By Saline Jett, Master Gardener Trainee
Our extreme weather conditions may have negatively affected some of our plants. Perhaps you’ve noticed the once promising blossoms and small fruits on your plants have suddenly either disappeared or dropped on the ground or simply are not developing. These symptoms may indicate a possibility of blossom drop. Blossom drop occurs when night temperatures drop below 55 degrees in the spring and during the hot drying winds of summer.
I’m focusing on the cool night temperatures for this article, and I must admit, the weather is not all to blame. Insects, diseases, and even herbicides may be involved.
The plants typically affected are tomatoes, beans, and peppers. Our manual states that the planting time for tomatoes as transplants in Southern Illinois is between March 5 and March 15.
We hope the home gardener performs a soil test in the previous fall season to help aid in diagnosing the cause of blossom drop. However, most of us fail to take the time to perform this type of test. This test will help rule out soil disease and/or insects.
The hot drying-wind conditions prevent blossoms from setting fruit. The sudden weather change of cool weather and hard-beating rains also cause this troublesome condition.
Infections by parasitic bacteria or fungi highly affect the large fruited type of tomato. Irrigation may help as well as avoiding excessive applications of nitrogen especially during early growth. We have a tendency to over fertilize at the start of planting and growth. It’s just that simple. You may be able to manually help fruit set by shaking the tomato plant in the middle of a warm sunny day or by hitting the top of the stake to which the plant is tied.
I’m not researching or focusing on all the diseases, viruses, or insects that result in blossom drop rather just realize that without a soil test done in the fall, it’s much more difficult for our Master Gardeners to diagnose and make suggestions to help your remaining crop flourish. I am not attempting to explain or define the tomato plant pathology at this time because I need to educate myself so I am more comfortable with the answers.
My original article had absolutely nothing to do with blossom drop. However, while shopping and visiting the city-wide yard sales, a dear neighbor asked how he could prevent the birds and squirrels from eating his blossoms off his tomato plants. My goal as a Master Gardener is complex, yet simple; I am here to help the home gardener. This gentleman has helped me in the past with his wisdom. So I simply came home and got to work. The main cause I discovered for blossom drop was not the birds and squirrels. And since I do not have access to soil test results, I chose to concentrate on weather as a possible and likely culprit.
Someday I will be comfortable and confident in my knowledge of plants and their pathologies to explain in depth as to the formation and transporting of the cells of a seed that develop into a wonderful, beautiful, large ripe garden tomato. Right now I just want to attempt to help a dear neighbor find a solution.