Help with Pollinating Tomato Flowers

Shake, tap, flick and mist with water are the first things to do to encourage flowers to set fruit.

However, there are times when it seems to take forever for those pea-sized baby toms to appear, so here are a few more ways to help pollinate your flowers.

Using a fine artist’s brush, gently push it into the anther cone – the round yellow tube-like middle part of the flower. On the inside of the anthers is the pollen.

tomato flower anatomy
(Thanks to for the photo)

The pollen needs to find its way to the stigma, then travel down the style into the ovary. The ovary then grows into the pea-like tomato that you see when the flower dies away.

Another method is to use anything that vibrates, such as an electric toothbrush. This is held against the flowers in the hope that pollen will move to the stigma and down into the ovary. It acts a bit like a bumble bee’s wings creating vibrations.

There are many reasons why flowers fail to set and the result of this often means that flowers are aborted from the plant, this is called Blossom Drop – a very common problem, even for professional growers who mainly use bees these days.

This Week’s Leaf Problem
Identifying leaf problems is often difficult because the same visual symptoms can belong to different diseases or just weather related marks.

leaf scorch

Sun scorch or sunscald occurs when wet leaves, usually behind glass, are in direct sunlight for enough time for the water dropletts to act as a magnifying glass and burn marks in the leaves.

These marks can show themselves as patches as in the photo, or as small round marks that are grey/white in colour and are usually surrounded by a very narrow brown edge, indicating that the leaves have been burned. It’s rare to see more than a few leaves affected and it does no serious damage to the growth of a plant.

Mortgage Lifter

The Story Behind Mortgage Lifter
Mortgage Lifter aka “Radiator Charlie” is a large variety that was developed by a garage mechanic named M C Byles.
There is a very interesting story behind this variety and the link to the audio can be found on this page – it’s well worth a listen!

We’ve had problems with our old video camera this week (it’s been playing up for some time!) so unfortunately, although my wife and I recorded a video about pollination, we are unable to get it on the computer and up on the internet – sorry about that but hopefully the problem will be sorted soon!

As always, if you have any questions please email me:  [email protected]

If you’d like to leave a comment or a question below, it will be good to hear from you!

Best wishes,

9 Responses

  1. Paul Marshall
    | Reply

    Hi Nick we live in a hard water area would that provide enough calcium for our fruiting tomatoes or should we be adding some.

    Regards Paul

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Paul,
      The short answer is that it’s best to continue to foliar feed calcium even if you live in a hard water area.
      This is a good question because hard water usually has a higher pH value than soft water.
      Tomatoes like water and soil that is on the slightly acid side (below 7.0 which is neutral) so although hard water (alkaline) contains more calcium than soft water (acid), the ability of the roots to function at their optimum may be reduced in hard water areas.
      Another point here is that plants grown in containers, and watered every day, are more affected by the pH of tap water than plants grown in the ground that have a greater root area and need watering less regularly.

  2. Caroline Flynn
    | Reply

    Thanks Nick for all your advise on Tomato Growing.
    Can you advise on how often to water them…

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Caroline,
      The best thing to do is to check how moist the soil is every day just before you water them.
      The moisture content should go from high to low over the period between watering. If the moisture content is kept high, by standing in a tray of water for example, there will be a lack of air in the soil and air is also required for a healthy root system.
      Best wishes,

  3. roy hawker
    | Reply

    thanks,for all the info nick had a very bad frost ou hear on the 14th took tops of spuds killed my french and runner beans but im very glad to say all my toms in my tunnel are all ok i have toms on most of them kind regards roy

  4. Tanya Shaw
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    I have just started trying to grow tomatoes, as my neighbour has given me four different varieties, so I have been researching them on the internet. I didn’t realise how complicated growing tomatoes could be!! I don’ thave a lot of spare time, so once I have established the general principles and if I get a crop I will be soooo pleased! I may even consider trying to grow other veg!

    Thanks for your web-site info – its great.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Tanya,
      I’m pleased that you are up and running with growing tomatoes – once you get started and have some success, there’s no turning back!
      Although growing tomatoes can be complicated, it can also be straight forward by following a few of the golden rules.
      For it to be easy, we would need an ideal summer – a rare event indeed!
      Best wishes,

  5. Emma
    | Reply

    Thanks very much for this weeks Newsletter. Again, very informative. This is only my second year growing toms. Last year I didn’t pollinate and had a mediocre crop. This year I’m using an electric tooth-brush to vibrate the flowers, as you recommend, and have masses of pollinated fruit. I usually wait until afternoon to vibrate the flowers and its great to see tiny clouds of pollen explode into the air.

    What a fantastic story about “Radiator Charlie”….wonderful !

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Emma,
      The biggest challenge for me this season, so far, is to get the flowers to pollinate – sounds like you are doing a great job!
      There are some very interesting stories and backgrounds to some of the old heirloom varieties, I’ll try and dig up another one soon!

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