few blossoms on tomatoes--Dawn?

pattyokieJune 21, 2011

Dawn, I know you have addressed this 100 times but I put it in the question box & didn't find one of your answers.

I have very few blossoms on my tomato plants & it seems you mentioned a spray you have used in the past. Is that something I should try? What is the name, please?

You know what the weather has been this spring/summer so maybe nothing is going to help but I don't think I even have a teeny tomato started on the few blossoms I have tho the plants have finally shot up.

Thanks for all your help.


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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Patty,

There are some hormone sprays that are sold to increase bloom, but they are not all that effective, they produce odd fruit and they are intended for use when cold weather is the reasons blooms aren't forming. I wouldn't waste my money on that product since our problem is the excessive heat and not cold.

The problem with tomatoes in Oklahoma and surrounding areas right now is the heat. Most tomato blooms either don't form flowers at all or the flowers drop without fertilization occurring. The temperatures that affect tomato blossom fertilization? Roughly 92-95 or hotter daytime highs and 72-75 nighttime lows. How long have we been having those? Also, high humidity can make pollen 'sticky' so it doesn't properly shed from the anthers. Thumping the flowers and shaking the plants can loosen the pollen and help it shed and that can lead to fruit set.

So, in temps like these, the best thing is to pray for cooler temps and lower humidities, shake the plants or thump the blossoms, and try to manipulate your plants into flowering by feeding them a bloom booster 3- 5 days before a cool spell is forecast. I try to always plant a wide variety of tomato plants that poduce fruit in different sizes since a general rule I've observed is that the smaller the fruit that the plant produces, then the greater the chance it will produce deeper into the hot season. Porter and Improved Porter, for example, always set well for me. Most bite-sized tomato varieties, whether the fruit is the shape of cherries, currants, plums or pears, produce well in the heat. Another 'beat the heat' stategy is to plant as early as humanly possible and plant transplants that are as large as you can reasonably get them without them being too rootbound or too large to transplant well. You can plant earlier than usual if you use Wall-O-Water plant protectors, low tunnels or frost blankets.

One thing you can do when a 'cool front' is forecast is feed your plants with a bloom booster-type fertilizer (I use Super Bloom when I do this) so they will be, hopefully, in bloom. I used this strategy with great success in 2009 when high heat/humidity impeded bloom pollination and fertilization. The timing of it can be tricky to manage, but it is always worth a shot. What you need is for the flowers to be on the plant before the cold temps hit, although if you have a prolonged 'cool spell', you may be able to feed the plants on Day 1 of the cool spell and get blooms and fruitset before the cold spell ends.

This is a very frustrating year. My best producers have been the 8 plants I put in large pots and carried inside at night and outside on warm days beginning in mid-February. My next best producers have been those that went into the ground in earliest April. Any plants that went into the ground during mid-April or later aren't producing much at all.

This is the 'worst' tomato year for me in terms of fruitset since the drought of 2005-2006. I am not complaining because we have had plenty of tomatoes, but only because we plant an insanely high number of plants. Low production of only a few fruit per plant hurts, but if you have 100 plants it hurts a lot less than if you have 5 or 10 or 20.

A couple of days ago, one of our son's friends listened to my tale of garden woe and poor fruit set and then asked anxiously "well, you're still going to make salsa this year, aren't you". I assured her that I would, even if I had to buy paste tomatoes at the grocery store or farmer's market in order to do it. I think she was hoping for some "now" but since our peppers are just starting to ripen, I haven't made a batch of salsa yet.

The heat issues you see with blossom drop on tomatoes also can occur with beans and sweet peppers. I've seen less blossom drop issues on hot peppers.

Right now, while the weather is better this week, feed those plants a bloom booster. The one made by Miracle Grow is fine, but I like Super Bloom, which I buy at Lowe's, more because its numbers are higher.

Also, make sure you aren't feeding the plants too much nitrogen because that gives you all leaf and no fruit.

In our climate with our tomatoes we are always in a hurry to beat the heat and get good fruit set on our plants before the heat gets too high. Sometimes, in a year like this, when we go from too hot to too cold, it is a battle we lose.

If you can keep your plants healthy and get them through the summer, they'll set fruit as soon as cooler temps return in the fall even if they don't produce much in the summer. If this weather like we had last spring and this spring is indeed a result of climate change and is 'the new normal' then all of us will have to push harder than ever for early plantings, protected from frost as needed, that will be able to set fruit before insane heat arrives in May (?) instead of in late June or early July .

Finally, as much as I love heirloom producers, most of them are producing very poorly in the current temperatures. I planted a lot of hybrids this year because I was afraid drought/heat would negatively impact the fruitset and productivity of the heirlooms and I'm glad I did. My hybrid plants so far have produced probably 10-15 fruit per plant more than the heirlooms have.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 10:30AM
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Thanks, Dawn. I have been shaking the cages because I remember you mentioning that one year. My bell peppers aren't doing much either, & now I know why. I'm off to Lowe's to get Super Bloom.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 4:18PM
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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

Patty, thank you for asking the question I was ready to ask, and Dawn, thank you for such a descriptive answer.

