Waiting on your garden


Lawn & Garden

Gardening is an activity that takes patience.

For example, last year, I planted heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. Both types flowered and I waited for the tomatoes to appear. I waited, and waited and waited some more.

I’m not an especially patient person, so I pulled up those tomatoes except for one yellow variety (“Lemon”) that I left to see what would happen. It survived a bout of spidermites and in the fall it started to produce tomatoes. If I had waited on the others, they might have started producing, too.

I shouldn’t have had to wait for those tomatoes to produce, though. They were planted at the right time and were flowering.

If your tomato plant is producing flowers, but not setting tomatoes, it could be that it’s too hot, dry or humid.

Tomatoes may produce all the flowers they like, but if night temperatures are above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and day temps above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is low humidity (below 40%) or high humidity (above 70%), tomato plants will not set fruit.

If the humidity is too low, the pollen will dry out and won’t stick to the female stigma part, and the tomato won’t get pollinated. Too high humidity and the pollen is too sticky.

What if you have those perfect conditions, and your tomatoes still aren’t setting?

Well it could be that your tomatoes are not moving enough. Tomatoes are wind or buzz pollinated and the flowers need to be able to move to shake the pollen down.

Lack of movement is more an issue in greenhouses or hothouses, but if you have your tomatoes planted in a heavily sheltered area, this might be your issue. In this case you will need to periodically shake your tomatoes so that they can set fruit.

If your perfectly healthy tomato plant isn’t producing flowers at all, it may not be mature enough. Give it some time. If you’ve given it plenty of time and the plant is tall, it could be due to not enough light. Too fertile soil can be an issue, as well, promoting leafy growth over flowers and fruit.

Generally, heirlooms do not set as many tomatoes as hybrids do in our area.

Which heirlooms produce in the summer in Gillespie County is one of the factors that is being looked at with our heat stress trial. The winner of that trial will be posted in a column later this year.

With summer squash, what can be frustrating is when the plant produces little 3-4-inch squash that fail to get bigger. If the plants are healthy and receiving adequate light, it could be that the plant is still too young and small to produce a goodsized squash, and if you wait, it should get better.

If the plant does get bigger, keeps flowering both male and female flowers and the summer squash still stays small, it could be a pollination issue.

Try planting flowers to attract pollinators, but for a more immediate response, you may need to hand pollinate your squash.

To do this, cut off a male flower that has petals just starting to open. You can tell it’s a male flower because it doesn’t have a little fruit behind it. Remove the petals. Find a female flower. These are the ones with a little squash behind it.

Take the male flower and paint the stigma, which will be in the center part of the flower. The male flower should last for around five females.

To my delight both my heirloom and hybrid tomatoes set this year.

What I’m currently waiting on is my red onions. I shouldn’t have planted intermediate type onions, but I fell in love with the description in the catalogue. It’s one of my weaknesses.

Intermediate type onions are risky to plant because they take 12 hours of daylight to start bulbing, and we only start getting that in March. Short day onions, the kind typically planted around here, start bulbing at 10 hours, as soon as you plant them.

These intermediate types have started to form a bulb, but I’m not sure how much heat they can take. I’m just waiting to see what happens.

If it works, I will let you know.

Elizabeth McMahon is the

Gillespie County Horticulture Agent. Questions and comments can be sent to elizabeth.mcmahon@ag.tamu.edu.