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Jun 9, 2010 07:50 PM

Grape tomato question

It's my first year trying to grow tomatoes. I bought small plants from a nursery: two of a variety called "Early Girl" and two of an unnamed variety of grape tomatoes. I bought and re-potted the Early Girls one week earlier than the grape tomatoes, the week before Mother's Day (I was once told you should have your plants in the soil by Mother's Day), on or about May 5 (both plants in the same large pot, as directed to by the nursery staff). I bought and re-potted the grape tomato plants on Mother's Day itself, May 9.

The appearance of blossoms was exciting enough, but I was so excited when I saw the first sign of tomatoes on the Early Girl plants, one week ago today (June 2). Now have six small tomatoes growing; the largest is the size of a golf ball. However, although there are plenty of blossoms on the grape tomato plants (also in one large pot), there is so far no sign of the fruit (veg) itself.

They were sitting approximately 4 feet apart, but I have now moved the grape tomato pot immediately next to the other, just to give them as similar conditions as I can. Both are now on the railing of my sunny, Southern exposure, back porch and I have been keeping them similarly watered. The grape tomato plant was very dry and droopy the other day, so I watered it and it perked back up within an hour or so. Today's steady rain should keep them both hydrated for another day or so.

Am I just over-anxious, or is it likely there is something wrong with the grape tomatoes?

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  1. Not sure where you're located but you may just be over eager. We've got 4 different varieties going including a currant tomato (smaller than a grape) and we're starting to get lots of blossoms. So far we've got only 1 fruit and that's on a smokey. Grape tomatoes are pretty prolific and reliable so as long as your plants look healthy I wouldn't worry yet. Several years ago I grew a single Juliet in a gallon pot and it ended up twining itself all along our carport on the long side from top to bottom. Made a great sunscreen since we actually used the carport as a breezeway. Got enough cherry 'maters for sauce, roasted and frozen for winter, and fresh eating out of that one vine.

    Tomatoes like calcium so when you reach the bottom of a carton of milk, fill it with water and water your tomatoes with it. I usually throw a handful of powdered milk in each hole when I plant them.

    1. Grab the main stem/stalk of the tomato plant(s) and give them a gentle shake to help pollinate the flowers.

      1. I tried growing a grape tomato last year the produced a total of one tomato. It wouldn't quite die, but just sort of sniveled along for nine months or so. I finally yanked it and cut off the one stem that had a tomato beginning and stuck it in the pond. It didn't die there, either, for several months but didn't do anything else either. I give up on them.

        7 Replies
        1. re: EWSflash

          Did you have them in a full sun area where they could get 10 hours or so a day?

          1. re: Jemon

            I've grown tomatoes before, I know what they need- only here in southern AZ they don't need that much sun- right about now that much sun can broil them on the vine. The grape tomato I got last year was an inferior plant or variety. It never looked good but wouldn't quite die. Most annoying. And it was in virgin soil, so held-over disease wasn't the problem.

            1. re: EWSflash

              Sometimes, there are those unlucky plants. But part of me wonders if they just don't like the conditions. I don't know much about heat tolerance for tomatoes, but maybe they have an upper limit; like how if it's too cold they won't produce fruits. Out of curiosity, how "little" sun have you grown a good crop of tomatoes in? The *time* in the bright light is what really gets them to produce, although I'm guessing that the temperature that you see in AZ is not ideal, so in order to get them to produce at all, do you need them to get some shade? Which in turn, causes them to produce less?

              1. re: Jemon

                Well, most varieties quit producing when the temps are over 100- it's actually below that but I don't know the exact number- plus it depends on the variety. I' ve rarely grown a "good" crop of tomatoes, but have grown them in everything from under shadecloth to all-day-sun to half or even quarter-day sun. The full-day sun ones don't do at all well in pots, they need to be in the ground.. The quarter-day ones were volunteer cherry tomatoes that grew next to the parent plant sort of under an orange tree. Cherry tomatoes tend to do the best here.

                I think it's clear they don't like the conditions :-) and even though i'm a fairly accomplished gardener, tomatoes are one of those voodoo things that never do too well by me- except for one year when I planted Black Krims. Never had a better tomato than that. They were under the green shadecloth, where so many others have failed.

