Tomato plants need water, light, the right temperatures and nutrients (such as tomato food) for good growth. If one of these is in short supply – the limiting factor – the factor that restricts growth.

For example, it doesn’t matter how much water, light and food we give them, if they don’t have the right temperature range in which to grow, progress will be slow or there may be no growth at all!

 

The Weakest Link


When we assess the progress of our plants, we should consider the limiting factors to see if there is one that may be holding growth back – a weak link in the chain, so to speak.

  • In the early part of the season, low temperatures and low light levels may be the limiting factors.
  • In the summer, too little or too much water, high temperatures and nutrients (over or under feeding) may be the limiting factors.

The idea is to be able to assess our plants at various points of the season and spot whatever is in short supply.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do about it, the weather for example, but there are many times when a slight adjustment can make all the difference.

  • Using shade cloth (garden fleece) to keep temperatures down
  • Using white reflective surfaces to increase light levels in the polytunnel and greenhouse
  • Watering in the morning when night temperatures are low so that plant root won’t be sat in cold water overnight
  • Pruning leaves to avoid plants becoming too vegetative
  • Using correct watering methods to avoid soil saturation and damaged roots

The list goes on …

 

When The Weather Is Hot

Keeping plants correctly watered, without over or under watering them is a huge challenge. A watering valve or reservoir is the best way to deal with the situation but even these methods can struggle when providing for large fruiting plants.
I’ve had a number of emails recently about blossom end rot owing to the high demand by plants on their water supply.

 

Temperature

When temperatures reach around 35 C, which they can easily reach in a greenhouse in the midday sun, photosynthesis slows or stops altogether and plants run out of energy.

Shading plants with cool glass or fleece, using white reflective surfaces on the front of black pots and misting with water morning and evening can help reduce temperatures. Misting also reduces the rate of transpiration and helps plants conserve water – albeit temporarily.

 

Nutrients and Water

Giving the right amount of nutrients in hot conditions is also a challenge.

Large fruiting plants need a lot of water but if that water contains a high level of nutrient salts (from the soil or from the watering can), the rate of water intake by the roots is reduced (see osmosis). This can have the affect of plants wilting in hot weather as they struggle to absorb water quickly enough to cope with the high rate of moisture evaporation from their leaves (see transpiration).

The tip here is not to over feed in hot weather, in fact, reducing the amount of mineral salts (such as Tomorite) will be helpful for our plants. They will then be able to absorb water more quickly.

If you feed using organic methods, you won’t have too worry about mineral salts slowing the rate of water intake because organic food contains much less salts than Tomorite for example.

 

Leaf Pruning (please read carefully before chopping!)

It’s a good idea to remove leaf branches up to the first truss – when the first truss has started to set fruit. However, it is important to understand that the closest leaf branch to each truss of fruit, provides the tomatoes on that truss with most of the energy they need for their growth.

In other words, the leaves closest to each truss of fruit provide most of the energy for fruit growth.

This is very important to keep in mind when we are removing leaf branches. For example, if there are three leaf branches between the first and second trusses, the best way to prune is to remove the middle leaf branch, leaving the branches nearest the trusses.

Removing all of the leaf branches up to the second truss can be done when the fruit on the second truss is ripening (not just setting). In other words, leaf branches can be removed up to the truss that is producing ripe fruit.

If you are only growing four or five trusses, I wouldn’t worry too much about removing branches up to the ripening truss – just remove leaf branches up to the first truss, middle leaf branches and trim long leaf branches if necessary.

You may wonder why we need to prune at all!

It’s because we need to keep a balance of leaves/fruit and keep a plant producing enough energy from the leaves to supply to the fruit.

 

Tomato Plants Have Two Phases of Growth

I sometimes refer to three phases, but technically, the flowering and fruiting stages are one phase.

  1. The vegetative phase – producing the stems and leaves etc.
  2. The generative/reproductive phase – producing the flowers and fruit etc.

A tomato plant begins its life in the vegetative phase and when flowering and fruiting begins, it moves into its reproductive phase.

