for the tiny new branches sprouting in the spot where a branch meets the stem on an indeterminate plant. These are called “suckers” and they’re what you want to remove. Suckers left to grow will take energy from the rest of the plant and cause the plant to bear fewer fruits. This isn’t always a bad thing, but strategically removing suckers will help your plant bear large fruit all season long.
- Wait for the stems and leaves below the first set of flowers to turn yellow before doing anything.
Remove all suckers and their leaves below the first flower cluster. Do this no matter what kind of tomato plant you have. This keeps the plant strong by helping it grow a sturdy central stem. This should ensure that the majority of the nutrients are sent to the fruits, instead of being wasted on the unwanted growing tips.
- To remove a sucker, grab a growing tip by the base between the thumb and forefinger and bend it back and forth until it snaps cleanly. This should ideally be done when the shoot is young and supple. The small wound will heal quickly. This is called “simple pruning”.
- As for stems and leaves, not the suckers, growing below the first flower cluster: If you live in a warmer zone such as Zone 9, you should leave them on until they turn yellow. They are important for helping to shade the ground until the plant matures. On the other hand, if your plant is in a humid environment (such as a greenhouse), remove everything below the first flower cluster to improve ventilation. Humidity can make it easier for sicknesses to flourish, and it also causes the wounds that are created while pruning to dry up more slowly making the plant longer vulnerable. By improving ventilation, you’re helping to protect the plant.
Leave the thicker shoots. Thicker suckers should not be snapped off, since this could damage the whole plant. If it’s thicker than a pencil, use the “Missouri pruning” method and pinch out just the tip of the sucker, leaving one or two leaves behind for photosynthesis and to protect developing fruit from sun scald. The drawback is that suckers will develop from the stem that you leave behind, which will require additional pruning. This technique is better when you’re dealing with large suckers; if the wound becomes diseased, it will be further away from the main stem. This method also leaves a few inches on the sucker to reduce the shock to the plant.
- Prune suckers all summer long to keep the plant healthy. They grow quickly, so you may need to prune once or twice a week
For indeterminate varieties, pinch off all but four or five fruit bearing trusses.These are the branches that grow from the main stem above the first flower cluster. Four or five will produce large, healthy fruit, but any more than that and the fruit will be small and scant. Choose four or five sturdy trusses to keep, then pinch out any additional side shoots, leaving the plant’s top shoot intact, known as the terminal shoot.
- Make sure the vine-like plants are tied to supports after flowering occurs. Otherwise, the vine will grow along the ground and won’t produce healthy tomatoes.
- Determinate plants already have a predetermined number of stems that will naturally grow, so there’s no need to do any pruning above the flower cluster. If you prune above the flower cluster, you’ll be removing fruit-bearing branches without helping the plant.
Remove yellow leaves. Yellow leaves are leaves that use up more sugar than they produce. As the plant begins to mature, the lower leaves will naturally begin to yellow and wilt. This is perfectly normal, so pull these from the plant when they appear. It will keep the plant fresh and help ward off disease.
Top the plant. To get the best out of the last growth of the season, it is necessary to “top” the plant. About a month before the first expected frost, or when the plant hits the roof of your greenhouse, remove the plant’s terminal shoot. At this point in the season, the tomatoes currently growing will have a limited time to reach maturity, so all nutrients must be directed straight to the fruit.
This article was sourced from wikihow – http://www.wikihow.com/Prune-Tomatoes
- Help Pollinate Your Tomato Plants
- 10 Common Tomato Plant Problems and How To Fix Them
- Outback Garden Hat
- 5 Common Causes of Tomatoes Not Flowering
- 4 Common Causes of Tomato Flowers But No Fruit
- Don’t Give Up on Homegrown Tomatoes!
- Tips and hopes for a better tomato season
- Tomato Plants Not Producing Fruit
- Best Answer:
- More Answers:
Help Pollinate Your Tomato Plants
- Tomato plants are self-pollinating and have “perfect” flowers. Photo by Ali Graney under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
- Giving your tomato plants a little daily shake will help produce more fruit. Photo by Deb Roby under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
The pollination of tomato plants has been the subject of controversy by many a gardener over just as many years. You’d think that we could just ask those who have been growing their own food for decades (the “seasoned” gardeners) for the final answer.
