Tomatoes are one of the first crops that new gardeners try their hand at, in conjunction with lettuce and other leafy greens. This implies that tomatoes are fairly easy food crop to grow, right? So why are your tomatoes dropping off the plant before they are ready?
Tomatoes are dropping off the plant because of incorrect watering, improper feeding, extreme hold or cold temperature. Some other reasons could be heavy fruiting or infestation of pests and diseases.
Experiencing your tomatoes falling off the plant before they are ripe can indicate that your tomato plant is not entirely happy with the growing environment. The shedding of the fruit is a protective mechanism for the plant to survive.
We will discuss the most common causes of your tomato plant dropping tomatoes and what you can do to prevent it and salvage the tomatoes!
What causes tomatoes to drop off the plant?
When any plant, food crop, or otherwise, does not go through its normal fruiting cycle, it is usually a negative response to the environmental conditions the plant is being subjected to.
Since the plant cannot move to a more favorable location, it begins to take measures to protect itself from the adverse condition, which in some cases means dropping the fruit prematurely.
The plant does this to stop expending energy in growing the fruit when the energy is needed elsewhere to heal the ailing plant or combat a hostile environmental condition.
Many conditions will produce the result of the plant dropping the tomatoes before they are ripe. We have detailed the most common causes for fruit-shedding and how you can attempt to alter the offending condition.
1. Improper Watering
The first condition we address that can cause the tomato plant to drop its fruit before they are ripe is a response to incorrect watering.
Incorrect watering can take on 2 main forms; overwatering and insufficient watering. Both these conditions place the plant in a stressful situation, resulting in shedding the fruit in response.
Insufficient Water For Your Tomato Plant
Tomato plants may be easy to germinate and grow, but most people are unaware of how much water a tomato plant needs.
Underwatering of tomato plants is common, leading to problems in your tomato plant, including shedding the fruit prematurely.
Tomatoes are thirsty plants and consume a lot of water from the soil. Their stem structure is fairly soft, and the plants rely on water to provide rigidity to the stems and provide the juice in the tomato fruit.
The first sign of insufficient water is the leaves on the tomato plant wilting and the plant falling over from its own weight and the weight of the fruit.
If we don’t water, the plant will start dropping the fruit to minimize the water loss in the fruit production to ensure the plant’s survival.
Too Much Water For Your Tomato Plant
Too much water can be as problematic as too little water. Tomatoes like a lot of water, but they also need well-drained soil to prevent their roots from becoming waterlogged.
Once the roots become waterlogged, the roots cannot absorb oxygen and nutrients, causing the plant to go into stress. The leaves will wilt, sometimes turn yellow, and the tomatoes will fall off the plant.
The way to prevent water from being a primary cause for your tomato loss is to implement a proper watering regime for your plants.
Ideal Watering For Your Tomato Plant
Tomatoes love water, but they need the right amount of water. To prevent incorrect watering, you can follow the basic watering requirement below.
When the plants are seedlings, watering once a day in the morning is recommended. As the plants become adults, watering twice a day may be required, especially on hot days. Then you would need to water once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.
If water is taking too long to drain, you may need to add organic material in the form of mulch or compost to the soil to increase the draining capacity of the soil.
2. Extreme Temperatures
Tomatoes are subtropical plants and prefer a mild, temperate climate. Tomato plants love the “Goldilocks temperature zone,” not too hot and not too cold!
A sudden cold front in summer, or a heatwave on the other end of the scale, can cause tomatoes falling off before ripe.
The tomato plant will also show other signs of stress in both extremes of temperature, such as wilting leaves and blossoms dropping off the plant.
The best way to combat this problem is to grow your tomatoes when the season provides the correct temperatures. Tomato plants like daytime temperatures of between 90°F and 50°F, or 32°C and 10°C. Any temperatures outside of this optimal range will cause the tomato plant to go into stress and drop fruit.
If you experience very hot summers, you may need to provide partial shade for your tomato plants during the hottest part of the day.
3. Improper Feeding Of Tomato Plants
In a similar way that water affects tomato plants, so too can too much fertilization or nutrient deficiency cause tomatoes to fall off the plant.
Tomatoes need potassium and phosphorous to produce fruit and keep the plant healthy. Nitrogen is necessary when the plant is young, but do not give your tomato plants a high nitrogen fertilizer when they are adults. High nitrogen will cause beautiful, green, bushy tomato plants with very little fruit.
To prevent over or under fertilization from causing the plant to drop fruit to not produce fruit at all, fertilize your tomato plants as follows.
- When planting tomatoes. Add a slow-release NPK fertilizer.
- During the fruiting season. Give a low-nitrogen, high potassium, and phosphorous fertilizer once a month.
Poor soil or underfeeding the tomatoes can also cause the tomato plants to drop their fruit. The nutrient supply in the soil will be insufficient to sustain the development of the fruit, and the plant will discard them to preserve the nutrients for itself.
4. Heavy Fruiting
If the tomato plant is producing too much fruit, it may drop the excess fruit, since a high fruit load may drain the main plant of too much energy and nutrients.
There is no actual way to prevent the plant from dropping excess fruit, but you can manage this process by trimming off some of the fruit yourself on some of the heavier-laden branches.
5. Pests And Diseases
Pests and disease can also put your tomato plants into a state of stress, resulting in the premature dropping of fruit.
The best way to check for this cause and remedy it is to inspect the pants themselves for evidence of disease or pest infestation. Treat the plants depending on the disease or pest present on the plant.
In some disease cases, it may be necessary to cull the diseased plants to prevent the disease from spreading to healthy plants.
How do you keep tomatoes from falling off the vine?
You can keep tomatoes from falling off the vine by providing a well-draining soil, adding a nitrogen-rich nutrient at the start of the growing season, providing the right watering, and correct weather.
Preparing well-drained soil, adding a nitrogen-rich nutrient at the beginning of the growing season, and monthly low-nitrogen nutrient supplements will get your tomato plants off to a good start.
The next step is to water the right amount at the right time of day and not let the soil dry out too much around the plants or become too saturated.
Trim off excess fruit on heavily laden branches to give the rest of the fruit a chance to grow larger and ripen.
What to do with tomatoes that fall off the vine?
You can make green tomato chutney, tomato jam, or tomato relish with the green tomatoes that fall off the vine. You could allow the green tomatoes to ripen if they are medium-sized ones where the bright green has faded.
The smaller ones, or ones where the color is still bright green, are unlikely to ripen at all.
How do you ripen a tomato that fell off the vine?
Manually ripening tomatoes requires a temperature-stable environment of between 64.4°F to 77°F or 18°C to 25°C. Place the unripe, green tomatoes in a brown paper bag to keep the ethylene gas produced by the ripening tomatoes within the bag. The ethylene gas helps to ripen the fruit faster.
You can place another ripening fruit in the bag with the tomatoes, such as a banana, to help the ripening process. Then place the paper bag in a kitchen cupboard where the temperature will be as constant as possible.
Check the tomatoes every couple of days to monitor the ripening process. It should take approximately 7 days for the tomatoes to ripen.