                1. re: EWSflash

                  It's funny that you mention that your Black Krim grew well in the shade! I'm growing them this year in full sun here and early this spring we had a little heatwave (~95F for a week) in San Jose, CA. A lot of the leaves that were near the top at the time got sunburned and turned yellow and brown at the tips! None of my other plans were fazed... So maybe they in fact don't require as much sun as other varieties.

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    Most tomato varieties quit producing flower buds when night temperatures are above 80 to 85 for several days but will start producing buds again once temperatures are lower. Some varieties bred for production in the southern states are more heat tolerant.

                    Containers generally run with higher soil temperatures than plants in the ground. We northern gardeners take advantage of this for heat-loving plants such as peppers, eggplant and okra, but it would work against tomatoes in containers in Arizona.

                    1. re: Eldon Kreider

                      I can't say they were in the shade, only covered with light shadecloth so they didn't get the full sunscorch effect. They had a lot of cracks, but out here, who the hell cares as long as the tomato is good!
                      And yeah, Eldon is right. My mother bought a house with a little jut out the back and put in a garden, and the only thing in a really hot couple of summers that would survive were weed and Japanese eggplant. She was sort of an over the hill hippie. The eggplants were beyond ambrosia and we all ate tons of it. I quit smoking pot way before then, but what I ran off at the mouth about was that Eldon is right. They do need a lot of water to do well in that environment. In pots you can count on at least every day, maybe even twice. And your veggies will be watery if you don't fertilize them way more often than "they" recommend because everything goes out the bottom when you water that often.

          2. I think you are just eager. Different varieties produce at different times and rates. Sometimes you may even get a set of blooms and they all fall off with not a tomato produced. In fact that happens alot. It is like it has to go thru round one and then get down to biz.

            I saw someone said give it a shake. I think that is a splendid idea. Not so hard that you break the stalk, just a rattle. It might make you feel better and may shake loose some pollen.


            If you get a pile of greens at the very end of the season, just pick them green and toss them in a darkish, cold room. They will eventually ripen.

            1. OK, it's a week later, and I'm happy to report the first sightings of the tiniest little tomatoes, about six , if I count correctly, which really makes me happy. On one branch, though, I also saw some really teeny, tiny red bugs. Is this something to worry about?

              20 Replies
              1. re: queenscook

                Sounds like they could possibly be spider mites. Try watching this video.

                1. re: queenscook

                  It amazes me how quickly this stuff changes. I see that on 6/15 I posted that I had just seen six tiny baby tomatoes. Now, just two days later, I count 12! And their bigger, of course!

                  But now I have another concern/question . . . (are you getting tired of my questions yet? Am I abusing your knowledge?) OK, here's the question: I was at the plant place a few days ago and was contemplating buying another small tomato plant, since I'm so excited that my other ones are actually growing! It was a set of six small started yellow pear tomato plants. I also chose a plastic pot that was about 10 inches in diameter and asked the girl at the register if it would be big enough for them. She seemed a bit snippy, actually, and said it was way too small, that maybe it would be enough for one of the six, but to put all six together in one pot, I'd need a pot at least 18" in diameter, and more would be even better. Well, that's far too big for the space I have, especially because I have to shlep water out to water the stuff on the patio, as I have no water hook-up nearby, and such a large container will take all that much water. I told her that someone else there that helped me when I bought the original Early Girl tomatoes back in May said that the small pot would be fine. So this girl said that that was true for the larger "patio tomatoes," but not the small ones. So I'm concerned because when I bought the grape tomatoes, I hadn't asked for advice on the size of the pot, and I put six of these mini grape tomato plants all in one small 10 inch pot. Should I be worried? They seem to be growing fine, but am I going to be choking them to death? Should I transplant them to a large pot or just let these continue to grow and see what happens? Who knew this was as complicated as it seems to be?

                  Sorry for my constant questions, but I'm much more comfortable here on Chowhound, which I am on all the time (usually on the Kosher board), than finding some gardening website.

