Heirloom Tomato Plant Not Producing Fruit

Heirloom Tomato Plant Not Producing Fruit

Why is my heirloom tomato plant not producing fruit? This is a common question that bothers growers. While it’s natural to be impatient to see your crop fruiting, there are several common reasons why the heirloom tomatoes haven’t set any fruit yet.

Heirloom tomato plants typically take 60 – 80 days to produce ripe fruit when planted from transplants. For example: Brandywine takes 100 days to reach maturity, Black Krim takes 70 – 90 days, & Aunt Ruby’s German Green takes 80 days. 

However, the yield for heirloom tomato varieties  can be unpredictable.

Extracting a good yield out of an heirloom tomato crop requires more attention than hybrid tomatoes.

Different varieties are adapted to slightly different growing conditions and require special care to protect them from diseases and problems if you want to get them to produce viable fruit.

Read on to learn more about growing heirloom tomato plants to ensure that they give a good yield.

Heirloom Tomato Plant Not Producing Fruit

Heirloom Tomato Plant Not Producing Fruit

Keep in mind, compared to hybrid tomato varieties, studies have found that heirloom tomato varieties have lower yields.

So, if you’re looking for better production, choose hybrid tomato varieties. For example, Big Beef Hybrid gets heavy yields with thick skin and great taste. 

See our best tips & tricks for how to grow more tomatoes.

That said, the most common reasons that heirloom tomato plants aren’t producing fruit are: 

1. Not Enough Sunlight

Heirloom tomato plants need a minimum of 8 – 10 hours of sunlight per day. Make sure your heirloom tomato plants are getting enough light. 

Plants receiving less than 6 hours per day will produce almost no fruit or will have poor quality fruits.  When the plant is receiving too little sun, it will have small leaves, yellowing leaf tips, and slow growth.

If your plant is indoors, put it near a window that gets lots of sunlight throughout the day.

2. Lack of soil nutrients:

For example, nitrogen deficiency in the soil leads to yellow leaves, stunted growth, slow development and fruit drop. To fix this problem, add a organic fertilizer like bat guano to your soil to fix the issue.

3. Lack of water: 

If your garden is dry, then it’s hard for the plants to produce fruit. Make sure to irrigate your plants regularly, as dry soil is an enemy of tomatoes. Symptoms of under-watering are: leaves will droop, the plant may shed some of its leaves, and the plant may not set fruit.

4. Too much water: 

Too much water can drown your plants and prevent them from growing properly. Symptoms of over-watering are: leaves will be pale, wilted, and have brown or black tips. The roots may also rot.

5. Soil pH is too acid or too alkaline: 

When soil pH is too high or too low, symptoms are similar to soil nutrient deficiencies. To correct pH, add lime (to raise pH) or sulfur (to lower pH).

Check out the complete article on what soil is best for tomatoes.

6. Too much sun: 

Contrary to common belief, too much sunlight can cause heirloom tomato plants to produce less fruit and suffer from diseases such as sunburn and sun scald.

7. Disease & pests: 

Disease & pests can also prevent tomatoes from fruiting. Common diseases that infect tomato plants are: verticillium wilt, phytophthora, nematodes and various viruses. 

Do Heirloom Tomatoes Take Longer To Grow

Do Heirloom Tomatoes Take Longer To Grow

Hybrid tomatoes are often bred for some special characteristics, such as higher yields and faster growth.

Generally, heirloom tomatoes take longer to bear fruit, are less reliable, and may produce less fruit than popular hybrid varieties. Also, hybrid tomato varieties have been found to produce larger, higher-quality fruit than heirloom varieties.

Heirloom varieties may start bearing later in the season when many hybrid tomato plants might already be laden with ripe tomatoes.

Heirloom tomato seeds, in contrast, are saved “true to type” by gardeners year after year.

The heirloom tomato varieties that are naturally fast-growing will continue to show the same trait even after being passed down generations.

However, since human practices have not modified their characteristics in any way, heirloom tomatoes can pose several challenges.

The yield size can be smaller than many hybrid tomatoes, and the results may not be as reliable each year.

However, you’ll also find fast-growing heirloom varieties that bear fruit around the same time as hybrids.

Heirloom tomatoes can take between 60 to 80 days, or even longer, to bear ripe fruit when grown from seedlings.

Brandywine, a popular heirloom tomato, can take up to 100 days to produce large, pink tomatoes that are ready to be picked.

You’ll want to check out our full article about “How long does it take for tomatoes to grow?”

How Do You Support Heirloom Tomatoes

How Do You Support Heirloom Tomatoes

Most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate varieties that grow long vines, and continue bearing fruit until they’re killed by frost.

These varieties usually grow vigorously, forming large plants that won’t do well without a strong support system.

Indeterminate heirloom tomatoes that can grow as tall as 8 to 10 feet in a single growing season, you’ll need to install a system of stakes and strings to support the large plants and keep them off the ground. Install a stake next to each plant at the time of planting so the roots aren’t disturbed later in the season.

However, you can also find certain determinate heirloom tomatoes that don’t sprawl all over the place and can do well without an extensive trellising system.

Determinate heirlooms grow well in containers and small gardens and usually do well in tomato cages.

As the plant grows, you can tie the stem to the stake using a soft tie.

Regularly pinch out unwanted suckers and keep the plants pruned to only one or two main stems.

Hog wire fencing also works well for heirloom tomatoes, especially if you’re growing several tomato plants in a row.

How To Grow Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

How To Grow Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

Heirloom cherry tomatoes are vigorous producers, bearing clusters of tiny, golf-ball-sized sweet, red gems ready to harvest in around 75 days.

They will typically take much less time to come to harvest than large varieties and come in a range of cultivars to choose from. 