The problem is that those are the very gardeners that are having the debate. Like many things in gardening, it appears that there are still mysteries out there for us to discover. And it’s probably just as well; mysteries make us become observant and curious. Both important attributes for humans to possess, yes?
First, let me say that tomatoes are “self-pollinating” plants. They have what’s called “perfect” flowers. What this means is that they have flowers that have both the stamen and the stigma (male and female parts) on the same blossom. So, the pollen from the stamen falls onto its own stigma and we have pollination and eventually, fruit. Often this is process has been completed before the flowers are fully open – but not always. Beans, eggplant and peppers are self-pollinating, too.
Some gardeners say that tomato cross-pollination (the pollen from a different tomato variety pollinates another variety) happens on a regular basis. Some argue that in all of their gardening years, they’ve never seen a tomato cross-pollinate in their garden no matter how close the proximity. Still others strongly suspect that the answer lies somewhere in-between. While tomato blossoms are structured basically the same way – they have a perfect flower that allows for self-pollination – some tomato species have an extra long “style” which is part of the female reproductive part of the plant.
The end of the style (stigma) is where the pollen grain sticks to that ends up producing fruit. The idea is that if the style is very long, it may make it possible for other insects to pollinate the flower before its own pollen can drop onto the stigma. On the other hand, tomato species that have blossoms which carry a short style make it nearly impossible for outside (cross) pollination.
Whatever the deal is, you can actually help your tomato plant set more fruit this season by showing it some tactile love. You just take the flowering branches and give them a gentile shake. The pollen will drop from the stamen of the flower onto the pistil.
There’s no magic number of times you should shake your tomato plants; you just sort of wing it. Gardeners usually do it two or three times a day to ensure good pollination. Left alone, the wind would shake the blossoms, as would the fluttering of bees’ wings. But, gardeners everywhere swear that they harvest higher fruit yields with this simple technique.
10 Common Tomato Plant Problems and How To Fix Them
Here at Farmers’ Almanac, we get a lot of gardening questions. What tops the list are questions about tomato plants and how to fix certain tomato plant problems. We checked in with Safer® Brand organic gardening solutions and received some great advice from their organic gardening article archives. Take a look:
Common Tomato Plant Problems and How To Fix Them
If you’re one of the three million people who planted a home garden this year, you’re most likely growing tomatoes. Nine out of 10 gardeners grow tomatoes, and that number would be 10 out of 10 if the holdouts would taste a fresh garden tomato and compare it to a grocery store purchase. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh home-grown tomato!
Many gardeners who grow tomatoes, however, encounter growing problems. This list of common tomato plant problems and their solutions will help you identify an issue—whether it’s just starting or already full-blown — and show you how to correct it, so you can save your tomato plants and harvest yummy tomatoes this year.
1. Blossom End Rot
What it looks like: The tomato plants appear healthy, but as the tomatoes ripen, an ugly black patch appears on the bottoms. The black spots on tomatoes look leathery. When you try to cut off the patch to eat the tomato, the fruit inside looks mealy.
What causes it: Your plants aren’t getting enough calcium. There’s either not enough calcium in the soil, or the pH is too low for the plant to absorb the calcium available. Tomatoes need a soil pH around 6.5 in order to grow properly. This soil pH level also makes it possible for them to absorb calcium. Uneven watering habits also contribute to this problem. Hot, dry spells tend to exacerbate blossom end rot.
What to do about it: Before planting tomatoes in the spring, have your local garden center or Cooperative Extension conduct a soil test. Tell them you’ve had problems with blossom end rot in the past, and they will give you recommendations on the amendments to add to your soil. Lime and gypsum may be added for calcium, but they must be added in the proper amounts depending on your soil’s condition. That’s why a soil test is necessary. Adding crushed eggshells to your compost pile can also boost calcium naturally when you add compost to the soil. A foliar spray containing calcium chloride can prevent blossom end rot from developing on tomatoes mid-season. Apply it early in the morning or late in the day — if sprayed onto leaves midday, it can burn them. Water plants regularly at the same time daily to ensure even application of water.
2. Blossom Drop
What it looks like: Flowers appear on your tomato plants, but they fall off without tomatoes developing.
What causes it: Temperature fluctuations cause blossom drop. Tomatoes need night temperatures between 55 to 75 degrees F in order to retain their flowers. If the temperatures fall outside this range, blossom drop occurs. Other reasons for blossom drop on tomatoes are insect damage, lack of water, too much or too little nitrogen, and lack of pollination.