However, these phases are not mutually exclusive – in the second phase of flowering and fruiting, we still want plants to be growing stems and leaves to support higher trusses. The main objective is to provide enough energy for the continued growth of a plant and its tomatoes, over a given period of time.  This means that a balance of vegetative and reproductive growth is required.

This is where pruning comes in … also known as plant steering.

We want to direct energy from the leaves to the fruit. We don’t want to create a lot of big luxurious fat juicy leaves that when they get a bit older will become a drain on the plant’s resources and reduce the amount of tomatoes we get! By the way, tomato leaves are poisonous – don’t eat them!

 

Check Your Trusses

One way to tell if your plants are too vegetative (apart from having lots of leaves) is by the position of the trusses.
If your flower trusses are pointing upwards, the plant is probably too vegetative. If a truss is roughly at 90 degrees, that shows a balanced growth.

 

Leaves In Shade Are Less Important

For example, if you are growing plants up against a wall or fence, the leaves at the back will be producing much less energy for the plant than those at the front in direct sunlight, so shaded leaves can be removed (as long as there are enough leaves at the front of course!).

If you’ve ever tried to grow large tomato varieties that run out of steam at the second or third truss, it’s probably because the vegetative and reproductive balance needs adjusting. These adjustments can also be made by the amount and the balance of nutrients we give our plants.

 

Blossom End Rot

Owing to the hot weather that many of us have experienced lately, Blossom End Rot has become more common than usual.

Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot on the underside of a Black Sea Man.

 

Keeping a regular water supply to the plants is one of the biggest challenges we face, especially in hot weather.
Spraying when fruit are swelling with Chempak Calcium definitely helps avoid BER.

Milk is also an alternative – use skimmed milk as a foliar spray at 50/50 water/milk on the leaves. Best avoid spraying the fruit because fatty milk can cause a skin infection – also your greenhouse will smell like a dairy!

That’s it for another week – always good to hear from you!

Regards,
Nick

 

The above article “The Limiting Factor In Tomato Plants” is from Nick’s Tomato Growing Newsletter.

Save

Save

19 Responses

  1. jess allaway
    | Reply

    Oh, I’m so jealous of all you people eating ripe tomatoes already. It will be another week here I think (north of Oban) till we can sink our teeth into one! It will be a race between Tumbler, Latah, Red Alert and Sungold as they are all at about the same stage – fully grown and some starting to change colour. Large varieties only about half grown so far but looking good. Looks like we are in for a really good season.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jess,
      Red Alert were the first to ripen in my garden but they were also the first to be sown.
      If I had known it was going to be such a good season, I would have grown more medium/large varieties, but I guess it’s always best to play it safe with plenty of cherry varieties.
      I’m looking forward to picking those Indigo Rose toms later in the season!
      Regards,
      Nick

      • jess allaway
        | Reply

        Hi Nick, an interesting note about the Indigo Rose – a friend took one of my seedlings down to south Wales and she tells me that she put it in it’s pot outside of her greenhouse so it would get maximum sunlight. Within a few days the foliage turned very dark, almost black, more or less going back to the colour of the newly germinated seedling. Very healthy looking apparently. The foliage of mine in the greenhouse look just as green as the other varieties! Will be interesting to see how the fruit colour up.

        • Nick
          | Reply

          Hi Jess,
          I noticed that the stem of the seedling was darker than usual but the plant is now about the same colour as my other varieties … I very much look forward to tasting the fruit!
          Cheers,
          Nick

  2. John Robertson
    | Reply

    Hello Nick,
    This seems to be a bumper year for early picking. Normally ripe fruits do not start until early August on my outdoor plants but I have been picking ripe tomatoes from my Stupice plants for 3 weeks already. The Red Pear tomatoes (huge fruits) will start within a few days. Rather that starting to pick in early August it might be all over by then!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John,
      It’s been a very early crop for many of us thanks to the good weather … let’s hope it continues!
      Last season I grew Yellow Pear and the crop was excellent.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  3. Rowena
    | Reply