You’ll find them in some vivid colors, including yellow, orange, red and scarlet, each with their own unique taste, perfect for snacking right off the vines!

Like other tomato varieties, heirloom cherry tomatoes grow best in full sun, in soil that’s well-amended with lots of compost and organic material. Plant the seedlings in the garden once all dangers of frost have passed and install stakes next to each of the plants.

Keep the soil moist for the newly planted seedlings during the first 3 to 4 weeks.

Once established, only water them once the soil has dried to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

Once the plants set fruit, start using organic fertilizer once a month to boost fruit development.

Some of the popular heirloom cherry tomatoes grown in home gardens:

  • Yellow Pear
  • Green Grape
  • Black Cherry
  • Tumbling Tom
  • Sungold.

Where Do Heirloom Tomatoes Grow

Where Do Heirloom Tomatoes Grow

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated tomato varieties passed down at least 50 years through multiple generations or were commercially introduced before 1940.

These tomatoes are genetically unique for each variety, with identical traits passed down from the parent plant through generations.

Heirloom tomatoes grow best in warm climates. Unless the night & day temperatures are above 55°F, they won’t set fruit. For best results, grow heirloom tomato varieties that are widely available in local nurseries: these varieties will be well-adapted to your region, & are most likely to thrive.

The qualities that make heirloom tomatoes so special among growers are their superior and unique flavors, unusual shapes, colors, and sizes, and, most importantly, the simple fact that they are the same fruit as was grown years ago.

Each type has evolved over the years to grow in specific climates and growing conditions.

An heirloom tomato variety that does well in a specific climatic zone may not produce to its full potential in a different climate.  

Many heirloom tomatoes have come to the United States from Europe.

Native to the coastal highlands of South America, they were cultivated in Europe since the 1500s and were later introduced to the US by British.

You can set transplants in the ground once the soil temperature is at least 55 to 60°F.

If you plant them in cooler soil, there are high chances that the growth will be stunted, and plants take longer to bear fruit.

Do Heirloom Tomatoes Grow In Florida

Do Heirloom Tomatoes Grow In Florida

Heirloom tomatoes can grow successfully in Florida if you know when to plant them. Since Florida’s climate is warmer than the rest of the country, tomatoes are best planted in late winters or early spring.

However, remember to wait until all dangers of frost have passed before planting them in the ground.

At the same time, it’s important not to wait too long to plant them in the ground since the plants stop fruiting once the summer temperatures start to soar.

Once the nighttime temperatures rise above 80°F, tomato plants will continue setting flowers, but there will not be any fruits.

Can You Grow Heirloom Tomatoes In Florida?

Can You Grow Heirloom Tomatoes In Florida?

There are several heirloom tomatoes that will thrive in Florida.

In fact, Florida’s climate is perfect for growing tomatoes, as long as you time the planting correctly and give the crop optimal care during the season. Find a sunny spot to plant the seeds or seedlings, making sure the crop receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Amend the soil with plenty of organic matter and make sure the soil pH falls in the range between 6.2 to 6.5.

Set the seedling deeply into the ground, covering around ⅔ of the plant, including the root ball, with dirt.

Best Heirloom Tomatoes For Florida

Best Heirloom Tomatoes For Florida

Florida’s warm and wet climate can be more challenging to some heirloom tomatoes than others.

Humidity in the area poses pests and disease problems for many varieties.

Picking a disease-resistant variety that can handle Florida’s heat and humidity is very important if you want to achieve a good harvest in the area.

While hybrids offer better resistance to diseases than heirlooms, certain heirloom varieties are better adapted to Florida’s climate.

Florida-specific varieties are also resistant to some of the common tomato diseases, including verticillium and fusarium wilt.

Some of the recommended heirlooms for Florida’s climate include:

  • Cherokee Purple
  • Green Zebra
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Mary Ann
  • Nebraska Wedding
  • Eva Purple Bell

Growing Heirloom Tomatoes In Florida

Growing Heirloom Tomatoes In Florida

Heirloom tomatoes will thrive in Florida, producing lots of juicy, ripe fruits, as long as you take good care of the crop throughout the growing season. Given Florida’s warm climate, tomatoes are best planted in late winters or early spring.

Once you’ve planted the seed or seedlings of heirloom tomatoes at the correct time in rich, well-drained soil, you’ll need to ensure suitable moisture and nutrient supply to boost flowering and fruiting.

Provide 1 to 2 inches of water each week, being careful not to overwater or the plants may rot.

Avoid overhead irrigation since wet foliage promotes diseases; Florida’s humid weather already makes many varieties prone to insects and diseases.

Choose varieties adapted to Florida’s climate, & make sure you cover all their requirements if you want to see vines laden with fresh, homegrown tomatoes.

How To Grow Heirloom Tomatoes In Minnesota

How To Grow Heirloom Tomatoes In Minnesota

The hot, long summers of Minnesota are perfect for growing tomatoes.

However, just like any other region, timing is critical to growing a successful tomato crop.

In Minnesota, last spring frost occurs anywhere between May 5 and May 30. Make sure the daytime temperatures are above 60°F and nighttime temperatures are above 50°F when you plant heirloom tomatoes outdoors.

It’s a common practice to wait until the last frost has passed to plant tomato seeds or seedlings in the ground.

Amish Paste, Black Cherry, and Brandywine are some of the popular heirloom varieties that will grow well in Minnesota.

Conclusion

So if your heirloom tomatoes were not producing fruit, after reading this article, you’ll hopefully have a better idea on how to grow heirloom tomatoes successfully in your region and what to expect from these varieties.

Though the yield might not be as big or as fast as that of the popular hybrid varieties, it’s definitely worth the superior quality and flavors.

About the author

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.

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