Tomatoes are not hard plants to grow. They’re really quite hardy and tenacious given the right temperature and water conditions. The hard part of growing tomatoes is knowing the plant well enough to make it grow the way you want it to grow.
Other than leaf problems, one of the most common issues gardeners have with tomato plants is the lack of tomatoes. Many of us who have grown lush bushy tomato plants have stared at them wondering, where are all the tomatoes?
So let’s talk about reasons why a tomato plant doesn’t have many tomatoes and what you can do to fix it.
Why Tomato Plants Don’t Make Fruit
After you plant your tomatoes in the ground, it will typically be a couple of months before you’ll be harvesting fruit. Every variety of tomato has a different time to fruiting which can be 90 days or more.
It’s really hard to be patient waiting for fruit on your plant, but the first thing to do is to search your variety so you know when you should be expecting fruit off of that plant.
If your plant is definitely old enough to be making tomatoes, then it’s time to consider one of these reasons for poor production of your tomato plants.
There are various reasons why your tomato plant isn’t producing, so you’ll need to look at your plant and look for one of these 5 easy to fix issues that can improve your tomato crop.
Here are the reasons and how to troubleshoot it.
It has been too hot or cold
A tomato plant will grow in a wide range of conditions, but temps on the extreme side can impact the number and quality of fruit your plant makes. If your nights are dropping into the 50s or days are in the 100s, then you’ll have issues with flowers being able to self pollinate.
You may even see the flowers falling off the plant without setting any fruit. Extremes in humidity will have a similar effect causing pollen to be too sticky or not sticky enough.
If temperature and humidity are affecting your tomato fruit set, the only solution is to wait for the weather to become more cooperative. For many of us, tomatoes should be planted a week after your last frost.
In zones 9 and higher where there are no or rare frost dates, you may have better luck planting your tomatoes in the fall as the summer heat is too much for tomato plants.
It’s experiencing water stress
While I was learning to grow tomatoes from my husband, he always told me to make sure I kept my watering in the Goldilocks zone…not too much and not too little but just right.
If your plants are having periods of drought and flooding, they’ll often respond by dropping flowers. It’s best to keep watering even and avoid extreme changes that can lead to tomato fruit problems.
When possible, install drip irrigation at the base of your plants and soak the soil only when the top inch is dry. Depending on your environment, you may need to water every day or only once a week.
Knowing how much to water your tomato plants is really a practice in observing your garden and getting to know the specific conditions that affect your plants.
It needs to be pruned
Left to their own devices, tomato plants can become enormous sprawling vines. Some gardeners prefer to grow their plants this way and have great results.
But in my experience, letting them bush out leads to fewer and smaller fruit. Think about it as if you are a tomato plant, what is your purpose in life? It’s to reproduce by making tomatoes.
So when life is good and there’s plenty of space and nutrients to grow, then the tomato has no motivation to make fruit. It can continue to vine out and take up as much space as it needs.
But if there’s any indication to the plant that it won’t be able to grow, then it will shift gears and start making more fruit. So I like to prune my plants down to one or two vines.
This not only encourages it to put more effort into fruiting, but it removes some of the bulk of the plant and allows me to watch for issues like pests or disease.
It needs fertilizer, but not just any fertilizer
If you’re unfamiliar with the basic nutrient needs of plants, here is a great explanation and guide to using fertilizer. But in short, nitrogen encourages leaves to grow and phosphorous encourages fruit set.
So if you’re using a fertilizer that is either too high in nitrogen or lacks a full spectrum of nutrients, then your plants may not be setting as much fruit as you’d like.
I always prefer to use organic fertilizer because it’s much easier to get the dosing right. Synthetic fertilizers are often high in nitrogen which can lead to burning leaves and blossom end rot. But even if used appropriately, they can cause a low fruit set because the nutrients are out of balance.
Look for an organic fertilizer that has equal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous (5-5-5) or has less nitrogen and more phosphorous (2-6-4). For more information on what those numbers mean, read this article.
It’s infected with pests and/or disease
The best thing to do for your tomato plants is to inspect them several times a week if not daily. Signs of infection that can stifle tomato production include wilting, stunted growth, spotted, yellow, or misshapen leaves.
It’s frustrating to find disease in your plants, but there are only two options once a plant is infected. Let it grow or pull it out. By the time you see infection, there’s not much you can do about it.
Your plants will either tolerate the disease and grow through it or they’ll succumb to the stress and die. Any treatment you apply is really to prevent spread of the disease to other plants, although this is often an effort in futility.
Heavy infestations of pests like aphids or spider mites can put additional stress on a tomato plant that can have an impact on fruit set. How you decide to implement pest control on your plants is a personal decision.
On our farm, we like to use organic treatments like diatomaceous earth, spinosad, and Bt. If it gets really bad, we will use Pyganic but this is a very broad spectrum organic pesticide that we use only sparingly.
That’s why a tomato plant flowers but no fruit
With the exception of weather and disease, it is possible you can redirect your plant’s growth to encourage more fruit set with these tips. If you’re new to gardening, then running through this list will help you learn to observe and respond to your plant as needed.
Experience is really the biggest route to success with growing tomatoes, so even if you didn’t get a great crop this year, try again next year and the year after that.
You’ll get better and better at it and enjoy it the whole time. Happy Gardening!