Treating Blossom Drop in Tomatoes

Back in the spring, while doing chores one morning, Miley noticed we had a small tomato plant growing by the barn. We left it there, and soon forgot about it as the busyness of the summer took over. Soon it grew large it was taller than the fence panels.

I saw it there but never paid close attention to it and just assumed it was a bunch of weeds until one morning when my niece and Miley discovered it was a tomato plant. It was loaded with blooms too, which made the discovery even more exciting.

Over the next few weeks we watched it and noticed the blooms were falling off and not setting. It had developed blossom drop which is caused by the tomato plant being stressed. I decided to do some research to see what, if anything, I could do to help it set fruit. I’ve had tomato plants develop blossom drop in the past and someone told me that it was caused by the temperature, either being too hot or too cold. I assumed that nothing could be done about it, which is true if the temperature is the cause, and settled for a tomato-less summer that year.

As I did research, I was surprised to learn that there are several causes for blossom drop such as:

  • Extreme Temperatures Temperatures consistently below 55°F at night or consistently above 90°F during the day and 75°F at night will cause the tomato to kick into survival mode and focus on surviving rather than producing fruit. Optimal temperature range for tomato production is 70°-85°F. There really isn’t much you can do to control this other than maintain the plant until it cools off or warms up.
  • Humidity If it’s too humid the pollen won’t release and if it’s too dry the pollen won’t stick. There’s not much you can do about too much humidity, but if there’s not enough you can run a sprinkler on them to add humidity to the air around them. If you try this, you will want to do it in the morning so the plants have a chance to dry by evening to reduce the risk of your plants getting fungus.
  • Watering Stress Tomatoes need deep root systems to grow and produce well. Watering too often can lead to shallow root systems which can lead to weak plants. Tomatoes require 1″ – 3″ of water a week. It’s better to water once or twice a week rather than every day.
  • Improper Fertilization Tomatoes are heavy feeders so it’s important to make sure to have proper nutrients added to the soil. Too little fertilizer can cause plants to not grow or produce properly. On the other hand, too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen can also have negative effects because it will cause the plant to put more energy into grown big and bushy rather that fruit.
  • Too many Blossoms Healthy plants will sometimes produce too many blossoms and not have enough energy to feed them all so some will naturally drop off. Some gardeners will pick them off, but I prefer just to leave them because the ones that are the fittest will survive.

I decided to see if I could narrow down the cause of the blossoms dropping off. I really didn’t think it was temperature related because our temps during that time were within the right range and the tomatoes in the garden were setting on just fine. Humidity could have been part of the problem because it was terribly humid at the time. But then the tomatoes in the garden were setting on just fine, so I wasn’t sure if it was that. I didn’t really think watering stress was a problem since it didn’t get watered, aside from the rain we got. Since it was growing in such a random spot, I wondered if it might be lacking in certain nutrients.

I had used up my tomato fertilizer and didn’t want to buy another bag since I was done fertilizing the tomatoes in the garden for the year. So I did a little research and decided to try a few things I had on hand. I figured since it was a volunteer plant, if it worked… great, if it didn’t… well, I wouldn’t be losing anything. I put a gallon of water in a bucket and mixed in these three things:

  1. Epsom Salt I added 2 teaspoons Epsom salt and stirred until it was dissolved. Epsom salt is a natural mineral made up of 10% magnesium and 13% sulfur. Magnesium helps in production of fruit and improves plant uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. Sulfur aids in the production of amino acids, protein, vitamins, and enzymes.
  2. Fish Emulsion I added one teaspoon of fish emulsion to the water. The directions say to add one tablespoon per gallon of water, but I decided not to add that much because the plant was already big and bushy, so I didn’t want to risk adding too much nitrogen to it. I basically wanted to give it a little boost to hopefully help get the fruit to set but not so much that it would cause the plant to grow bushier.
  3. Bone Meal I stirred in about a fourth cup of bone meal into the mixture. Bone meal supplies calcium and phosphorous to the plants. I read that phosphorous is essential in flower and fruit formation, so I thought it may help the blooms to set fruit.

I poured the mixture around the base of the plant. Surprisingly, within a couple of weeks, I noticed all sorts of little tomatoes forming, and now it’s loaded with them.

I think the nutrients I added were just the right amount to give it the boost it needed to go ahead and produce fruit.

I can’t guarantee that this will cure every case of blossom drop, but I do feel confident enough that if I have this problem again, I will do the same thing. So far, that’s all I’ve ever done to this plant… I haven’t even watered it.

As for how the tomato got there… well that remains a mystery. It appears to be a grape tomato, which is even more puzzling because we’ve never grown that kind here before. The only thing we can think of is it probably came from a seed of a grape tomato that was in some table scraps that we tossed out for the chickens.

Or perhaps the chickens secretly planted it…so they’d have tomatoes of their own since I don’t allow them in the garden.

Have you had problems with blossom drop? If so, did your tomatoes come out of it?

 

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