                  1. re: queenscook

                    Standard tomato plants sold as seedlings look small, but they can grow to 8 foot monsters in a good year, so planting in pots requires specially bred "patio" plants that are dwarf. More than one plant in a pot will greatly interfere with growth and yield. You may be able to grow a single early girl in a half whiskey barrel, but trying to do it in an ordinary pot will require watering several times a day once the plant reaches full size. I have never been happy with grape tomatoes.

                    1. re: queenscook

                      You really want one plant per pot. I'd strongly suggest thinning that pot down, and honestly, a 10" pot doesn't sound big enough to grow tomatoes in to me. You may need to repot it. Tomato plants get HUGE fast. Even grape tomatoes.

                      1. re: queenscook

                        I have to agree with the other two posters. I grew tomatoes on the patio for a few years and it is really difficult to get a good yield out of them in pots to begin with (unfortunately!)

                        I would also say one plant per pot, and the biggest pot you can possibly find. I would even suggest getting some big rubbermaid bins or something like that, since they are much cheaper than pots and you can get more shapes and sizes, and they can fit better together being that they are square/rectangular. Drill or poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Tomatoes really do require a LOT of space. One plant will grow in the small pot but it won't produce many large fruit. Six plants together in a small area probably won't get large enough to bear more than a few fruits each. You will get more tomatoes from the one plant than from the six.

                        1. re: Jemon

                          I saw a diagram in Sunset magazine once that showed the relative rootball sizes of various vegetables- tomatoes were the biggest by a long shot. The roots are huge (when they can be)- going down 6' or more into the ground. One 10" pot for six tomatoes is an exercise in futility, i'm afraid. Jemon is right.

                          1. re: EWSflash

                            So I guess my question, certainly for the future, is: does it pay to try to do tomatoes in containers at all, because planting in the ground is just not an option, given my living situation. I was under the impression that others did it. I see stuff about container gardening all the time. I still haven't had a chance to transplant anything yet, and I still am seeing new grape tomatoes on my plants. If I count correctly, I'm up to 27 right now on the six stalks in the pot (actually, one has none on it, but all the others have between three and nine). What I don't understand is--and forgive my naive question, please--would I see more if I only had one of the original plants in the pot? Or will these ripen, but then I won't get any more? I mean, I keep seeing new ones appear, so at least at this point they don't seem to be limited or, as EWSflash says, "an exercise in futility."

                            I really don't know what to do. I haven't had a chance to get anywhere to buy a new pot or pots, and I'm afraid I'll kill off what is already growing--ALL six plants-- if I try to separate out the roots and just keep one. I literally just remembered, as I am writing this, that I do have one very deep pot: it's 11 inches square and about 18" deep. I can use that one, but beyond that, if I don't use the 10" round pots I'm using now, I'll either have to buy more pots or sacrifice the plants I have. I'll probably try to do something about this tomorrow, if I have some time.

                            1. re: queenscook

                              Yes by all means you can do tomatoes in pots. Think of this year as a learning curve. And yes, you probably will put out a bit of cash to get started. As far as tomatoes go, given your situation I'd stick with cherry or grape tomatoes. Juliettes did great for me, one in a 3 gallon pot covered the entire long side of my carport and yielded enough tomatoes for sauce, roasting, and fresh eating with some of the sauce and roasted 'maters frozen for winter. I'm currently growing alibi cucumbers, currant tomatoes, zavory peppers, carnival and mini-bell peppers, musk melons, eggplants, and 2 kinds of pumpkins in pots. The photos are here:

                              You will have to fertilize them because they quickly deplete the soil in pots. You can also grow directly in the soil bags laid flat. Cut off the front of the bag and punch holes through the bottom for drainage. You can plant lettuce and greens, radishes, turnips, beets, and short varieties of carrots this way. I get my big pots at the dollar store, but you can be creative with containers. If it holds enough soil and can be drilled to drain, it can be a pot. I know you have water access problems. Collect gallon milk jugs and leave them filled near your growing area. You may have to set aside a few minutes regularly to fill and haul the jugs but then you'll have water handy when you need it.
                              Google container gardening and gardening in pots. There are many, many sites devoted to container gardening.

