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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tomatoes are All Vines and Few Fruits

Good looking tomato transplant for home
Q. With five tomato plants all I really get is beautiful, huge green vine, why don't I get tomatoes? Being from East coast, I sure miss good tomatoes.

A. Tomatoes are difficult to grow here. The reasons are due to our poor soil conditions and our unpredictable weather mostly. Most homeowners fail to get a good crop of tomatoes because they plant them too late, they don't give them enough sunlight and they over fertilize them.
          The best years for tomato production are when we have a long cool spring. Some of the worst times we have for tomato production are when the spring temperatures fluctuate wildly from cool to hot.
          The best tomato transplants are about 6 inches tall, dark green and stocky. I don't need to tell you that they should look healthy and free from what appears to be disease or insect problems. Look at the plant. It should be healthy or don't plant it. Planting should occur in early March unless you have a very warm spot that can protect the plants from freezing temperatures and strong winds.

Tomato staked and caged
          Good soil preparation is important for tomato production. All that is necessary is good quality compost added to the soil and the soil give the chance to age and mature with this compost. Tomatoes should be fertilized with a high phosphorus fertilizer at the time of planting and not fertilized again until you see fruit. Fertilizing the plants regularly can cause them to produce lots of vine and little to no fruit.
          It is important that the plants have enough room to grow and produce. When they are placed in cages or staked they can be planted closer together. When they are allowed to sprawl on the ground they must have more room and we usually see higher losses of the fruit.

          If tomato plants are placed too close together they tend to shade themselves and produce very few fruit. They also tend to get more disease problems if planted too close together because of a lack of air movement.

Collection of tomatoes grown at The Orchard; sweet 100,
old ivory egg, black from tula, snow white, yellow pear
          Like most vegetables that produce something we eat from a flower, they need a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight for good production. With sunlight less than this they tend to get leggy and not flower very much. The best sunlight for them is sunlight in the mornings and early afternoons. The worst time for them to get sunlight is if it is only in the mid to late afternoons.

          It is usually best to cage them or stake them. Don't let them grow into each other or they will shade each other and reduce air movement through the vines. This will lead to disease problems. Don't be afraid to thin out the canopy if it gets too dense.

          If you have prepared your soil well and have enough sunlight there is no reason cherry or grape tomatoes should not produce for you. These are the easiest to grow here and are usually nearly always successful.

          If you have problems with cherry or grape tomatoes, I would suggest that you pay particular attention to soil improvement, the amount of sunlight they are receiving and your planting time. I hope this helps.


  1. I'm pretty sure that 105+ degrees does something to the yellow flowers (kills them or does not allow pollination) that stops fruit production. I've been growing tomatoes here for years now and there is always an early summer and late summer crop with the same plants. July to mid August I get almost no fruit. This year was even worse because May was so warm.

  2. When the night-time temperatures do not go below 80F, the blossoms abort, stop producing. We have enjoyed a late harvest (Sep/Oct) from plants affected as such, in prior years. Good luck.

  3. I find that spraying the flowers with a water bottle helps the flowers set during the hot dry summer days.

  4. Good info to know, I have been frustrated with tomatoes and I have been successful with other garden plants :)