Harvesting is the most rewarding time for farmers, as they get to rip from their long-term sweat. The last thing a gardener needs is to see their tomatoes falling off the plant before maturity.
Tomatoes can fall off the vine for various reasons, but plant stress is the most common. Anything that stresses your tomato plants, whether it’s parched weather, a heatwave, or too much shadow, will cause fruit drop.
Whenever you see tomatoes start dropping off the plant before they ripen, something is wrong, and there is a need to address the underlying cause urgently. In this article, we will be looking into this problem, the possible causes, and how to prevent it.
Tomatoes require warm temperatures to grow, blossom, and produce a good yield. You may have noticed that tomatoes blossom and don’t produce fruit when planted during certain times of the year. This is because the temperatures are too hot or too cold for pollination to occur. And whenever pollination doesn’t occur, you shouldn’t expect any fruit.
Tomato fruits also require a warm temperature range to develop. The most favorable temperatures for tomato development is a nighttime range of between 75°F (24°C) and 55°F (13°C). The daytime temperatures are also critical, and they should be between 95°F (35°C) and 50°F (10°C).
You are likely to see your tomatoes start dropping whenever the temperatures exceed these brackets. Important to note is that the plant requires these warm temperatures for photosynthesis to take place. As a result, the plant’s development will also be affected.
When the temperatures are too extreme, the plant might not be producing enough energy to support all the fruits causing some to drop.
Here are some early signs that your tomato plant is experiencing too much heat or cold:
- Tomatoes dropping off plant
- Wilting of leaves
- Dropping of flowers
Different factors affect these temperatures and which should guide you in addressing the problem:
- Planting time
- Unseasoned weather
- Daytime and nighttime temperatures
How to take care of these problems
Proper timing is critical for growing healthy tomatoes. You should always choose the right tomatoes and plant them at the recommended time. For instance, certain regions in the US do not favor the growth of tomatoes, such as most parts of Alaska, California, and Hawaii.
See this U.S. Agricultural Research Service map to determine the most appropriate time and plants to grow at different times of the year for your region. Alternatively, a farming specialist can also offer useful advice.
When it comes to the type of tomatoes, there are some heat-resistant varieties you might want to consider: heat-master, solar fire, summerset, and phoenix, among others. Some cold-resistant varieties include Alaska, Andes, and Alicante.
When you follow the right timeline for planting seedlings and transplanting, you may experience a less difficult time controlling the temperatures.
Protecting tomato plants from heat
Some summers are too hot for the plant to develop. If this is the case, you need to shelter your plants under a cloth shed during peak summer and protect against extreme heat.
Cloth shade is a UV stable mesh that blocks a certain percentage of sunlight from reaching your plants. The material comes in different varieties, and you choose based on the amount of heat you want to block out.
You will find ranges of 5% to 95%, and most gardeners often go for 30% to 50% type. The advantage of purchasing a shade cloth is that it is durable and will reuse it for other plants.
Protecting tomatoes from cold
A greenhouse will help protect your tomatoes from freezing temperatures by keeping the plants warm throughout the season.
During warm days and cool nights, leave the greenhouse doors open during the day and close them during the late afternoons.
This technique will keep your plants warm by trapping enough heat for your plants to get through the night without risking overheating during the day. A row cover is an alternative to a greenhouse, more so for a small-scale gardener. This helps protect taller tomato plants from damage by cold.
Suppose you are wondering if you can grow tomatoes all year in a greenhouse. I wrote an article about growing tomatoes in a greenhouse all year. You can read it here.
Tomato plants require the correct amount of moisture in the soil to support fruit. The plants get stressed whenever there is too much or too little water in the soil, causing the fruit to drop.
With extended dry periods or drought, the plant might shed some of the fruit remaining with only those it can sustain. These prolonged dry periods will also affect the roots of the plants and, in other cases, completely damage them.
Too much water in the soil also affects the plant roots causing them to rot. To ensure you give your tomatoes the necessary water amounts, you need to follow a deep soil watering technique on a less frequent schedule.
It is also important to note that watering your plants too often will make them develop a shallow root system that doesn’t go deep enough to get the water during droughts.
The most appropriate time for watering tomatoes is in the mornings when the sun is not too hot. This prevents the water from evaporating from the soil before the plants absorb enough into their system.
As you water your plants, pour the water close to the soil without wetting the plant leaves. Watering the plant leaves, even when the temperature is too high, will not help the plant. It also causes health problems to the plant. More so in areas with high humidity, which are prone to fungus infection.