                              Tomatoes are darn sturdy plants. I'd take the chance and try to divide them. Tomatoes like to be transplanted and many sources recommend transplanting them a few times before setting them out in the garden. Plant them deep, up to the first leaves and water them well. They'll take the shock better if they're shaded for a few days after the transplant. Don't worry if they look scraggly for a few days/week after the transplant, they will perk back up.

                              1. re: morwen

                                Impressive! Good growth out of those pots! Does the fruit reach full size for you with those muskmelons? In my experience, they are usually fine, but smaller than normal when potted.

                                1. re: Jemon

                                  They don't seem to be any smaller than the ones planted in our garden beds. I have them growing three to a 5 gallon nursery pot. I've had more success with them in pots than in the garden when it comes to avoiding pests, mildews and critters.

                                  1. re: morwen

                                    What do you do for soil, fertilizers, etc throughout the growing season in the pots? I think I'm just not that great of a pot gardener, but I can work some miracles with the actual ground. :)

                                    1. re: Jemon

                                      I start out with a good potting soil from my local nursery (their mix) and mix in a little extra peat moss and our own compost. I lay a double layer of newspaper in the pots instead of gravel or shards for drainage. The newspaper allows excess water to seep out slowly instead of running out. I plant in the mix and then add a layer of mulch for more moisture control. About a month later I start fertilizing with a mix of compost tea boosted with a little fish emulsion and fertilize about every two weeks after that. I keep it a little on the weak side so I don't burn the plants. The figs and patio peaches in pots get fertilized through the growing season but then are allowed to rest and go into dormancy through the late fall and winter. Bug control is a mix of insecticidal soap and hand picking when necessary which is not often. Everything gets watered a minimum of once a day, but now with the heat wave we're having the melons, tomatoes, and cukes get it morning and evening. I use a wand sprayer and water directly in the pots below the leaves. We water the same way in the garden except we have soaker hoses there. Seems the best way to prevent mildews.

                                      1. re: morwen

                                        Thanks for the great info! :)

                              2. re: queenscook

                                Do you know if you have determinates or indeterminates? If you have determinates, I would do the killing off of the weaker plants ASAP since you are probably going to get one or two yields out of them and you will give the strongest plant a chance to produce more before its too late.

                                Overall, try not to get too frustrated with them. If you are anything like me, you really want this to pay off and it's annoying when things don't work out perfectly! As far as what EWS said, its not futile to actually grow them, but it is futile to expect a lot out of a crowded pot.

                                Hang in there though, I know it's not easy to cut down a plant that looks like it's going to make precious tomatoes! You could, at the very least, try to cut the soil in half and have three and three, and transplant those into much bigger pots/containers...

                          2. re: queenscook

                            Agree - one plant per pot, and the bigger the pot the better.

                            Your grape tomato plant may grow quite tall and spidery - mine have in the past - so you might end up purchasing a stake ($1 or $2, 5-6 feet tall) as well to support it. Put the stake in close to the tomato's main stem, but gently work it into the soil so as not to beat up any roots too much. Garden stores sell ties in the form of velcro, green tape-like stuff, rubberized wire, and other stuff I'm sure. Martha Stewart prefers cut up panty hose - it's soft on the plant. You can also use plain old string or twine, but don't tie too tight or you can hurt your plant. If your plant stays small and you don't need to stake, good for you.

                            With the tomato six-packs, lots of times we only need one or two plants - so we try to find someone to give them to, just so they don't go to waste. A cell-pack around here is $2.49-$2.79; and with the number of tomatoes we get from the plant or two, which are tomatoes we won't be buying at the market or store, we don't consider it a waste of money.

                            I'm also a fan of putting an inch or two of gravel or broken up (clay) pots in the bottom of my pots to facilitate drainage, but it's not absolutely necessary.

                            1. re: harrie

                              OK, so given the current status of my plants, what do you experts recommend I do now? The Early Girl "patio" tomato plants (2 in the pot) are about 2 ft. high and have 6 nice sized tomatoes growing (they are each about 2" in diameter right now), though I don't see any new ones starting. The grape tomato plants (all six in the one pot) are also about 2 ft. high, and I count about 20 tomatoes at various stages of growth, from tiny to about 3/4" inch, in total on the plants, with new ones still coming. I have stakes in both pots. Both pots also contain a couple of basil plants and a marigold or two.

