Did you know one tomato plant should yield between 20 to 30 pounds of fruit? So, how do your plants stack up against that figure?
Often, your yields will drop but you just can’t put your finger on the cause. And it can be frustrating when your tomato plant simply won’t set fruit.
We know the feeling.
But, there are two paths you can take.
Ignore the problem with your tomatoes and do nothing. Or get to the root of the issue and do what’s in your power to get those yields back up.
First off, to get maximum tomato yields, plants need to be pollinated well. And this won’t always happen naturally (more on that later).
At times, your tomato flowers will need a little outside help in order to set fruit.
One way is to pollinate the tomatoes by hand. This isn’t easy but it is quite effective.
Today we’re zooming in on how to hand pollinate a tomato flower, step by step.
How to Hand Pollinate Your Tomato Flower
Want to make sure your tomato flowers make it to fruit? All you need is a simple hand-pollinating process. It’s smart to do this right off the bat, just when the flowers on your tomatoes have opened up.
Gardeners use similar practices with slight variations, yet the process is simple in and of itself.
Creating vibrations along the tomato vines will ensure the pollination has taken place. Your end goal is to help distribute the pollen from male to female plant parts. Here are a few different ways you can do this:
- Tap behind the flowers or shake them.
- Make circular motions on the inside of the flower using a clean paintbrush.
- Lean an electric toothbrush against the back of the flowers and turn it on. Hold it like this for a few seconds.
Alternatively, you can collect the pollen yourself and carry out the pollination using a cotton swab. Once you’re ready to hand pollinate, apply the pollen right onto the end of the flower stigma.
If kept for later use, store your flower pollen in a small container and it will last for a couple of days in the fridge.
Timing is of the essence here. Hand pollinate your tomato plants on a warm day with low humidity and plenty of sunshine, around midday. Repeat the process every 2-3 days.
How will you know if your little plant experiment worked out or not? When the flowers have wilted and small fruits begin to form, you’ll know your venture has been a success.
How Do Tomatoes Pollinate?
Now, let’s have a quick peek at tomato plant reproduction. This will put things into perspective. You’ll know exactly what you’re doing when it’s time to pollinate your tomatoes by hand.
First off, you’ll have to wait about a month until you see any sign of flowers on your plants. The tomato flowers will go into full bloom around a month after planting.
The blooms open up and the pollination cycle begins.
Once pollinated, the flowers turn into small unripe fruits that gain in size and color as they grow.
Tomato plants are self-pollinating. Equipped with both male and female parts, one tomato plant can reproduce on its own. There’s no need to have two plants in your garden for this purpose.
The pollen from the male part, the stamen, reaches the female part, called the stigma. That’s how tomato flowers get pollinated.
Gravity is sometimes sufficient to set off the self-pollinating process in the plant. But the two main pollinators, wind and bees, often chime in.
The flowers are moved by air vibrations from the wind. Honeybees make similar vibrations as they go about their business collecting pollen.
Why Hand Pollinate Your Tomato Flowers?
Nature won’t always cooperate the way we want it to. Sometimes flowers on your tomatoes will drop off and no fruit will appear.
This can happen even to the healthiest of self-pollinating tomato plants. And the causes can be different.
One of the reasons your tomato plants won’t set fruit may be unfavorable temperatures. And oftentimes, your tomatoes won’t start to show until the weather conditions are right.
But poor pollination is often the underlying cause behind your poor tomato yields.
Pollination problems can quickly add up. We’ll list a few of them below so you can have them at a glance. It’s how you can pinpoint the exact reason that impedes pollination in your tomato plants.
- Insect problems. Low insect numbers can be the reason pollination doesn’t happen for your plants. Insects can also become inactive if the temperatures are too low or too high. A good chunk of your flowers can be left unpollinated for this reason alone.
- Lack of wind. Sometimes your tomatoes won’t receive enough wind to get properly pollinated. This often happens in sheltered gardens and greenhouses. There’s not enough air circulation to move the pollen around in these environments.
- Unfavorable temperatures. Your tomato plants may not get pollinated if temperatures are too high or too low. Day temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures over 70 degrees Fahrenheit can affect the quality of pollen and make it unviable. Nighttime temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can also inactivate pollen. On top of it, they can hinder the development of male and female parts of your tomato flowers.
- Unfavorable humidity. Humidity between 40 and 70 percent encourages the pollination of tomato plants. If the humidity isn’t right, this can interfere with the transfer of pollen from the stamen to the sigma. When humidity drops below the threshold, the pollen can dry out, making it unable to stick to the stigma. If it exceeds the threshold, pollen may not shed from the stamen at all.
If you happen to notice any of the problems above, by any means, don’t leave your tomatoes unattended.
If a season is relatively low in insects and you do absolutely nothing about the pollination problem, you’ll end up with a significantly lower yield per plant.
So why not help kick off fruit production in your tomatoes when you can?
There’s plenty of reasons to do so. It’s not too much hassle and you get a huge pay-off.
When Will Tomato Plants Develop Fruit After Flowering?
The mature, ripe fruit will appear on your plant about 45 to 60 days after the flowers have opened up.
Remember, this is a ballpark number. The exact number of days may depend on a handful of factors. Some of these include pollinating, fertilizing, and watering your tomatoes properly.
Hornworms can also be the culprit behind your plants not flowering and bearing fruit on time. So watch out for these!
Get Your Tomatoes to Produce Greater Yields
The way nature works can be mesmerizing. The fact that we can give a plant a nudge so it grows bigger and stronger is even more thrilling, isn’t it?
And there it is, the process of tomato hand pollination demystified for you. Once you know how to hand pollinate your tomato plants, your fruit yields won’t depend merely on a stroke of luck.
Now, you’re in control.
If your tomatoes are not setting fruit, first get to the bottom of what may be the problem. Then get to work.
Hand pollinating your tomato plants can even help you double your fruit production.
See how little hacks like these can go a long way towards improving your gardening practices?
With gardening, you never know what discovery might come next. Head over to the Gardening Channel blog and keep learning. You’ll uncover more exciting gardening topics and get insider tips on how to grow your plants with success.
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