Last night I had one Early Girl, and have had a few small tomatoes, but that is all. I have 25 plants in pots. I waited to plant until about April 10, but now I realize that I need to select my fruit more carefully, and start them inside.

At some point I hope we can have a discussion about starting the plants early and the disadvantages of moving them inside and out. I am not prepared to have a greenhouse inside, but I am also not prepared to have such a dismal production of tomatoes .


    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 4:41PM
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I am only 10 or 15 miles from BA across the river, and I have the same problems. Our low temps were in the 40s right up until the end of May and then our lows were in the 70s with only a handful of scattered days with lows in the upper 50s or 60s. We had almost no days with highs in the 80s and lows in the 50-70 range.

Even some of my cherry tomatoes did not set fruit this year, and I get mine out early and large. Thanks to Dawn I have a large number of 4th of July plants and they have done fairly well this year, but are the only ones out of my 20 types and 120 plants that have had a good year.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 11:42PM
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I put bloom booster on everything in the garden yesterday, but I sure do wish I'd done it a few days ago. This little cool down we had yesterday isn't lasting long. We're supposed to be right back up to the high 90's during the day and mid-70's at night by the end of the week :(. I'm not having much luck with the tomatoes setting fruit at all. The only ones that are doing anything besides just blooming are Mountain Magic, Sunsugar, Evans Purple Pear, Sweet 100, and another yellow pear - I forget the name. And even those aren't producing all that much, except for Mountain Magic, it seems to be doing the best but the fruit is ripening while they're still tiny. One entire plant was lost to the wind last week and several other plants lost large branches. Of the five peppers, only two have any peppers on them, the serrano and the Biker Billy. No fruit at all yet on the cucumbers, squash, beans, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin, and okra. But I planted late. On a bright note, yesterday and today are gorgeous! Sure wish we could have more days like this.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 1:59PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I can't remember a worse weather year in terms of getting too hot too early. Maybe 2003 was as bad.

Don't you love Fourth of July? I haven't planted it the last few years, but think I may plant it again next year. As our springtime weather gets flakier and flakier, it is becoming more important to go for earlier production, and you can't beat Fourth of July when it comes to early production. A new one for me this year is Cluster Goliath and it has set fruit very early and has set a lot of it. Of course, they are small, but there's lots of them. All in all, Cluster Goliath so far has produced more tomatoes (by weight) than either Early Goliath or Goliath. Goliath tomatoes are just now ripening in decent numbers so they may surpass Cluster Goliath in overall production, but just later production. Early Goliath has been just like Early Girl is for me, which is to say it isn't early at all.

My best producers by far are Big Beefsteak, Big Boy and Better Boy and they have churned out tons of fruit per plant, but those are the early ones I planted in containers in mid-Feb. and it isn't practical for me to start too many plants in big containers in Feb. anyway or I'd start them all then. Eight is about as many as I care to drag inside every evening and outside every morning.

The best-producing heirlooms this year have been Indian Stripe, Jaune Flammee, JD's Special C-Tex, and Gary O Sena and by best-producing all I really mean is that they have produced some ripe tomatoes but not lots of them. Of those, Indian Stripe has had the best flavor. A lot of my heirloom plants haven't set a single fruit. Our highs for the last couple of weeks have been in the upper 90s and low 100s and our nights have been in the upper 70s or even at 80. Sometimes they dip briefly down to 78 or 79 right at sunrise, but that's not much better than 80. I feel sorry for the tomato plants. They'd rather not endure these temps either.

I am not surprised to hear some of your cherries haven't set well because some of mine haven't either. The best of the bunch of bite-sized ones so far are Black Cherry, Fargo, SunGold, and Mountain Magic and the very best is Matt's Wild Cherry. The Matt's Wild Cherry are very small, but there's lots of them and they're tasty. Oh, and Brandysweet Plum (an odd name for a round cherry tomato that, at least in my garden, isn't that sweet and so far is unimpressive in flavor) is producing well, but the early ones haven't tasted very good. Not bad. Just nothing special.

I want a "do-over" for the Spring 2011 tomato plants, but don't think we're going to get one.

I simply dread the heat that lies ahead of us in June, July and August, but at least okra, winter squash, southern peas and pole beans likely will thrive.

And, for all our frustration with the weather, I am thankful every day that we are not suffering the trials and tribulations of the many, many citizens of our great land who have lost their homes and, for some, the production from their gardens, farms and ranches to drought, wildfire, tornadoes, and flooding this year. For as unhappy as all of us are with our gardens, at least we still have them. (Except Becky, and I feel really bad for her and her family and hope they get the house rebuilt and the garden restored by next growing season.) Also, a lot of our members have had massive hail losses, and all I've had is repeated rounds of tiny hail so I know how lucky I am.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 2:35PM
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I'm going to try to take some notes from your and others posts, and to summarize what each variety of mine has done so far, including the 10 or 12 I got from the tomato trial. It is really worth paying attention to since it is so frustrating not getting tomatoes until late July at best. Not only that, but I leave town for a couple weeks of family vacation at the end of July and those 100 plants I put in to make tomatoes to sell at our local market will not do anyone any good after that.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 8:20PM
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