What to do about it: While you can’t change the weather, you can make sure the rest of the plant is strong by using fertilizer for tomatoes, drawing pollinators by planting milkweed and cosmos, and using neem oil insecticides.
3. Fruit Cracks
What they look like: Cracks appear on ripe tomatoes, usually in concentric circles. Sometimes insects use the cracks as an opportunity to eat the fruit, or birds attack cracked fruit.
What causes them: Hot, rainy weather causes fruit crack. After a long dry spell, tomatoes are thirsty. Plants may take up water rapidly after the first heavy rainfall, which swells the fruit and causes it to crack.
What to do about them: Although you can’t control the rain, you can water tomatoes evenly during the growing season. This prevents them from being so thirsty that they take up too much rainwater during a heavy downpour.
What it looks like: The plants look healthy, and the fruit develops normally. As tomatoes ripen, yellow patches form on the red skin. Yellow patches turn white and paper-thin, creating an unpleasant appearance and poor taste.
What causes it: As the name implies, the sun’s rays have actually scalded the tomato.
What to do about it: Tomato cages, or a wire support system that surrounds the plants, give the best branch support while shading the developing tomatoes naturally. Sunscald usually occurs on staked plants that have been too-vigorously pruned, exposing many of the tomatoes to the sun’s rays. Leaving some foliage and branches provides shade during the hottest part of the day.
5. Poor Fruit Set
What it looks like: You have some flowers but not many tomatoes. The tomatoes you do have on the plant are small or tasteless.
What causes it: Too much nitrogen in the soil encourages plenty of green leaves but not many flowers. If there aren’t enough flowers, there won’t be enough tomatoes. Another cause may be planting tomatoes too closely together. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, meaning that each flower contains both the male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts. Wind typically pollinates tomatoes, but if plants are too close together, the wind can’t reach the flowers.
What to do about it: Have your soil tested. If you’re planting tomatoes in the spring, leave at least two feet or more between plants so that good air circulation can help pollinate them. If your plants are already in the garden, you can simply shake the flowering branches to simulate wind and get the pollen from the stamens to the pistils.
What it looks like: Catfacing makes tomatoes appear deformed. The blossom end is rippled, bumpy and lumpy.
What causes it: Plants pollinated during cool evenings, when the temperatures hover around 50 to 55 degrees F, are subject to catfacing. Blossoms fall off when temperatures drop too low. However, if the flower is pollinating before the petals begin to drop off, some stick to the developing tomato. This creates the lumps and bumps typical of catfacing.
What to do about it: If possible, plant tomatoes a little later in the season. Make sure the weather has truly warmed up enough to support proper tomato development. Devices such as a “Wall of Water”—a circle of water-filled plastic tubes—raise temperatures near the tomato and help keep them high enough on cold nights to prevent cold-related problems. Using black-plastic spread on the soil can also help. As the plastic heats during the day, it releases the heat back towards the plants at night. Black plastic can be used as a temporary measure until the temperatures warm up enough that it’s no longer needed. Catfaced tomatoes are safe to eat; simply cut away the scarred areas.
Read more on learning to eat ugly produce!
7. Leaf Roll
What it looks like: Mature tomato plants suddenly curl their leaves, especially older leaves near the bottom. Leaves roll up from the outside towards the center. Sometimes up to 75% of the plant is affected.
What causes it: High temperatures, wet soil, and too much pruning often result in leaf roll.
What to do about it: Although it looks ugly, leaf roll won’t affect tomato development, so you will still get edible tomatoes from your plants. Avoid over-pruning and make sure the soil drains excess water away.
What it looks like: The tomato plants look fine, they bloom according to schedule, and ripe red tomatoes are ready for harvest. When the tomato is sliced, the interior has large, open spaces and not much fruit inside. Tomatoes may feel light when harvested. The exterior of the tomato may have an angular, square-sided look.
What causes it: Under-fertilization, poor soil nutrition or inadequate pollination.
What to do about it: Make sure you are feeding your tomato plants throughout the season. A balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 should be fed biweekly or monthly. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need fertilizer throughout the growing season. For gardeners, frequent top-dressings with homemade compost and compost teas are a must.
9. Early Blight
What it looks like: You’ll find brown spots on tomato leaves, starting with the older ones. Each spot starts to develop rings, like a target. Leaves turn yellow around the brown spots, then the entire leaf turns brown and falls off. Eventually the plant may have few, if any, leaves.