Another solution to this problem is planting your tomatoes deep into the soil. This will make your plants more resilient to dry conditions. When you cover the tomato stem into the soil, it develops additional roots that help the plant in absorbing more water and minerals from the soil.
Mulching is also a useful solution that helps you conserve water in the soil by preventing evaporation. Mulching your plants with two to three-inch mulch will reduce the frequency with which you need to water your tomatoes. It also prevents the frequent growth of weeds giving your plants a healthier environment.
If water is a problem, consider using a drip system. This utilizes less amount of water and is also less tasking, especially for large-scale farmers.
Tomatoes require a sufficient amount of nutrients to support their development. Exessive or too low use of nitrogen fertilizers affects the blossom rates of your tomatoes.
High nitrogen levels in the soil encourage lush, vegetative growth while inhibiting flowers and pollination. This causes poor fruit set due to dropping of flowers and fruit.
Low nutrient content in the soil leads to the development of spindly vines. Such plants also have low food reserves, which cannot support flowering and fruit development. In such as case, the plant will drop some of its fruit, remaining only those it can sustain.
A common nutrient deficiency problem in tomatoes is chlorosis which is notable through the yellowing of the plant leaves. Plants suffering from this problem are unable to produce enough chlorophyll, which makes plant leaves appear green.
Chlorosis commonly results from the deficiency of magnesium and iron. Whenever your tomatoes are low on magnesium, you will notice that the bottom leaves start turning yellow at a faster rate. To take care of magnesium deficiencies, use magnesium sulfate or commonly known as Epsom salts.
If the yellowish coloration appears on the top leaves and new growth, then your plants could lack iron. You can use chelated iron or iron sulfate to take care of this problem.
Calcium deficiency will cause the bottom of your tomatoes to turn black or brown. This problem is commonly known as blossom end rot, and you can fix it by adding lime to the soil.
Before adding any fertilizers to the soil, always test the pH of your soil. Too high or too low pH levels are a sign of missing nutrients in the soil. Tomatoes require slightly acidic soils of 6 to 6.8 for healthy growth and good yield.
Testing soil for pH is critical as some fertilizers will alter the pH levels, making them inappropriate for the plant by inhibiting the absorption of other nutrients.
Crop rotation will also help you adjust the nutrient content of the soil. Proper crop rotation will also help in the prevention of certain diseases. For this reason, you should avoid planting tomatoes at the same location every season.
For instance, rotating tomatoes and beans will help conserve the nutrients in the soil since they use different nutrient levels in the soil.
Diseases and pests
As you get into tomato gardening, you need to find out the common tomato problems, particularly diseases that affect tomato plants. With this useful information, you can note these problems early enough, treat and prevent the spread before it completely ruins your plantation.
Certain fungus, bacteria, and virus diseases affect tomatoes, causing dropping of fruit and low yield. Fungus diseases, such as botrytis and bacterial spotting, can make your fruit drop and flowers abort.
Aphid is a common pest that attacks tomatoes causing the fruit to drop. These are little bugs that attack the stems of tomatoes. They exist in different colors green, white, black, pink, and red. I wrote an article on how to get rid of aphids. You can read it here.
These pests feed on the plant sap draining the plant of important nutrients and water. They cause a deficiency in the tomato plant reducing its ability to sustain fruit growth.
Additionally, these pests are difficult to identify because they shy away from light and are too tiny. They are detected by their white egg clusters, which make oval shapes on the tomato leaves.
These pests multiply quite fast, with their eggs taking only four days to develop into egg-laying adults. For this reason, always address the problem as soon as it appears.
One natural way of taking care of aphids is by pruning the affected branches and taking them away before spreading them to other branches and plants.
Pesticides are also an option unless you are aiming for an organic garden. Ladybirds are a natural option for pest control in your garden.
Another natural way of preventing pests such as aphids and nematodes among your plants is through companion planting. You can choose certain plants that repel pests, and appropriate plant companions for tomatoes are marigolds, garlic, basil, and amaranth.
I have a video on how to deal with diseases that your tomato can get. You can watch it below.
Conclusion on why are tomatoes dropping off the plant
As we saw above, there are different reasons why your tomatoes are dropping off the plant before they mature. With this information, you can now make the right decision on when to plant and protect your plant and fruits to maturity.
Don’t forget to make the right tomato variety resistant to climatic conditions, disease, and pests. If you do everything right, nothing will stop you from enjoying your favorite vegetable from your garden.
Tomatoes are great to grow especially if you follow the basic rules and growing methods. I wrote a detailed article on growing tomatoes at home to ensure perfect results every time. Read that here.
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