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Hmmm, No Tomatoes ... or Are They Just Tiny?

by Carrie
(Byron Center, MI)

Q. I have 2 "Park's Whoppers" planted in a bucket on my patio. The plants are healthy and have two tomatoes about the size of baseballs (still green). The problem is that they have produced many flowers that bloom, then fade - but no tomato. I look inside the stem where the flower fell and there is a little teeny tomato in there, but it never develops past that.

These plants get full sun most of the day and regular watering, not sign of pests or disease. Will the fruit mature?

A. If there has only been partial pollination, then the tomato will not mature.

Tomato blossoms can either self-pollinate (with pollen from themselves) or cross-pollinate (with pollen from another plant.) You can tell when a tomato blossom has been completely pollinated because the small green nub called the ovary starts enlarging. After week or so after pollination, you can see it start to form. It then goes on to mature. Right now you're seeing those nubs.

But ... when the ovules (those little thingees that become seeds in a mature tomato) in a blossom are not all fertilized, the blossom is considered to be "partially pollinated." The green nub does not enlarge - ever. After a while turns dark and it's "Sayonara" to the would-be tomato.

Those ovules provide interesting variables. Some tomato blossoms can take various amounts of time to develop their fruit, depending on the length of time after all ovules in the ovary have been fertilized. (This may be the case with your plants.) Furthermore, some seeds from a single tomato can be pollinated from their own pollen while seeds from the very same tomato may have been cross-pollinated with another plant. In your case, both plants are the same, so this is not a factor.

Temperature and humidity both have to be favorable for pollination to even occur in the first place. Too much heat can cause blossom drop, a condition in which tomato plants drop their blossoms before they have a chance to be fertilized. If you've had consistent temperatures over 90 degrees F, your tomato plants may have fallen victim to blossom drop (read more about it and how to manage it here.)

In your case, our best analysis is that one of two scenarios has occurred. Either your tomatoes have been partially pollinated (and will eventually mature when fully pollinated or die off if not) or your plants have been stressed by extreme temperatures and blossoms have dropped. In the former case, the ovules in the ovary are just waiting to all be fertilized and catch up with each other. In the latter case, the green nub you see is simply the incomplete tomato ovary.

Good luck and happy gardening!
Your friends at Tomato Dirt

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Jul 30, 2012
Crowded tomato plants
by: Anonymous

Went out yesterday evening to water my tomatoes (in Northern CA)and realized that they are planted so close together I can't tell one plant from the next and watering is a real problem, as I'm sure harvesting will be. Aside from these annoyances, what other possible repercussions are in store?

From Tomato Dirt
Closely planted tomatoes are more at risk for diseases, since there's less opportunity for air to circulate. If one plant gets infected, fungi spread easily.

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