What causes it: A fungus called Alternaria solani. This fungus can live in the soil over the winter, so if your plants have had problems before like this, and you’ve planted tomatoes in the exact same spot, chances are good the same thing will happen to your plants this year.
What to do about it: Crop rotation prevents new plants from contracting the disease. Avoid planting tomatoes, eggplants or peppers in the same spot each year as these can all be infected with early blight. A garden fungicide can treat infected plants.
10. Viral Diseases
What they look like: Viral diseases mainly attack the tomatoes themselves. You might find black spots on tomatoes or weird stripes on them. Don’t confuse signs of disease for just how some heirloom tomatoes look with natural stripes.
What causes them: Many of these viruses spread when plants are stressed by heat, drought or poor soil.
What to do about them: If you’ve read through all of these tomato problems and think your tomatoes may be suffering from a viral disease, spray your tomato plants with neem oil. Good soil management and using organic fertilizer for tomatoes also helps keep your plants healthy, which can help them naturally resist viruses better.
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- Grow varieties suited to your climate: Gardeners in cooler climates should not rush to get their tomatoes planted in the spring. Wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or protect them with a cover at night. You won’t gain any advantage by setting them out too early. Choose early-maturing tomato varieties for spring growing in cooler climates, such as ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Legend,’ ‘Matina,’ ‘Oregon Spring,’ ‘Polar Baby,’ and ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ Conversely, select a heat-tolerant (“heat set”) tomato variety for areas with long periods of hot or humid weather. High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because the tomato plant never gets to rest. Heat-tolerant varieties include ‘Florasette’, ‘Heat Wave’, ‘Solar Set’, ‘Sunchaser’, ‘Sunmaster’, ‘Sunpride’, and ‘Surfire’.
- Ensure pollination: Tomatoes need some help to pollinate. Either insects, wind, or hand-shaking of the flowers is necessary to carry the pollen from the anthers to the stigma. During weather extremes, there are often no insect pollinators in the garden. One way to attract more bees is to plant nectar-rich flowers in your vegetable garden.
- Go easy on the fertilizer: Don’t automatically feed your tomato plants every week. Make sure your soil is healthy, with adequate organic matter. Apply a balanced fertilizer at planting and again when the tomatoes start forming. Too much nitrogen encourages the plant to grow more foliage, not more fruit.
- Work around the humidity: The ideal humidity range is between 40% and 70%. If humidity is either too high or too low, it interferes with the release of pollen, as well as with pollen’s ability to stick to the stigma so that pollination does not occur. If humidity is too low, hose the foliage during the day to cool the plant and raise the humidity. However, this is not recommended in areas with high humidity or when fungus diseases are present. Gardeners in high-humidity areas should look for tomato varieties that aren’t bothered by humidity, such as ‘Eva Purple Ball’, ‘Flora-Dade’, ‘Grosse Lisse’, ‘Jubilee’, ‘Moneymaker’, ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Taxi’, and ‘Yellow Pear’.
- Water deeply, once a week, during dry weather: Tomatoes have very deep roots, sometimes going down 5 feet into the soil. Shallow watering will stress and weaken the plants.
- Keep your tomato plants healthy: Use good cultural practices and treat for disease as soon as symptoms appear.
- Sometimes the problem is just too much of a good thing: When a tomato plant has too many blossoms, the resulting fruits are all competing for the limited food supplied by the plant. Only the strong will survive. The plant will automatically abort some flowers, much like June Drop of tree fruits. Once the initial crop is harvested, the problem should subside.
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It’s very frustrating when you have tomato flowers but no fruit, or big, beautiful tomato plants but no tomato flowers at all. Thankfully, most of the time you can get your tomatoes producing with a little extra TLC. In this post, we’ll look at two tomato flower problems – no flowers at all, and tomato flowers but no fruit.
5 Common Causes of Tomatoes Not Flowering
So you have these beautiful, green, lush, tomato plants but no flowers – what gives? There are several factors that can keep your tomato plants from flowering.
#1 – Too Much Nitrogen
When I asked garden expert and commercial nursery owner, Emme Nicols, why tomatoes won’t flower, she said, “Too much nitrogen. People are programmed to use the same fertilizer for everything and down south, that usually means 10-10-10. They put that stuff on everything. While excessive nitrogen will yield beautiful green leaves, it does very little in helping promote flowering.”
Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plus many micro-nutrients. To produce flowers, they need less nitrogen and more phosphorus. The University of Missouri recommends a fertilizer low in nitrogen, high in phosphorus and with a medium to high amount of potassium.Try using a fertilizer such as Jobe’s Organic Tomato Fertilizer to help promote flower production. You might also consider a foliar spray like Feed the Leaf Organic Blooms.
When you have rampant green growth from too much nitrogen and no flowers, you may want to prune some of the leaves and remove the suckers. (Do not prune determinate plants.) This way the plant can focus its energy on producing flowers and not feeding the leaves.
#2 – Too Hot
Tomatoes are native to subtropical Central America. They evolved to need it warm (but not too warm) to form their fruit . A temperature range of 65 to 75ºF (18-24°C) is ideal. During extreme heat, the tomatoes will stop flower production.
Be patient, and when the weather cools down a little, your tomatoes should start flowering again. Make sure you keep them watered and fertilized while waiting for the temperatures to fall.
#3 – Not Enough Water
Tomato plants need about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week to fruit, according to Ohio State University. The key to healthy tomato plants is to never let them dry out, or get flooded, but to keep the soil evenly moist. You can help your plants retain moisture by adding organic mulch and compost around the base of the plant.
#4 – Tomato Variety
Some tomatoes are known to be heavy producers and some are sought after for their big fruit. Big fruiting varieties like the Mortgage Lifter, will only produce an average of six tomatoes per plant for the entire season- that’s it. (Editor’s note: the strain of Mortgage Lifter I’ve been growing for several years produces many more than six fruits per plant.)
If you want a more abundant tomato harvest, I suggest a smaller heirloom variety like Red Brandywine. Red Brandywine is a heavy producer and offers a beautiful, medium size fruit. (Editor’s note: I’m a paste tomato fan because we make so many homemade tomato products like salsa, sauce and soup. My all time favorites are Opalka and Amish Paste, which produce an abundance of meaty tomatoes.)
In addition to variety, the type of tomato plant you have will play a role in production as well.
- Determinate Tomato Plants are called so because they grow to a determined height. They are short, bushy and known to produce early in the season. Once fruiting is done, it’s done – the plant will set no more fruit.
- Indeterminate Tomato Plants grow to an undetermined height (mine have grown over 10 ft!). They are long, leggy, and may set fruit until the first frost.
If you have a determinate tomato variety, your tomato season may already be over. If you have an indeterminate variety and you are not seeing flowers, or are seeing flowers but no fruit, continue reading to help determine the cause.
#5 – Not Enough Sun
Fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, require six-eight hours of sunlight per day to thrive and produce fruit. Less light may equal production issues, such as no flowers or flowers but no fruit. Container plants can be moved to a sunnier location, but if you garden doesn’t get enough sun, fruiting plants will be less productive.
4 Common Causes of Tomato Flowers But No Fruit
What if your tomato plants have plenty of flowers, no visible health issues, but no fruit?
Tomatoes are self-pollinating, meaning they have both the male and female parts. This means that they may be able to pollinate and set fruit even without bees, but sometimes things go awry in the reproduction department. Some things we can fix, some we can’t. Here are some of most common causes of tomato flowers but no fruit.
#1 – Blossom Drop
Blossom drop happens because it’s too cold or too hot. According to Ohio State University:
Air temperature is an important factor in the production of tomatoes, which are particularly sensitive to low night temperatures and extremely high temperatures. Blossom drop can occur in early spring when daytime temperatures are warm, but night temperatures fall below 55°F.
This phenomenon will occur during the summer as well, when daytime temperatures are above 90°F and night temperatures are above 75°F.
For high temps, a shade cloth may be used to block some of the afternoon sun and beat the worst of the heat. For cold temps, consider red plastic mulch sheeting (this can go over organic mulch and be reused for several years). You might also find a grow tunnel or floating row cover boosts temps enough to promote fruiting.
#2 – High Humidity
Tomatoes reproduce by their pollen falling from the stamen and pollinating the stigma. Generally this pollination happens by wind, movement and vibration of a bees wings.
High humidity can impede this this process by making the pollen too wet to freely transfer to it’s destination. If you live in a climate with high humidity, you can help pollinate your tomato plants by gently tapping on the flowers or flower stems. Another option is to gently brush pollen from one flower to another with a small paintbrush.
