When we begin our gardens, we imagine what our tomato harvest will look like. But most of the time, we don’t anticipate tomato plant problems that often arrive in mid-summer.
Beginning gardeners blame themselves and sometimes give up. But they shouldn’t. Summer tomato problems are more common than you realize, and thankfully, there are steps you can take to overcome many of these tomato issues.
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, gardening expert Joe Lamp’l of the Joe Gardener Show offers solutions to these common tomato problems in the home garden. Don’t forget to listen to my other interviews with Joe about organic fertilizer options and organic pesticides.
Click below to listen or continue reading.
Common Tomato Plant Problems
We all get discouraged when faced with these tomato plant problems: blossom end rot, tomato plants outgrowing their trellis, and no fruit production. Below are ways to prevent and treat these issues, along with a suggestion on how to keep your harvest going all season!
Blossom End Rot: What it is and how to fix it
Blossom end rot is an ugly black spot on the blossom end of the tomato (the bottom end, opposite where the tomato fruit meets the stem) that often shows up on the first few ripe tomatoes of the year.
While you may have heard that a lack of calcium causes blossom end rot, for most gardens, it isn’t a lack of calcium in the soil at all. Instead, more commonly, the problem is that the calcium present in the soil isn’t able to be transported properly into the plant.
How do you prevent blossom end rot?
Although many people suggest adding epsom salt to the tomato plant, this step isn’t necessary, and can even make the problem worse. In addition, the solution isn’t to add eggshells or other calcium sources to the planting hole. Instead, the solution to blossom end rot is much simpler in most cases.
You need to make sure the plant is receiving consistent watering.
As long as your soil’s pH is in the proper range (Joe suggests a pH of 6.5 to 7.0), your soil has plenty of organic matter like compost (and thus plenty of calcium), and you water consistently, you should not have a problem with blossom end rot.
What do you do if blossom end rot has already struck your plant?
Same advice. Although the fruit already affected won’t recover, maintaining a consistent watering schedule will prevent the condition in future tomatoes.
Tomato Plants Too Tall (Outgrowing Tomato Trellis)
When your indeterminate tomatoes reach the top of your tomato cages, what do you do? You could leave your plants to grow over the cage and let them sprawl. Many people do this, but it isn’t without its risks. As the weight of the fruit pull down on the vine, the vine could kink and possibly break.
One solution is to top the plants by cutting the vine. This sacrifices some good blossoms that could produce fruit, but this practice does help control the sprawl.
An idea Joe suggests is to find the last blossom set that you want to keep and cut just above the next set of leaves up the plant. By keeping those leaves above the blossom, you create shade for the developing fruit and prevent sunscald.
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Tomato Plants Not Producing Fruit
If your tomato plants are beautiful and full of green leaves but they don’t form many flowers and rarely produce fruit, you could have one of two problems going on.
Too Much Nitrogen for Tomatoes
One, the soil in which the tomato plants grow may contain too much nitrogen. It is common for beginning gardeners to over fertilize their garden. While the nitrogen helps produce green leaves, tomato plants subsequently need phosphorus to form flowers and fruit.
What to do if there’s too much nitrogen in the soil for tomatoes?
If you suspect too much nitrogen in the soil, stop adding any form of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Instead, use organic fertilizer high in phosphorus like this one.
Weather Too Hot for Tomato Flowers and Fruit
Before assuming your soil has too much nitrogen, though, consider your recent weather.
Sometimes, it is just too hot for tomatoes. If it gets hotter that 90* F in the daytime and the nighttime temperatures stay in the upper 70s* F, the plant can shut down and temporarily stop producing fruit.
What to do if tomatoes stop producing fruit in the summer heat?
Fortunately, tomato plants rebound quickly once temperatures moderate. As long as you can keep the plant healthy, watered, and free of disease and pests that threaten it through the heat of the summer, you will likely find yourself a new harvest in the late summer and early fall. Just baby those babies until then as much as you can.
How to Start a New Mid-Summer Tomato Crop
What happens if your tomatoes begin to look worn out around mid-summer? Or maybe, like I experienced in 2018, they’re losing the the battle with disease? Are you done with tomatoes for the season? Joe says no. He suggests — if you’re up for it — start a new crop!
But in his method, you don’t start from seed all over again. Instead, you begin new tomato plants from the old ones. How do you do that?
You can prune some of your suckers, and place them in pots, and let them take root. Make sure that the soil is plenty moist so that the roots will grow well. Joe puts water in a solid tray and puts the pot into the tray so that it always has plenty of water. After the plant becomes established (usually in about a month), you can transplant into your garden.
This second planting extends the tomato harvest and they may escape some of the disease pressure that the first planting experienced.
Final Thoughts on Common Tomato Plant Problems
As Joe and I agreed in the beginning of this podcast episode, growing tomatoes isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s rarely ever easy! Even the most veteran gardeners experience down years and fight many of the most common tomato plant problems.
Hopefully through this post and podcast, you feel more equipped to tackle many of those issues and grow a bumper crop of tomatoes!
Master Pests, Diseases, and Weeds
One other way you can troubleshoot tomato plant problems — and other issues — in your garden, is to understand three of the biggest threats to our gardens: pests, diseases, and weeds. Joe has recently released an online course to help you learn and grow your best garden by understanding these issues.
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