The life cycle of a tomato plant may be divided into three stages of growth
- The Leaf
- The Flower
- The Fruit
Growing tomatoes successfully is all about understanding what tomato plants like at the different stages of their growth. Also, how to avoid the common problems found at each of these stages.
1. The leaf stage
The leaf stage is when plants are developing both their roots and top growth. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient at this stage along with all the other elements in smaller amounts.
Each stage has a common problem to avoid
Too many leaves
If you’ve grown tomatoes in the past and found that you’ve been overwhelmed by lots of green healthy leaves and hardly any tomatoes, it is because the plants have received too much nitrogen just before the flowering stage.
This is often the result of transplanting into the final position – and lots of new compost containing a lot of nitrogen – just before the plants have begun to flower.
Too much nitrogen will keep a plant in the leaf growing stage longer than is desired.
Pro Tip: It’s best to transplant into the final position after the plants have begun to flower. However, if your plants are still only around 6 to 10 inches tall, after your last frost, planting in final position before flowering will be fine as there is still a lot of growing to do before the flowering stage.
Reacting To The Season – Low Light Levels
Plenty of sunshine in the spring will encourage early flowering and a lot of flowers.
However, sometimes, owing to long periods of dull weather in the spring, the development of buds and flowers is delayed.
At such times I plant many of my tall varieties into their containers before they come into flower – they are just too big to keep in 5inch pots any longer!
This will delay flowering by a week or so and make the plants more leafy, but I would rather have healthy plants that mature slightly later, than pot-bound weaklings. I will probably need to remove some of the lower leaves though!
2. The flowering stage
It’s exciting to see flowers open because each one is a potential tomato! However, it is important to be aware of Blossom Drop – this happens when flowers fail to pollinate and the flower buds drop off the end of their stems.
Whole trusses and clusters of flowers can fail which is very disappointing. This is because flowers fail to set (fertilise) owing to very dry or very damp weather.
Stress can also cause plants to abort their flowers if they feel they cannot cope because of poor growing conditions or being over-watered or over-fed etc.
Pro Tip: Tap and mist plants to help pollinate flowers.
When growing conditions are poor
Applying a foliar feed with a tonic such as liquid seaweed, SP Plant Invigorator or Vitalink Foliar can help strengthen a plant’s immune system and keep it happy when conditions are unfavourable.
The first sign of a problem is usually shown as stress in the leaves, such as leaf curl, leaf roll. Keeping an eye on your plants and their leaves is an essential part of growing tomatoes and catching problems early.
3. The fruiting stage
This is when flowers begin to set, that is, start to show tiny pea-like tomatoes as the blossoms fade and die away.
It is at this stage that they need plenty of food – phosphorus and especially potash (potassium) to be exact. It is also at this stage that if they don’t receive enough calcium, Blossom End Rot is waiting to strike!
Because calcium is an immobile nutrient, and doesn’t travel around a plant’s system freely, it is often easier to spray the leaves with calcium, which helps get it to where it is needed more quickly, than to hope for the best through the roots!
Pro Tip: Foliar spray with Chempak Calcium as the tomatoes are swelling. Milk is sometimes used as a foliar spray – use low fat milk mixed with water 50-50 and spray the underside of leaves nearest the forming truss of tomatoes. No need to spray the whole plant as the fruit will take nutrients from the nearest leaf branch. In general, try to keep leaves dry.
To Sum Up
In each of the three stages of growth in tomato plants, there is a major problem to avoid:
- Leaf stage – too much nitrogen will encourage too many leaves and flowering will be delayed.
- Flowering stage – Blossom Drop, when flowers fail to set, is a major problem when humidity or stress effects pollination.
- Fruiting stage – Blossom End Rot happens when leathery patches appear on the underside (blossom end) of the tomatoes because of a lack of calcium as the tomatoes swell.
Prevention is relatively easy, but curing a problem after it has taken hold is much harder and often impossible!
Hence the tomato grower’s motto: “prevention is better than cure”.
Here are a few tomato growing items that will get you off to a great start this season. Click Here.
N.B. The life cycle of a tomato plant is usually divided into “Vegetative and Generative” stages, similar to “Grow and Blume”.
When feeding tomatoes, hydroponic growers usually divide their feeding regime into three –
- From seedling to around 15 inches
- 15 inches to first fruit set
- First fruit to maturity
More about feeding tomatoes can be found here.
See also: Blight free tomato seed.