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Edible Gardening Series: Question of the Week – why won’t my tomatoes produce fruit?

By Sarah Bostick and Carol Wyatt-Evens

Gardening in Florida can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly frustrating, at the same time. If you are new to the region, you soon learn that gardening in the Sunshine State can quickly become a full-time job. While our subtropical climate is perfect for growing an abundance of different vegetables, fruits, and herbs, it also can present some overwhelming challenges.

We can help! UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County agents and staff have created an online edible gardening resource center. The website features short videos from our 25-episode “Edible Gardening Series” webinars, along with blog posts and resources lists for episodes. Get help on an array of topics that befuddle many gardeners.

 

This week’s Question of the Week is:
Tomato Troubleshooting: Why Won’t My Tomatoes Produce Fruit?

 

We are doing our blog posts a little differently this week! Rather than focusing in on one topic, we are answering all of the questions asked our Tomato 101 class in a series of four themed blogs. Here is a Q&A for the “Why won’t my tomatoes produce fruit?” theme:

 

Q: I’m in Sarasota and due to lack of space, my tomato plants are just outside on the north side of my north facing lanai. They probably don’t get as much sun as they should. Some of my plants are taller than me and look healthy but there are very few tomatoes and none have ripened yet. Any suggestions?

A: Tomato plants can survive in the low-light conditions on the north side of a building in Florida, but it is unlikely that they will be able to obtain enough energy from the sun to produce much if any fruit. To read more about how access to direct light impacts a plant’s ability to grow and produce fruit, check out another blog post from our Edible Gardening Series Question of the Week blog series. The further north you live in the country, the more important full-day direct sunlight becomes to tomatoes.

 

Q: My five-month old tomato plants from last season didn’t develop flowers or fruit but the leaves are still green. They grew and grew and then seemed to stop growing. They didn’t produce a flower or fruit. Why?

A: Since your plants are still healthy and green but have produced no fruit after growing for many months, the most likely culprit is that they received too much nitrogen fertilizer. Excess amounts of nitrogen keep plants in a vegetative stage – aka, producing huge amounts of beautiful, lush, green leaves, but little to no flowers. The plants most likely stopped growing because they are a “determinant” variety of tomato, which means that they stop growing at a pre-determined size.

If your plants produced blossoms but the blossoms did not turn into fruit, there are a handful of reasons explanations. Tomatoes drop their blossoms in response to stress such as very low or very high temperatures, not enough sunlight (tomatoes require full-day sun), certain insects that damage the flowers, very strong wind, and being very over-watered.

 

Q: Is there any advantage to overwintering a tomato plant if it survives, or should we start with new plants every year? I have a half dozen or so various tomato plants I’ve managed to save from frost and disease over the winter.  They are growing now that it is warming up, but I don’t know if they’ll be productive.

A: Most people think of tomatoes as annuals, but under the right conditions, they can grow and thrive for over a year. The right conditions, however, can be a very hard thing to achieve! If your plants still look good after coaxing them through winter, it is well-worth giving them the chance to produce more fruit as temperatures and sun-intensity increase.

 

Q: I see small birds, sparrow size, land on my plants. Are they eating bugs or are they hurting my plants?

A: Very few birds eat tomatoes. What you are likely seeing is birds eating insects on your plants. Cornell Lab has a really neat bird website that provides a treasure trove of information about many different birds and what they eat in both urban and rural areas (it is often different!). This link takes you to a page about sparrows.

 

For answers to more common tomato questions, click on the links below:

 

The Edible Gardening Series and blog series is a partnership between the following UF/IFAS agents and Sarasota County staff:

  • Sarah Bostick, Sustainable Agriculture Agent
  • Carol Wyatt-Evens, Chemicals in the Environment Agent
  • Mindy Hanak, Community & School Gardens Educator
  • Kevin O’Horan, Communications Associate

One Comment on “Edible Gardening Series: Question of the Week – why won’t my tomatoes produce fruit?

  1. Night time temperatures below 70 degrees are also necessary for the fruit to set. If temps are above 70, usually they will flower but the flowers will not set fruit and just drop off.

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