    Hi Nick

    Many thanks for the great site. Packed full of information. My bush tomatoes (Red Alert and Maskotka) are doing well – lots of tomatoes, flowers, fruit and leaves. Should I be pruning them as well?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rowena,
      No need to prune bush varieties like Red Alert and Maskotka – just let them do their thing and you should be eating two of the best tasting varieties available very soon!
      Regards,
      Nick

  4. mick west
    | Reply

    hi NICK got a lovely crop. only prob. but not a big one 2/3 plants producing thick skined tomatoes any advice.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mick,
      Thick skins are usually caused by wide temperature and water variations. Are there some varieties that have experienced the same growing conditions but have normal skins? Sometimes you can track down the problem by comparing plants.
      Regards,
      Nick

  5. nik scott
    | Reply

    I was reading about a commercial tomato grower in Lancashire who snaps or rips the leaves and doesn’t cut them as that increases the chances of a fungus that comes along the branch to the stem.
    2 days ago I ate my first ripe tomato, Latah variety and quite nice and now I have a huge Stupice (which for some reason resembles a beefsteak) ripe today. Not bad for West Cumbria

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Nik,
      That’s true … it’s best to remove side shots and leaf branches by hand to avoid spreading disease on a blade. If branches are a bit too thick to snap, you can use hand sanitiser between plants on the scissors or knife.
      Cheers,
      Nick

  6. John Bowtell
    | Reply

    Re spider mite – I have used dilute Milton: 1 dessert spoon per gallon.

  7. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Nick

    I was wondering whether some strains of tomatoes can sense we have passed the summer solstice and this is the trigger to kick them into more vigorous fruit set and growth??

    I know the weather has been very good for fruit set the past 10 days, but it was too before the solstice and my Alicante, Ailsa Craig and Black Russian plants have suddenly accelerated fruit set and growth radically, wherea before there were lots of flowers which took a lot longer to set.

    It would be fairly logical in our more northern climes, but I was just interested in whether any research has shown this to be the case in tomatoes??

    All the best.

    Rhys

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      That’s an interesting thought …
      I know that tomato plants are considered day/night neutral but it’s true that when nights are longer than days, fruit set seems to happen faster and the reproductive phase accelerates.
      Regards,
      Nick

  8. Mark Fairhurst
    | Reply

    Alan, I grow in quadgows and have not had that problem, well not that I have realised. The Sungold in particular are really sweet. Could it be related to the quicker growth pattern and the tomatoes not having enough time to assimilate enough sugars with a corresponding drop off in acidity levels. I am relating this to my wine knowledge re the difference between phenolic ripeness (tannin levels etc) and sugar ripeness.

    While I am posting has anyone got any tips on Red spider mite treatment. Its attacking my Cucumbers, peppers and aubergines and I am sure that my Toms will be next. I have read great reviews of ‘Mighty Wash’ but it is so expensive but if it works……

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Mark,
      I think your observation is a very good one.
      Red spider mite hate damp conditions, so it may help to mist the greenhouse with water – especially in areas where they may be hiding!
      Nick

  9. alan hall
    | Reply

    Please could you tell me why every type of tomato I grow-in quadgrows, reservoirs, free standing and all fed correctly with no leaf curl or problems-all taste Acidic, and none of them sweet

    kind regards

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Alan,
      Acid levels are usually higher in fruit in the early and late part of the summer, but to get to the heart of your question, it is probably low sugar levels that are causing the acidic taste.
      Are you adding feed to the reservoirs or to the soil above … if so, what sort of feed and how much?
      Which varieties are you growing and how many tomatoes do you have on each truss?
      One of the problems with hot weather is balancing the rate of water absorption required to keep the plants happy and the amount of feed (nutrient salts) that can be given and absorbed.
      Generally, if the taste of the fruit is low on sugar, increase the nutrient strength and amount of food given.
      Also, if too many leaf branches are removed, this can also have an effect on the sugars available to the fruit – especially medium and large varieties.
      Hope this may give you a few ideas that may help.
      Cheers,
      Nick

Leave a Reply