#3 – Poor Air Circulation
As I mentioned above, flowers are self-pollinating and set pollen via movement. If the air flow around the tomato is hindered, the pollen can not fall and pollinate the stigma. To improve air circulation, try some of the following options:
- Remove some of the foliage, such as suckers.
- Don’t plant your tomatoes too close. Space determinate varieties 12-24″ apart and indeterminate varieties 36-48″ apart.
- Trellis your tomato plants. Grow your tomatoes vertically to improve air circulation. (See tomato trellis ideas.)
- Don’t plant next to a building or structure. Instead, plant your tomatoes where they have open air on all sides.
#4 – Too Many Flowers
Too many flowers on a tomato plant will cause competition for nutrients among the flowers. As a preservation method, the tomato plant will automatically abort and drop flowers. After your plant goes through a fruiting process, this problem should correct itself without intervention as long as the soil is good. If in doubt, try a fertilizer such as Jobe’s Organic Tomato Fertilizer or Feed the Leaf Organic Blooms foliar spray, as mentioned above.
Don’t Give Up on Homegrown Tomatoes!
There can be a learning curve to abundant tomato production, but the effort is worth it. Fresh picked tomatoes are one of the best treats available from the home garden.
Need more tomato growing tips? Check out these other posts on the site:
- Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties
- How to Grow Lots of Tomatoes Organically, Plus Innovative Gardening Techniques
- 4 Reasons your Tomatoes Aren’t Ripening
- 7 Steps to Stop Blossom End Rot & Get Rid of Black Bottomed Tomatoes
Questions, comments or some tips of your own you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below.
Amber Bradshaw of My Homestead Life.
Amber and her family moved from their tiny homestead by the ocean in South Carolina to forty-six acres in the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.
While building their off-the-grid homestead, they live like the days of old – cooking without electricity, collecting water from the creek and raising chickens, goats, pigs, turkeys, bees, and guineas. They’ve recently filmed their journey for a TV show on the Discovery Channel and the DIY Network/HGTV called Building Off The Grid: The Smokey Mountain Homestead.
Originally published in 2017, updated in 2018.
Tips and hopes for a better tomato season
“I hardly got any tomatoes last year.” 2017 was a tough summer for tomato yields for many folks.
There are numerous factors in successfully growing tomatoes. The plants need a lot of sunshine. Some plant food is helpful. Deep watering is a must. The plant needs to be caged up off the ground. There are a few disease and pest issues, although we are much less encumbered by those than gardeners in rainier climates. Tomato plants love the Sacramento Valley, and remain one of our top crops in the region.
The tomato is a vigorous vine, but it can be a little finicky about the optimum temperature for creating fruit, and 2017 was a hot summer.
The biggest factor in fruit set last summer was high temperatures during the prime flowering period. Variety selection was also important.
A reliable Italian heirloom tomato for Davis gardens. Costoluto Genovese has been a consistent producer for me every year. It has big, meaty fruit that are excellent for sauce. Don Shor/Courtesy photo
The growth cycle
A tomato plant has sufficient size and leaf area to flower and set fruit about six weeks after it is planted out in the ground. For most varieties, if temperatures are between about 55 to 90 degrees, the flower will self-pollinate, and fruit will begin to develop.
Some varieties can set and hold fruit at lower temperatures, allowing an earlier start to the season in regions with short growing seasons. Early Girl and Big Beef are known for this, making them widely adaptable. Cherry tomatoes also set at lower temperatures.
Some varieties that are popular in other regions are less tolerant of higher temperatures. Brandywine and Beefsteak types drop their blossoms above 85 degrees, so we don’t recommend them here.
Optimal flowering weather
We start planting tomatoes in mid to late April, meaning the first ones we plant are big enough to flower and set fruit by about June 1. Our growing season is very long: we can still plant through June and harvest tomatoes all the way to the end of October, sometimes even into winter. But the best flavor and quality is in the fruit that ripens in late summer
Fruit takes 6 to 10 weeks from set to ripening, depending on the variety and the size of the fruit. If we want to harvest by October, fruit needs to set by August. So what really matters, temperature-wise, is the number of days in June and July that are 90 degrees or less.
How hot was 2017?
In the summer of 2016 our high temperatures June 1 through July 31 were less than or equal to 90 degrees 31 times during the period from June 1 through Aug. 1, which is about typical.
