Tomatoes too small

bltzkrigJuly 11, 2011

I'm a novice gardener and this is my first time planting tomatoes ('better boy' variety from costco). There's plenty of fruit, but I'm afraid the tomatoes are too small. The largest tomato I'm getting is about the size of a golf ball. Many ripen much earlier, while they are still the size of a cherry tomato. Is this normal? How can I get bigger fruit? What else should I be doing to get a great harvest? Thank for any tips!

Here's a pic

Background: Location is inland southern california. The tomatoes were planted in a raised garden bed over a month ago. I have clay soil, so before planting, I dug a hole about 18 in. below ground level and replaced the soil with a mixture of potting soil + compost + manure, so the bed is almost 2 ft deep with 'good' soil. Fertilized with the osmotote bead type fertilizer. Plants are watered every other day. The plants were already over a foot high when planted, and have grown to twice the size since then. I have 'pruned the suckers' a couple of times and staked the main plants (not a very good job, admittedly).

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Plant might have wrong label.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 1:39AM
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I agree with Jean. Unfortunately, it does look like your plant was mislabeled. That's pretty common, and often isn't the fault of the store or supplier (customers remove the label to read it, then put it back in the wrong plant). Whatever the plant really is, I hope you get plenty of good-tasting tomatoes from it.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 6:17AM
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Hi bltzkrig,

I'm also a newbie gardener (in Nor-Cal) and I've been having the same thoughts regarding my tomatoes. I don't think mine were mislabeled, since I've planted 15 different varieties and all the ones ripening don't seem to be very big. Even the "Big Beef" variety seems unusually small (golf size).

I'm not sure if maybe the first tomatoes of the season tend to be smaller? Or if it's from not fertilizing the plants enough, or getting them from home improvement nurseries or what. I'm hoping some of the experts on this forum will be able to shed some light on your question!

I found a forum that addressed a similar question in the past though.

Here is a link that might be useful: Small Tomatoes This Year

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 3:14PM
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Thanks for the followups. It's hard to imagine the plants were mislabeled. Costco only carried two varieties - early girl and better boy, and they were on two different racks in the store.

The link from sacnet may have the clue. So rootbound plants grow small tomatoes? My plants came in what seemed to be biodegradable containers. I planted them in the soil as is...container and all, assuming nature would take over. Maybe that was the mistake? Maybe I should dig up one plant and cut up the container and free the roots? Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:13AM
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Usually I take the plants out of the container before I plant them but I think that since your plants are so big already and they're producing fruit, just leave them as they are.

I came across this website today that said that LACK OF WATER is a major factor for small tomatoes. Last year I overwatered ("overloved" the plants) so this year I've been very careful NOT to overwater. Perhaps I've underwatered, and that's why my Big Beef variety is so small!

I'm going to try watering more, especially as it gets warmer in the summer and see if that helps. And also adding some plant food too.

Here is a link that might be useful: What causes home grown tomatoes to remain small

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 5:54PM
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Tomatoes are shallow rooted apparently. Are you mulching? I have a 7" deep raised bed sitting on concrete...I planted my big tomato plants in it and staked with bamboo. My Aunt gertie's gold grew a good size but only had a few tomatoes and so did my cherries with about 100 per plant...gianormous cherries which are normally average in my backyard soil. I planted 9 indeterminates plants in a 4 x 4 space in the raised place for the roots to grow except 7" down. Tomato sizes came out like the tomatoes you buy at the grocery store still on the vine. I used backyard soil, compost, and peat moss in the beds. Didn't fertilize except at seedlings stage. Watered every day to every other day. I didn't mulch...but I had the peat moss. Wasn't a great result but I definitely believe that its the health of the plant that really matters...and a calcium source with a good slow release like Tomato Tone. I am a vegetarian so I don't fertilize with feather meal or bone meal etc...but it is a cheap and easy way to grow tomatoes.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Sorry, I don't buy the idea that lack of water makes Better Boy tomatoes the size of golf balls. If the plant doesn't show signs of wilting, it's getting enough water. And, tomato roots are not shallow. I grew Better Boys for many years in containers with less-than-optimum soil, and they usually produced a lot of softball sized fruit and were usually at least six feet tall. Stress and poor nutrition can produce somewhat smaller tomatoes, but they're more likely to produce fewer tomatoes and sickly plants. It seems more likely you got the wrong kind of plants.