                              Do I just transplant what is in each existing pot into a larger pot? Will this shock and/or kill them? I'd so hate to lose the tomatoes that have already grown. Do I "selectively reduce" and keep one in the current pot they're all in and throw the rest out or buy more pots for the others? Five more pots for the five grape tomato plants? I also don't relish spending for five more pots. It already seems that with plants, pots, soil, stakes, Tomato Tone plant food, etc., I've spent more for these tomato plants than I ever would spend on tomatoes themselves. Obviously some of these things will be a one-time expense, like the pots which I'll use again in the future, but it still seems pretty pricey right now.

                              Remember, I have no water source on the back porch, and have been shlepping 2-liter bottles of water outside to water them (along with watering all the herbs I am also growing). And where I do have a water hook-up, I don't have enough sun for tomato plants. I'm looking into getting a water hook-up out there, but I don't know how long that will take.

                              I thought this would be a nice thing to try, but now I'm having second thoughts. I like looking at the stuff that's growing, but all this confusion about what I've already done wrong, what to do now, and whether this was all a waste of time and money seems more trouble than it's worth.

                              1. re: queenscook

                                I'd advise you to thin your plants out. If you don't want to buy more pots, don't worry about buying more pots. Just throw out the extra plants. Pick the healthiest, strongest looking plant in the pot, and get rid of the rest of them.

                                You'll get far more tomatoes off 1 healthy plant than 6 stunted gangly ones.

                                Consider the cost of those plants "tuition" to gardening school. :)

                                A tomato plant can easily reach 5 feet high and 5 feet wide, or bigger. I know they look so teeny tiny when you start out, but they really do need space to spread out in order to produce fruit.

                                Oh, and this was certainly not a waste of time or money, as you'll discover when you taste you very first home grown tomato. :D

                                1. re: tzurriz

                                  Don't try separating the Early Girls. Just cut one off at the base. This is an indeterminate variety that will grow 8-10 feet tall in the garden and does very poorly in pots. I have potted up an excess plant (reserve for cutworm damage) some years and never got enough production to be more than a joke. That is in a 15 inch square planter or 10 inch pot. It is hard to chop up a reserve plant with tomatoes set and toss it in the compost, but that is the only way to go.

                                  The grape tomatoes depend upon the specific variety, but many are indeterminate with huge plants. Ditto for cherry tomatoes. Indeterminate cherry tomatoes are some of the most rampant growers. I grow some Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes in containers. This is a very early determinate variety which often gives ripe fruit by Independence Day in Chicago but usually poops out in August. By then I do not care as all my indeterminate varieties in the ground are in good production. Short bearing time of most determinate tomatoes is a consideration if you are growing them only in containers.

                                  Crowding tomatoes is a big mistake. Well spaced plants will yield more than four time as many plants crowded together and will have much less disease problems.

                                2. re: queenscook

                                  If you can manage to separate them without destroying too many roots, I would at least try but the chances are pretty slim. Start by trying to pull out the smallest/weakest one as a test. I was a apartment balcony gardener once also and used to buy bottled water jugs that I would keep filled for my watering. It's kind of a pain, but like tzurriz said, your first homegrown tomatoes will be worth it because you can't buy the kind of quality that you can grow!

                                  1. re: queenscook

                                    I agree re thinning for the grape tomatoes - if you let them go on as they are, they'll either thin themselves out (ie, the strongest one or two will prevail), or they'll all just kind of hang in there, none of them doing all that well. Keep your sanity, schlep only what you want to ..... pick a favorite grape tomato plant and jettison the rest. Just my opinion.

                                    I don't know anything about patio tomatoes - but if there are only two in the pot, maybe they'll do okay since they're bred differently.

                                    The basil and marigold in the pots - excellent move!

                                    I've been gardening a large-ish plot for about 5 years, and firmly believe that gardening is supposed to be fun - but I have to remind myself of that periodically. A friend of mine likens tomato gardening in particular to childbirth in that it's full of pain, some screaming, lots of sweat - but you take the first bite out of that first tomato of the season, and you forget all about the labor. Worth the trouble, definitely. (Again, just my opinion.)