Like most veggie gardeners, I love growing tomatoes, but I’ll be the first to admit that they can drive me downright bonkers at times! Give them the very best TLC possible, and hopefully you’ll get terrific tomatoes and plenty of them.
Then again, maybe you’ll find that somewhere along the way things happen.
Let’s look at some of the tomato-growing challenges a lot of us are facing this summer.
Tomatoes like it hot, but..
…maybe not this hot. We’re wrapping up one of the hottest growing seasons in recent memory along Colorado’s Front Range.
Ron, one of Tagawa’s Garden Advisors at Dick’s Corner, says this summer’s long parade of sizzling days accounts for a lot of the problems people are having with their tomato plants. One of the most common symptoms he’s seeing is leaf curl.
Leaves on tomato plants roll inward out of self-defense. They’re trying to minimize the amount of leaf surface exposed to the intense sun and hot wind. We’ve had plenty of both for the past several weeks.
Ron says the drying winds and unrelenting heat can leave a lot of plants looking tired… a bit like many of the gardeners who are growing them. He suggests a nurturing dose of a gentle fertilizer like Neptune’s Harvest liquid seaweed.
When it’s used along with a regular routine of good quality vegetable food, liquid seaweed supplies micronutrients that can give our tomato plants a helpful boost when they need it the most. Think of it as a hug for your plants.
Blossoms seem to disappear?
If some of your tomato blossoms seem to be there one day and gone the next, yet again you can blame our summer-long heat.
Temperatures above about 92* or so can damage the pollen inside the blossom to the point that it becomes unusable. Once the pollen fails, the blossom simply drops off.
Ron suggests using a spray called “Tomato and Pepper Set.”
Tomato and Pepper Set is a natural plant hormone that helps promote the formation of flowers and fruit. This ready-to-use liquid should be sprayed on the flowers and surrounding foliage every week or two. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks on all of my tomato and pepper plants and have definitely seen an improvement in fruit set.
Cracks here, there and everywhere?
You may see different kinds of cracks showing up on your tomatoes as they reach their full size.
Concentric cracks resemble a target pattern around the stem of the fruit.
You might also see vertical or radial cracks that radiate out from the stem and run down the shoulders of the fruit.
Both types of cracking occur when the fruit has a growth spurt, usually tied to a sudden supply of water. The cracks can form if the plants got too dry and then we gave them lots of water. Cracking can also happen when a heavy rain interrupts a hot, dry spell. Either way, the interior of the fruit grows faster than the skin and the tomatoes pretty much burst their britches.
The radial cracks can be especially damaging if they’re deep enough to allow bacteria to enter the fruit. Those tomatoes will decay rapidly and usually need to be tossed.
And then there’s B.E.R.
Blossom end rot, one of the most common (and I think most frustrating!) tomato maladies around. You see that perfect rich red tomato peeking through the vines… go to pick it… and roll it over only to find this:
“Yuk!” if you’ll pardon the expression.
Blossom end rot isn’t a disease. It’s a cultural condition, meaning it’s a function of how the plant was taken care of by us. And I absolutely include myself when I say “us.” I’ve seen a lot of blossom end rot on my tomatoes this year.
Blossom end rot occurs when the tomatoes aren’t getting enough calcium as the fruit is setting. That deforms that young tissue. It isn’t necessarily that the soil is lacking in calcium. In plant geek lingo, the calcium is “locked up,” made unavailable to the plant because the soil around the rootball got too dry between waterings. Occasionally, it can also occur when the root ball is consistently too wet.
The best way to avoid blossom end rot is with regular, consistent watering. A two- to three-inch layer of mulch is very helpful, too. I mulch all of my tomatoes with clean straw at the beginning of every season.
Unless it’s especially severe, the damaged sections of a tomato with B.E.R. can be cut away, leaving the rest of the fruit quite edible.
Despite my whining…
As long as I have a garden, I’ll grow tomatoes. It’s just a given.
Yes, they can be fussy divas. Yes, a lot of things can go wrong. But when things go right, there’s no better summer treat!
Dick’s Corner is at your service!
If you have tomato issues… or any other garden questions… our Garden Advisors at Dick’s Corner are standing by to help! You can email them at GardenAdvisors@tagawagardens.com or call 303-690-4722 and ask to speak to Dick’s Corner, our Garden Advisor’s desk. Or Bring pictures on your smartphone or tightly-bagged samples of the plants in question, and they’ll do their very best to take some of the craziness out of your Colorado garden!