This post was edited by Ohiofem on Sun, Feb 3, 13 at 10:57

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 10:53AM
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This year Costco had "beefmaster" tomatoes in Southern California. Last year's beefsteak tomatoes from Costco were fantastic, so we tried these (no beefsteak available).

Results: healthy plants, smallish, lots of tomatoes, NOT VERY GOOD TASTING. Not much flavor (more like a bland supermarket tomato by size, flavor and pulp). Zero acid which is required for a great tomato taste.

Typical Costco - how many times have you found a great product, only to see it disappear from the shelves 6-12 months later?

We tried "better boy" last year and they were just OK, far short of the beefsteaks. Very disappointed this year, we won't have any good home grown tomatoes..

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 9:43PM
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You should have taken it out of that 'biodegradable' container.
It takes a long time for that thing to decompose. It stresses
the plant trying to break through and clogs up root spreading.

I always tear that completely off.


Tomato roots can easily go down 3 feet or more.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 3:09AM
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Watering every other day? Seems a bit much to me. I only water (deeply) once a week.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 11:02AM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Last year we had a very hot summer and I was feeling exceptionally lazy. I rarely watered. Maybe twice a month with rare rain. The tomatoes didn't look too terrible, and kept producing fruit. It was quite small (very little ended up larger than golf-ball sized) but the flavor was outstanding. All I can work out is that the sugars concentrated and made the fruit so amazing.

This year has also been hot and I've been stingy on water. Fruit is much larger than last year, but I've only had a handful of cherries from a new variety, so I couldn't say how they compare flavorwise.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I always grow at least five different types of toms. For a total of 15 to 20 plants.

Something always does well, and something always does poorly. Some Cherry some big types. Some heirlooms, some hybrids. Overall cherry tomato plants are my favorite. I've never had a large tomato in late October that tastes as good a cherry tomato.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 12:47PM
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The idea that a lack of water causes tomatoes to be smaller does not seem to be so odd for me. i have a tomato on one of my tomato plants which is small and is ripening to a red colour though it ought to be bigger. a week or two earlier, the temperatures were very hot and the plant was dehydrated. Now the plant is fine and it has enough water but that tomato which was developing probably also got a lack of water and so it may only be small because during its development it was dehydrated. I shall see how the rest of the tomatoes on the plant do and see if they ripen when they are big or small because the plant is now no longer dehydrated.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:29AM
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springroz(z6 SKY)

I was discussing this with the sample lady at the grocery store (I will talk to anyone!). I have a row of San Marzano, and a row of Chocolate Stripes, 25 of each, right next to each other. Both varieties started from seed, by me. The Stripes are producing BIG, both in fruit size and number. The San Marzanos look like large pear shaped cherry tomatoes.

I am in South Central KY, she is a good 100 miles away in NW Tennessee, having the same issue with San Marzanos! Hers were bought as plants.

No answer, sorry, just commiseration!


    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:42AM
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I agree with one of the other posters that it's best to take the tomato plant out of its container (no matter which type of container) prior to transplanting. I go as far as to break the root ball to "free" the roots. Otherwise, you get a limited root system and small fruit. Nurseries sell products to prevent transplant shock, and while I'm sure they don't hurt, they're probably not 100% necessary.

Since your plant is in the ground, you could take something like a yard stick or similar device and poke it into the ground as far as it'll go and it might help break the bottom of that biodegradable pot and maybe free the balled-up roots.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:52AM
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