How do I get my little garden to do its thing and grow some stuff
June 6, 2012 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Gardening Filter : My tomato plants are flowering but not yielding any fruit! Am I doing something wrong? Or is it just not time yet? I have other friends who are already getting tomatoes this year. Is there anything I can do to help them out? This and other gardening queries.

I have a trough attached to the deck in our back yard, and at the start of the season I planted some basil, cayenne, jalapeno, rosemary, and two varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The cayenne and basil have already bitten the dust, presumably from bugs, but the other plants have remained untouched by all appearances. I water pretty much daily if needed, and use miracle grow once a week. But so far I'm not getting much yield. The jalapeno has two peppers that have not matured yet, and have not started blooming anything else (its been a while since those peppers started).

The tomatoes are my real worry. They are growing like crazy and flowering all over the place but they are not starting to yield any fruit at all. Am I being impatient or should they have started by now? ( I live in Memphis if it helps, and this season has already been very warm) Can I do anything to give them a boost? What would you recommend to keep them upright, stakes, walls, or cages? I am currently using stakes, but I've been told I should be pruning more if that is the case. What is best? Any recommendations to keep the bugs at bay without using pesticides or is that an inevitability? Or just any general advice on gardening period. I love planting and growing things but I am starting to thing I do not possess the green thumb I may need.
posted by Quincy to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How warm is it where you are? It needs to get below 70 degrees at night for tomato plants to set fruit (see Q5 of the link). I have the same problem: I didn't set out some of my plants while it was still between 50 and 70 degrees overnight, so they don't have fruit.
posted by runningwithscissors at 3:39 PM on June 6, 2012

Buzz pollination?
posted by travelwithcats at 3:41 PM on June 6, 2012

I water pretty much daily if needed, and use miracle grow once a week.

Without seeing the plants, I would say you are over fertilizing your plants.
posted by bCat at 4:08 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Way too much fertilizing. Buy some compost and put that at the base a few times. Its less ... chemically.
posted by ducktape at 4:11 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also probably too much watering. You need to stress them some and shake them or beat them with a broom (seriously) to make sure they are pollinating. See page 24.
posted by tamitang at 4:45 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, classic over love. Less water, less food. also, what size is this trough? Tomatoes need quite a bit of dirt to be happy.
posted by rockindata at 5:07 PM on June 6, 2012

It wouldn't hurt to rub their ears either.
posted by j03 at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2012

My tomato guru told me that regular miracle gro is horrible for tomato plants and produces results exactly like you're describing: lots of flowers, no fruit. Also, watering daily isn't good either. Tomatoes like deep soakings once or twice a week.
posted by chara at 5:42 PM on June 6, 2012

What everyone else said about over-watering and Mircle-gro.

If you're using stakes, you need to prune most/all of the suckers. When I had a garden, I preferred cages (big cages, not those puny things with 3 prongs that you stick into the ground), which would support the plants without requiring so much pruning. A more experienced gardener told me that this was better for the plants because the extra foliage provides some needed sun protection for the ripening fruit.
posted by she's not there at 6:21 PM on June 6, 2012

You don't have to fertilize that much. If you're going to fertilize, you want a large value for the K in the NPK value on your fertilizer. You should be able to find the NPK value on the back of the bag or box. Potassium (K) promotes fruit growth, which is what you want. Miracle Gro has too much nitrogen (nitrogen promotes leaf growth).

When I was taking plant physiology, my professor told us that when you're growing fruit, you basically want your plant to freak out and think it's about to die so that it'll start trying to spread its genes around. Apparently he just gave his plants the bare minimum for survival, and it worked.
posted by topoisomerase at 6:23 PM on June 6, 2012

The needs of tomatoes in containers are very different from those grown in the ground. Almost opposites, really.

Advantageously, you can get fruit from tomato plants in containers earlier, because the potting mixture is getting warm in the sun without the damp spring earth keeping them chilly. On the higher-maintenance side, without that insulation, container tomatoes need much more water and much more fertilizer.

The first crucial question is what kind of tomatoes are you growing? Much depends on this:

* You may be growing a type of tomato that is too large to be grown successfully in a container.
* Your container may be too shallow. They don't need tons of earth, but they do need more than herbs.
* You may be growing a type of tomato with a longer growing season and it's right on schedule.
* Whether or not you should be pruning depends on whether you've got a determinate or indeterminate variety.

Also, are you using regular Miracle-Gro or the "tomato-specific" variety? What kind of potting mixture did you use in the container? How much direct sun are these tomato plants getting? What did the demise of the basil and cayenne look like -- sometimes the culprit is surprising, it could be bugs, disease, birds, squirrels, soil pH...
posted by desuetude at 7:55 PM on June 6, 2012

I'm growing Golden Jubilee and Rutgers heirloom tomatoes. The container is actually pretty deep, it tool a bit to fill it up. We used regular potting soil for the base and on the top layer use a vegetable MG mix. And I've been using regular Miracle Grow that I had left from last season. The cayenne and basil simultaneously shed all of their leaves, practically overnight, and promptly expired thereafter.
posted by Quincy at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2012

Tool equals took. Auto correct!!!
posted by Quincy at 9:35 PM on June 6, 2012

It definitely sounds like there's something amiss with the soil chemistry if the other plants dropped their leaves overnight. Stop fertilizing, wait a few days, and start applying the backside of an electric toothbrush (turned on) to the base of the flowers. Or, shake the plants fairly vigorously.

I have had some soil chemistry issues with heirlooms in the past. Maybe you could try to clone and grow in a different container and soil? That or support the local farmer's market.
posted by SenorJaime at 3:41 AM on June 7, 2012

You man, lay off the fertilizer. water when the soil is dry 2 inches deep or more. If leaves turning yellow your giving them to much fert or watering too much. also when healthy, give them a hand job, rub your fingers lightly over each flower.
posted by couchdive at 9:03 AM on June 7, 2012

The container is actually pretty deep, it tool a bit to fill it up. We used regular potting soil for the base and on the top layer use a vegetable MG mix. And I've been using regular Miracle Grow that I had left from last season.

How deep is "pretty deep?" 12 inches? Two feet? More?

Regular Miracle Grow is too high in nitrogen. The tomato-specific variety works well, though. I don't loooove Miracle Gro, but it is easy and convenient, and it's certainly what I used the first few years until I was comfortable geeking out on more specialized fertilizers.
posted by desuetude at 1:22 PM on June 7, 2012

Varieties that yield medium-size or smaller tomatoes are much, much easier to grow in containers. (I think my tomato containers are 18 gallons, and they're not big enough for full-size tomatoes to easily do well.)

Golden Jubilee and Rutgers heirloom produce pretty large tomatoes, and the vines need to grow strong enough to support big heavy fruits long enough for them to get fully ripe. In a container, that's not a beginner-level situation.

They're probably indeterminate, but I have seen determinate Rutgers seeds as well -- check the tag that came with them. Here's a detailed article on pruning and growth. Long story short, you need to pinch off the suckers as they form (the new branches that are trying to form in the "v" of the vines) to concentrate the growth. I'm not sure I'd get into pruning existing growth at this point, that's risk of exposure to pathogens than I'd want for vines that may already be stressed.

I've seen chilies shed all their leaves from stress, like being totally rootbound or out in the cold. Or from disease. I've never seen basil just drop leaves all at once, though. For both, did the leaves fall off whole or did they get ragged? Did they go yellow first?
posted by desuetude at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2012

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