A common question for tomatoes seems to be people wondering how to get them to produce more fruit.
There are the regular concerns like making sure your plant starts are healthy, then there is the issue of giving them optimum growing conditions, then of course the ongoing care needs to be done properly.
Getting tomatoes producing well isn’t too difficult though and some simple fixes can get their yields to go way up.
While I’m more partial to peppers, the fact is that tomatoes are one of more popular vegetables to grow. I get why as I always like to have a bunch knocking around in my garden. They are pretty easy to get going and homegrown tomatoes usually taste better than regular store offerings.
If you have spent some time growing a tomato than more than likely you had at least one bad year where not a lot of tomatoes could be harvested. I had a few years where the heat and the drought made it impossible to have set blossoms and some other years I was having some soil malfunctions.
There are some things you can do to encourage more tomatoes.
How To Make Tomato Plants Produce More Fruit
Keep Seedlings from Getting Root Bound
Seedlings are often started in small pots or seedling trays. This is a great way to start them off though they should be moved to larger pots pretty quickly. When tomatoes have been left in small spaces the roots will quickly fill up the space and no longer be able to spread out.
When roots get this way they will keep filling the available space with more and more roots that will become “bound” or knotted with way too many roots. Plants that are kept root bound in containers too long tend to struggle with growing quickly in the garden.
So when you grow tomatoes from seed you want to move them to larger pots to accommodate more root growth. If you are buying tomato seedlings you want to pass over the ones that have filled out their containers and root bound.
If you have a plant that is root bound already, you can still plant them. Try to pull the roots apart and loosen them as best you can so when the roots are in the ground they can spread out as they were intended to.
Mulch is the gardener best friend. It protects the soil by keeping temperature and moisture in more desirable levels, it breaks down and helps nourish the soil while protecting it, and it also helps weeds from getting a stranglehold.
My method of choice is trying to do no-dig gardening. This method you prepare your garden bed with mulch in the spring after your soil is warmed. My mulch of choice is yard leaves.
Plant When It is Warm
Tomatoes thrive in warm weather and often have slow growth during cold temperatures. It is a common urge to get the garden planted as early as you can, but tomatoes can be tricky. They like the soil and air warmer.
The usual advice is to wait until the soil temperatures are in the range of 60 F. Some people still get a jump by using tools such as cloches, black plastic mulch, row covers, or a greenhouse.
Using some of those tools you can get the tomatoes safely outside ahead of schedule.
Protect Plants In The Early Season
The other problem with early spring is you can still get random cold snaps or freezes. A late frost has wiped out one or two of my early plantings.
Frost is a tricky thing and even cold winds for short duration can damage the tender seedlings. You may even have leaf loss that will give the plant delays with growth as they are having to shift from recovery.
There are various things to use to protect seedlings. Some use row covers, plastic tunnels, some people recycle the cut off tops of milk jug containers and use them like cloches, and many such things. Even using a stake with a clear bag secured around the bottom will work.
Tomatoes Need Phosphorous
Nitrogen is important for many aspects of plant growth, but phosphorus is important too. In terms of a plant like tomatoes the nitrogen will help the plant with setting stems and leaves, it is the phosphorus that will encourage the plant to set flowers along with root growth.
Many tomatoes will grow huge tomatoes though they also don’t set very many tomatoes. One problem could be not enough phosphorous.
Tomatoes Need to Be Planted Deep
Every place where a tomato has a stem has the potential to develop roots. If tomatoes are planted very deeply, then all the stem that is underground will put off roots and will help the new plants get established faster.
One key to good plants is a good root system. The extra roots will pull more nutrition and help feed the plant so it can grow massive. It helps to dig a trench horizontal in the ground that allows for most of the stem to rest underground and should be up to the top leafy part of the seedling.
Then you usually want to have your stake or tomato cage nearby so you can support the tomato as it grows. It is best to avoid letting tomatoes sprawl around everywhere on the ground as you will have a harder time reducing pests, harvesting fruit, and will make the plant easier to work.
Water Extremely Well
Tomatoes are water guzzlers. They need decent water and need it consistently. Most of early spring is fine but as the season goes into summer it isn’t uncommon for dry conditions to set in.
Many years in zone 7 there would be a drought season and even up here in zone 4 there were some weeks of insufficient rain.
Tomatoes don’t like it when the soil dries out too much. They need the top several inches of soil to have at least some level of moisture or their roots won’t grow down deeply and will instead keep near the top.
Tomatoes need deep watering to get their roots to set in deep so they are strong plants. If you know your area isn’t getting a lot of rain, give your garden a deep water session a little more intense than usual watering sessions.
Prune Lower Tomato Leaves
A popular thing to do to stimulate stronger top growth is to prune off the bottom tomato leaves. The general idea of this is to keep bottom leaves safe from getting fungus. When it rains the rain can splash up nasty stuff onto the leaves and weaken the plant.
Tomatoes need to be a few feet tall before attempting to prune and the goal is to remove leaves near the soil.
This technique is more useful for vining tomatoes as determinate bush varieties may instead have reduced harvests if not pruned properly. Though removing lower leaves will help with the health of determinates as well.
Tomatoes usually self-pollinate either from wind, vibration, insect visits, and anything that shakes pollen loose. Some gardeners like to help their plants along by gently shaking their plants.
Wind is usually sufficient however and having a yard with other flowering plants will encourage pollinators into the yard which will encourage more fruit set.
Trying to give our plants above average care will help ensure we can maximize our harvests. Though each variety of tomato will grow and output differently and even sometimes things recommended as doing well for the area won’t perform as expected. Every year allows for further experimentation.