We had five days in the 70s, 26 days in the 80s, 23 days in the 90s, and seven days over 100 degrees.
So during the crucial flowering period, half of the days were suitable for fruit to set. That’s plenty.
How about 2017?
Oy. Here’s how it went: Five days in the 70s, 15 days in the 80s, 30 days in the 90s (basically the entire month of July), and 10 days over 100 degrees (plus six more in late August and early September).
Only one-third of the days were suitable for fruit to set. The flowers just kept falling off. We finally had better temperatures in August, so many people got great yields in October. But by then a lot of gardeners had given up.
* Does earlier planting help increase yields?
Only if you plant types that will flower and that can hold their fruit at lower nighttime temperatures. Early Girl, Fourth of July, and Big Beef are good examples.
A risk of earlier fruit set is a higher incidence of blossom-end rot (BER). Once thought to be caused by calcium deficiency, evidence now points to internal metabolic issues that correlate with low temperatures; i.e., cold soil. Watering too often when the nights are cool is a factor. Sauce tomatoes such as Roma are especially prone to it.
The plant outgrows it and normal, unaffected fruit develop as the season progresses, but BER sort of defeats the purpose of early planting.
* Will pruning the plants improve yield?
No, pruning reduces yield overall.
Pruning tomato vines is sometimes done for specific purposes, especially in other regions. Where the season is short, the theory is that it redirects the energy into the development and ripening of the earliest fruit that sets. At the other end of the spectrum, pruning is sometimes done in regions such as Florida where tomatoes are grown in winter in greenhouses. They are planted early, trained to two leaders; all suckers are removed, and the vines are pruned to get the biggest size in the earliest fruit that sets. It increases the market value (early red tomatoes command premium price), which compensates for the overall loss of yield.
* What about “bloom food”?
There is no fertilizer that increases flowering or fruit production. Young plants benefit from some nitrogen to get them growing well, but don’t overdo it.
* Will grafted tomatoes yield better?
Grafting tomatoes has really caught on in recent years. Rootstocks can provide disease resistance and greater vigor. We don’t lack for vigor here, but if you have a problem with nematodes or certain soil diseases then grafted tomatoes may help. Otherwise, they’re probably not worth the extra cost. But I certainly encourage people to experiment, especially with some of those marginal heirloom varieties.
* What are the best strategies for getting better and more reliable yields?
Plant a diversity of varieties: some smaller-fruited types, some known for earlier and later production, some Italian varieties.
Smaller-fruited types improve your odds. Fourth of July and Sweet Carneros Pink are two that are great performers here. When in doubt, plant a cherry tomato.
Plant some hybrids for greater vigor and yield, and reliable disease resistance.
Don’t crowd the plants. A single vigorous vine will produce more than three that are competing with each other.
Water thoroughly, and more deeply as the season goes along. Plants in raised planters will need more frequent watering than those in open ground.
Cage your tomatoes to help the foliage protect the fruit from sunburn. Don’t prune them.
Don’t plant the super-hot peppers too early! They need warm nights and warm soil to get going. Once established, hot peppers like this Habanero can be producing extra-hot fruit all the way through October. They make great fall table decorations, but handle them with care. Don Shor/Courtesy photo
* What about peppers?
Seems like a lot of the fruit got sunburned last year, especially on the south and west sides of the plants.
Sunscald is a problem on ripening peppers, especially bell peppers, when temperatures are in the upper 90’s or above. The plants set and develop fruit just fine in hot weather. But fruit that is exposed to direct sun at the hottest time of day will scorch on the surface. You can provide some shade to the west by attaching shade cloth to a short fence structure. Or you can plant the peppers in light shade or just morning sun. Your overall yield is likely to be lower, but you may actually wind up with more usable fruit.
* Are other summer vegetables affected by temperature extremes?
Yes, bean yields were low as the pollination was disrupted by high temperatures. Some squash, notably zucchini, yields less when temperatures are high. This may not be considered a drawback by some….
* When is the best time to plant?
* Is it getting late? When do you plant summer vegetables?
Not too late at all! Vegetable planting begins in earnest now and continues into June.
My summer planting sequence goes like this:
February to early April start pepper seeds indoors (eggplants, too, if you need quantity). You can skip this stage by buying plants at a garden center when you’re ready to plant. It’s important that the temperature not get below 55 degrees F. where you have the seeds. An outdoor greenhouse may not be warm enough at night.
