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Issue: April 8, 2006

Tomato plants produced no tomatoes


Question:

Last year my red tomatoes produced no tomatoes while my tiny pear-shaped yellow ones were prolific. Can you please suggest varieties of red (any size) suitable for growing in Reserve, NM?

Bonnie G.
Reserve, NM

Answer:

Many people had difficulty growing tomatoes last year. Problems ranged from tomato virus diseases, to improper fertilization, to improper watering, to the high temperatures.

Your problems are probably related to temperature and perhaps moisture. The pear tomato plants (and small cherry tomatoes) are more tolerant of high temperatures and drought than the larger, red tomatoes.

Tomato plants are very sensitive to temperature when they are setting fruit. If night temperatures fall below 55 degrees F. or remain above 70 degrees, the tomato plants will often not form tomato fruits. When day temperatures are over 90 degrees, the fruits also fail to form. This is especially true for the larger fruited varieties.

Consistent moisture is also important. If the tomato plants dry excessively between irrigations, fruit set will be affected. Hot, dry, windy days can dry the plants when the soil is moist. Protection from wind and direct afternoon sunlight can help. Properly timed irrigation is important.

Excessive fertilization (especially with nitrogen fertilizer or manure) can result in very vigorous plants that produce few or no fruits. Good soil fertility is important, but the nitrogen should be balanced with adequate phosphate and potassium. Soil tests can help avoid creating a nutrient imbalance in the tomato garden. You can get information about soil testing from your local Cooperative Extension Service office.

As you observed, varieties also make a difference also. The pear tomato plants produced well while others did not. When selecting varieties, consider those listed in NMSU Extension Circular 457-B: Growing Zones, Recommended Crop Varieties, and Planting and Harvesting Information for Home Vegetable Gardens in New Mexico and its companion publication Circular 457: Home Vegetable Gardening in New Mexico. These are available at the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences web site at: http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/ and may be downloaded. They are also available at your local Cooperative Extension Service office. Dr. George Dickerson, the author, collected information from New Mexico gardeners to select those vegetable varieties that grow best in New Mexico.

It is a good idea to grow several different varieties of tomato plants each year. Include some pear or cherry tomato plants with larger fruited varieties to increase your chance of at least some fruit production. Keep records to determine which do best under your local conditions. By selecting from the publication mentioned above and by planting a variety of different tomato types, you can increase your changes for success.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.