Brian Jervis Ask a master gardener
“My tomatoes are not bearing fruit. What’s going on?” — CO
Tomatoes are like the prima donnas of the garden. If everything is not right, they will not bear fruit. For better or worse, we had a cooler spring, then rain for a couple of weeks, and then we jumped straight to August weather in June. The problem you are asking about is probably something called flower drips.
Flower drop occurs when daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees for a period of time or nighttime temperatures are not between 55 degrees and 70 degrees. Under these circumstances, plants become stressed and this stress inhibits pollination. It’s called flower drop because the flowers, sterilized by the heat, simply fall to the ground. Too much nitrogen can also cause this, but with the weather we’ve had buds are likely to drop.
As we cannot control the outside temperature, in this heat it becomes our job to keep the plants hydrated and healthy until the temperatures drop a bit and then the tomato plants tend to start producing again.
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Tomatoes like to be watered regularly and in the right amounts. Tomatoes typically need about an inch of water per week, but when it’s been as hot as it used to be, plan on about an inch of water per week. Sometimes even that won’t be enough. All you have to do is watch them and be told how much water they need, because of course it depends on how much sun they get and what the soil conditions are.
If your tomatoes are fruiting in extreme heat, they may only turn a yellow-orange color on the vine. If your tomatoes just seem to be running out of time at this stage of development, you can pick them, bring them in, place them on the kitchen counter, and let them ripen there. Once ripe, you can put them in your fridge to extend their lifespan.
Try to be consistent with your watering, as infrequent watering can cause another condition called blossom end rot. Heavy rain can also cause blossom end rot. Blossom end rot symptoms typically appear about halfway through fruit maturity. The first signs of blossom end rot are a small, light brown, water-soaked area at the blossom end of the fruit (the end opposite the stem). This spot is getting bigger and possibly sunken and kind of tough. Once tomatoes get infected with blossom end rot, there’s no turning back. You can cut off the ugly part and eat the rest, but that damaged area really opens the fruit up to rot.
There are many blossom end rot remedies online that promise results, but the reality is that once the soil dries out and watering becomes more regular, the condition is gone in new tomatoes.
Blossom end rot occurs on a variety of vegetables, including squash and peppers. So if you see it on your tomatoes, chances are you have it on the others too. Much luck.
You can get answers to all of your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stopping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer issue of Tulsa World Magazine