If you’re like most gardeners, you probably get excited when your tomato plants start flowering. You’re not alone if you’ve struggled with flowers falling off the plants before they can turn into fruit. And if you feel like you spend eons waiting for your tomato flowers to produce fruit, it can be frustrating.
Environmental conditions are typically to blame, but there are actually quite a few tips and tricks to get more of your tomato flowers to set fruit. Here are six solid tips to help you get more tomatoes from your tomato plants.
Provide shade if temperatures are soaring
Summertime tomatoes are a delight and tomatoes are frequently described as heat-loving plants, but too much heat can prevent them from setting fruit. Providing shade for your tomato plants is a simple solution that can increase their productivity.
The shade helps to lower the temperature surrounding the plant, promoting pollination and allowing the plant to focus its energy on producing tomatoes instead of trying to cope with excessive heat.
When daytime temperatures get to 85° F (29° C), tomato plants often become stressed and begin to drop their flowers. If your summertime temperatures reach this range, it’s a good idea to purchase some shade cloth to put up once the midsummer heat begins to set in.
If you build row covers, your tomato plants will also get the shade they need. Use the correct type of cloth for your row covers, and make sure there is an opening on the side that faces east. This way, the tomatoes receive full morning sun while being shielded from the harsh afternoon heat. Row covers not only provide protection against excessive warmth but can also keep plants safe in colder temperatures.
It’s important to note that not just any kind of shade will do – you want to aim for dappled or filtered sun rather than completely blocking out all sunlight. Be sure to check your plants regularly as the summer progresses and the angle of the sun shifts; you may need to reposition your shade accordingly.
But by offering some relief from the hot summer sun, you might just end up with a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes.
Water them regularly, but avoid over watering
Proper watering is key when it comes to growing juicy, delicious tomatoes. Watering regularly helps to keep the soil moist and provides the plant with vital hydration. Lack of water leads to limited fruit set and fewer tomatoes as the plant tries to conserve water resources.
However, be careful not to over water, as this can lead to problems such as leaf mold or blossom end rot. To ensure your tomato plants receive enough water without being overdone, try sticking your finger into the top inch of the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.
It’s also helpful to utilise mulch, such as straw or grass clippings, around the tomato plants to help retain moisture and prevent evaporation.
Fertilise them at the right time
Did you know that fertilising your tomato plants at the wrong time or too often can actually reduce the number of fruits they set? That’s because too much nitrogen, while essential for leaf and stem growth, can hinder fruit development.
When should you fertilise? The best time is when the plant starts to flower and set fruit. This will provide the optimal balance of nutrients for both leaves and fruits.
And don’t forget to water regularly – not only does this prevent wilting and yellowing of leaves, but it also helps dissolve fertiliser and carry it to the plant’s roots.
Remove the tomato flowers that have already set fruit
When transplanting your tomato plants, be sure to remove any flowers that have already set fruit. This may seem counter intuitive, as more flowers often mean more fruit.
The truth is that removing these flowers and allowing your plant to focus its energy on establishing a strong root system will ultimately produce a larger harvest. If you leave the flowers on young tomato plants, the plant will stop focusing on leaf and root growth and begin trying to produce fruit. Since the plant is small, it won’t be able to support many tomatoes.
It’s a much better idea to remove the flowers, let the plant bulk up a little, and then let it do its thing. Once the transplant has taken and new growth begins, feel free to allow some of the flowers to set fruit once again.
Try hand pollination
One way to increase the odds of a successful tomato fruit set is to try hand pollination. Unlike squash and other plants you might have experience with hand pollinating, tomato flowers have both male and female parts, so the process works differently.
Tomatoes don’t usually need help with pollination since insects, and the wind rustling through your tomato plants will do the trick. It doesn’t hurt to try, though! Especially if your tomato plants are in an area of your garden that doesn’t have a lot of wind or insect activity.
It’s simple to hand-pollinate tomato flowers. Just giving the flowers a gentle wiggle will work. Some gardeners swear by using an electric toothbrush since the buzzing can vibrate the flowers without much effort. An electric toothbrush is especially good for gardeners with wrist injuries or chronic pain issues since it reduces the mobility needed to hand-pollinate flowers.
Use potassium-heavy fertiliser during the fruiting phase
One important factor in this variation is the presence of potassium. Potassium aids in the development and set of fruit, so when added during the fruiting phase of a tomato plant’s growth cycle, it can have a significant impact on overall fruit production.
So what kind of fertiliser should you use? Look for one labelled as “high-potash” or containing potassium sulfate as an active ingredient. In fertilisers that feature the N-P-K number on the front of the container, potassium is the K. You should look for a fertiliser with a higher amount of K than N (nitrogen).
Remember to follow package instructions and never over-fertilise, as this can harm your plants’ health and lead to detrimentally high levels of potassium in the soil.
FAQs for getting more of your tomato flowers to set fruit
How long after tomato plants flower do you get fruit?
It usually takes about six to eight weeks for tomato plants to flower and set fruit.
Do tomato flowers turn into fruit?
Essentially, yes. Where you see yellow flowers on your tomato plants, there is potential for a fruit to grow from each one.
What is the best time of day to pollinate tomato flowers?
The best time of day to pollinate tomato flowers is in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in.
How do you get tomato flowers to set?
There are a few things you can do to encourage your tomato flowers to set fruit:
- Remove the flowers that have already flowered when transplanting your tomato plants;
- Try hand pollination;
- Use a potassium-heavy fertiliser during the fruiting phase of your plant’s growth cycle;
- Choose a tomato variety that is known to be prolific in fruit production;
- Give tomato plants some shade when temperatures get high.
What is the best temperature for tomato flowers to set fruit?
Depending on the cultivar, the ideal temperature for tomato flowers to set fruit is generally between 60 and 80° F (16-27° C).
Why do tomato flowers not set fruit?
There are many reasons why tomato flowers might not set fruit, including:
- Too much nitrogen in the soil;
- Not enough potassium in the soil;
- Excessively high or low temperatures;
- Lack of pollinators;
- Disease or pests.
How can I tell if my tomato flowers have been pollinated?
If you see a small, green tomato beginning to form where the flower was attached to the plant, then your flower has been pollinated, and the fruit is beginning to grow.
Do all tomato flowers turn into tomatoes?
No, not all tomato flowers turn into tomatoes. Some may fall off before they have a chance to be pollinated or may not be pollinated at all. Additionally, some tomato varieties are not as prolific in fruit production as others.
Should I pinch off the first tomato flowers?
It’s not necessary to pinch off the first tomato flowers, but doing so can encourage your plant to put its energy into growing larger and producing more fruit later on. It’s a good idea to pinch the flowers off if your tomato plant is smaller than 2-3 feet tall or if the plant hasn’t been transplanted outdoors yet.
Tomato plants need the right balance of nutrients to set fruit, and following these four tips will help increase your odds of a successful harvest. Fertilise when the plant starts to flower and set fruit, remove any flowers that have already set fruit, try hand pollination if needed, and use potassium-heavy fertiliser during the fruiting phase.