Tomato plants require a bit of patience before they bear fruit

Since my yard is small, I don’t have room for a big garden but I still found a spot to plant one tomato. I planted it a little late — toward the end of May, but it’s a very hardy-looking and large plant. It’s been watered and fertilized (with Miracle Gro) regularly, but it has only two teeny, little green tomatoes on it. Maybe I’m being impatient, but I’m ready to start picking some homegrown tomatoes! Why aren’t my tomatoes bearing? Is there something I did wrong?

— Rita

There are several possibilities here, but I think this is just a situation where you have to wait a bit for your tomatoes to start producing.

When tomatoes don’t fruit it’s usually early in the season and it’s just a question of letting the plant settle in and mature a bit. That’s most often the case this time of year. And this year people tended to get their tomatoes in a bit later than usual. We started off pretty warm early this spring but then we had some late frosts that kind of scared people off of planting for a while. As a result, lots of people planted when you did or even later.

Planting the third or fourth week of May is plenty early to get a bumper crop. Most of the truck farmers plant that late (since they don’t want to risk the plants to a late frost) and they get tomatoes just about as early as anyone else.

Poor fruit set can be caused by poor vigor in the plant, but again, this doesn’t sound like your problem. Your fertilizing sounds great and you talk about a nice big plant.

There can also be issues with the specific variety you have in the garden. Some varieties, especially some of the heirloom-type tomatoes, can take forever to mature — but boy, are they worth it!

The last two things that I can come up with are either excessive shade or excessive nitrogen in the soil. A tomato doesn’t require full, all-day sun, though they’ll certainly tolerate it. A bit of shade is okay, but you want that plant to receive at least six hours of direct sun a day. The lack of light will affect fruit set as well as slow down the development of the plant. About the only thing to do if you think this may be the problem is to find a different spot in the garden to plant your tomato next spring.

Excessive nitrogen can also be the problem. Plants require nitrogen, they use it to grow. The problem is when there’s so much of it the plant uses all of its energy growing and doesn’t have anything left to flower and fruit. I see this most commonly where people have perhaps excessively amended the soil with composts or manures. These materials can have relatively high levels of nutrients, which is a good thing. And they are usually in a slow-release form so the effects last far longer than most chemical fertilizers (also a good thing!), which have dissipated in a month or so. The problem is that it’s just a bit too much of a good thing and the result is poor flowering and fruiting in a plant. If this is what’s going on, there’s really not much for you to do now except wait until next spring and replant. By then the nitrogen levels should have settled down a bit and your plants will resume their normal growth, development and fruiting. 

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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