Late March to early April start tomato seeds. They grow really fast, so start them later than the others. Again, it is simpler to buy plants later.
Mid-April: transplant pepper seedlings into 4-inch pots. Throughout April we gather the types we plan to grow and shift them to larger containers. It gets a little crowded on my porch.
Late April: plant out the first tomatoes. It’s ok to plant green beans, older types of sweet corn, and squash, if it isn’t unusually cold. Start seeds of melons and winter squash in pots.
May is our active vegetable planting month.
Move larger pepper or eggplant seedlings up into black one-gallon containers early in the month. Don’t be in any hurry to plant them in the ground, as they like really warm soil. Plant cucumbers, squash, muskmelons.
First planting of basil in the ground is in early May. Plant sunflowers.
I continue planting tomatoes through May because I find more varieties that I want to grow and there always seems to be room for one more.
Plant peppers, eggplants, in the ground late in May when nights and soil are warm. June is also fine.
June: plant super-hot “Chinense” peppers (Habanero, etc.), watermelons and okra. These real heat-lovers suffer in cold soil. Plant pumpkins and winter squash on the fringes of the garden, do more plantings of corn and beans, and plant more basil (I let it flower for the bees, so I do successive plantings). I plant more sunflowers to get continued bloom.
Last plantings of beans, corn, pumpkins, winter squash, and sunflowers are in July. Last planting of basil is in September.
Don’t give up! One of the saddest comments was “they hadn’t produced anything by August, so I just pulled them out.” I had a huge crop of tomatoes in 2017 — in October. Here’s to a bounteous 2018.
Tomato Plants Not Producing Fruit
Article: Tomato Plants Not Producing Fruit
June 3, 2009
I planted tomatoes from seeds in May. The plants have lots of blossoms, but there is only one green tomato on only one of the 7 plants. Is there something that I should do to stimulate the plants?
Hardiness Zone: 7a
Most tomatoes take anywhere from 30-60 days to mature from seed, and several environmental factors can affect their ability to set fruit.
Heat is one those factors. Once daytime temperatures reach into the 90’s and nighttime temperatures hover near the mid 70’s, tomato plants have trouble setting fruit because high temperatures render the pollen sterile. There are a couple of strategies to combat this problem.
The first is to grow varieties that mature earlier, before the Oklahoma summer heat sets in. Smaller tomato varieties (e.g. cherry) usually need less time to mature, while larger tomato varieties take longer. The smaller varieties are also more likely to set fruit better in hot weather.
You could also buy established seedlings or start yours indoors several weeks before transplanting in order to give them a jump on the season.
If your plants still haven’t set fruit by the time the intense heat sets in, try to keep your plants healthy and consistently watered and once the temperatures drop, they should resume setting fruit.
Other factors that prevent tomatoes from setting fruit include low temperatures (below 50ºF), a lack of sunlight (less than 8-10 hours), inconsistent watering, damage from pests (e.g. thrips), or too much nitrogen fertilizer.
RE: Tomato Plants Not Producing Fruit
If you only planted them from seed in May, you are too early to expect ripe tomatoes. Give them a little more time. I planted my seeds on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) and nurtured them indoors until the first week of May. I think I will harvest my first cherry tomato tomorrow or the next day. The large tomatoes are still hard and green. I live in the high desert part of New Mexico. Advertisement
Trim the Tops
I have had this problem before. I was told to knock the tops of the tomatoes out. This puts them into shock and then they set fruit. They are annuals, so they grow, fruit and die all in one year’s time. There is no second year for them.
Give Them Time to Mature
I live within an hour of you. I always either buy established plants or start mine indoors earlier so I can set plants out by the beginning of May. The plants must have enough time to mature, bud and set fruit before the heat of our summer sets in.
It gets extremely hot here in the summer, and tomatoes will flower, but not set fruit in the heat of our summers. My tomatoes are usually finished by the end of July or the first of August. If your plants survive our summer, about half of mine routinely die even though I set mine out early, water, and mulch them, they will flower and set tomatoes later in the season after it cools. These tomatoes won’t quite be ready before our first freeze, but you can pick them green and allow them to ripen on their own.
I had a year where my tomato plants were beautiful, very large and healthy looking but no fruit. I was told to water them with apple juice. It worked. I had loads of tomatoes by the end of the month.
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