My yellow pear has gone pear shaped.
July 12, 2010 12:00 AM   Subscribe

MeFi gardeners - need help troubleshooting a non-fruiting yellow pear tomato plant.

Novice gardener here.

The plant in question is in a raised 4x4 bed, situated under a bit of roof overhang - it gets perhaps 3 - 4 hours of direct sunlight each day in total. It's flowering madly and has been for some time, but is not producing any fruit whatsoever. (Contrast this with three other plants in relatively close proximity, bursting with wee green 'matoes. The latter, however, are getting quite a bit more direct sun each day.)

The plant appears to be quite healthy and vigourous in every other respect, it's just not fruiting at all. So: is there something I could be doing to improve its chances of producing? Could it be transplanted successfully to a sunnier spot, and would that help? Or is it just a wash?
posted by arachnid to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
How hot has it been where you are? Tomatoes (especially heirloom varieties) have trouble setting fruit when it's hot. If it's getting over about 85ºF during the day or staying over 70ºF at night, they just won't set well. High humidity also causes problems, as it makes the pollen sticky. One thing I do when it starts getting too hot for them to set (or whatever other reason), I give each branch a little shake when I pass by, and sometimes that does it.

It might be that it's not getting quite enough sun, but if the plant looks vigorous and healthy, maybe not. I've grown tomatoes on only 4 hours of sun a day. You could try transplanting it, but the few times I have moved anything other than a small plant, the results were less than wonderful.

My suggestion would be to give the blooming branches a little shake every once in a while, and just keep taking care of the plant in hopes of getting some in the fall from it. Last summer, my pear tomato plant stopped producing in the middle of summer (OMG, it was hot here), and then I got a whole bunch more once the weather started to cool off.

And this summer the weather was apparently just totally wrong for pear tomatoes, as my two plants, which are five months old are only 4 inches tall. Yup, hoping when fall gets here they take off, but I have little hope. :(
posted by Orb at 12:25 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding Orb - I walk through my garden daily and often give the stems of my tomato plants a small, stiff tap with an extended finger, near any blooming flowers. I don't have pear tomatoes but I am growing half a dozen different heirloom varieties, all close to the house with less-than-optimal sun, and they're setting fruit quite well.
posted by jon1270 at 4:02 AM on July 12, 2010

I bet it has to to with the amount of light. In my experience, 4 hours of light just isn't enough for some varieties. Less than 8 for some, and you'll get a lot of fruit, but they'll take forever to ripen.
posted by crunchland at 4:23 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also make sure when you water them you aren't wetting the blossoms.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:50 AM on July 12, 2010

What you have is called blossom drop. It can be caused by several things:

High daytime temps (consistently above 100) or high night time temps (above 70) or low night time temps (below 55.)

Too much/too little nitrogen in the fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will cause lots of growth with few flowers.

Too high/too low humidity. You can't do much about the too high humidity part but if it is too low, you can hose the plant down during the day.

Not enough bees. You can plant flowers that attract bees or shake the branches like others have mentioned.

Since the nearby plants are fruiting madly, it sounds like your fertilizer is right and bees are in the area. Is the non-fruiting plant the same variety as the others? Different varieties handle high heat/humidity levels better. The variety named "Yellow Pear" is actually a good choice for high heat and humidity. If you are sure it is the same variety, then the only thing different would be the overhang. The overhang may be interfering with wind pollination so again, shaking will help.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:45 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

What's your fertilizing regimen like? I generally side-dress plants as soon as I see blooms, which seems to help push the plant into production. As mentioned above, you don't want a high nitrogen fertilizer. The one I used this year is a 3-4-6, and is designed for tomatoes specifically.
posted by Gilbert at 6:42 AM on July 12, 2010

In my experience (Zone 5), almost all tomatoes need at least 6 hours of sun to really go to town.
posted by ducktape at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2010

Orb, we really haven't gotten our hot summer weather yet, but that should be arriving soonish. We did have a rather extended wet spring, which put a lot of home gardeners (and farmers!) behind by a few weeks. But everything seems to have caught up and is chugging along in the expected fashion, except this one bloody plant! It's a confuzzlement.

crunchland, the ripening of our existing tomatoes is a whole sea of varying opinions and advice I'm not brave enough to wade into just yet. :) I've been told and have read so many different things, it does my head in a bit. A local farmer said I should stop watering the plants once the fruit is decent sized - but I have pole beans growing the same planter, so I'm not sure at this point how to make that work.

SLOG, the other plants are a Roma, a Goliath Red, and an Early Girl. It's not unusual, this time of year, for the mornings to start out overcast and a bit misty, and then for the cloud cover to burn off around noon. We get a few hours of breeziness from perhaps 2 -4pm. The planters are sort of tucked into the "L" in the rear of the house, so it's entirely possible the house is acting as a bit of a windbreak (the tomatoes being located closer to the, erm, crotch of the "L" than the other plants).

Gilbert: my fertilising regimen is that I don't really have a fertilising regimen. I've read that the most common mistakes newbie gardeners make are to overwater and/or overfeed their plants, so my philosophy thus far has been to keep my hands to myself unless the plants look as if they need some sort of intervention. Would manure tea be a good way to go about this? Can it be made with composted chicken manure, or would that be too nitrogen rich for tomatoes?

Right, so: shaking it is! And I'll see what happens. Cheers everyone for your help! :)
posted by arachnid at 6:36 PM on July 12, 2010

We've had an unusually wet spring too, which now makes me wonder of maybe pear tomatoes just don't like that much water. I know I gave my garden far less water in prior years when I had to apply it than it has gotten this year from just the rain, and there's all kinds of weirdness going on out there.

One thing I have done in the past to get a plant to produce (or at least it started to do so immediately after) was let them really want water. I waited until the leaves were just starting to wilt before I gave them water, stressing them a bit into thinking they had better be making seeds (tomatoes) NOW. My grandfather swore by this technique, and it did seem to work for me too, but I'm always scared I'll accidentally kill or maim one of my precious tomato plants.
posted by Orb at 11:29 PM on July 12, 2010

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