It is hot - it is so, so hot. Actually, we here in the Raleigh NC area are in a stretch where it is hard to conceive of even going outside to spend hours tending the garden. Tasks inevitably slip - the staking and tying become undisciplined, chaos begins to ensue. Spotted, diseased lower foliage remains instead of the recommended removal. The rare, odd down burst thunderstorm in the evening brings unwanted rearrangement of the plants. Yet - it is hot, the container and straw bale plants can’t make it through full ways without watering. Tomatoes go from green to blush to ripe fast, meaning cracking. Critters get nosy and begin to probe the defenses.
Yes, all of that is happening, but it is also turning out to be a pretty spectacular gardening season. The key is to focus on the wonderful that is happening, and accept the lack of general order, never mind perfection.
Gardeners in hot, humid areas are likely noticing several things. First, tomato plants grow fast. The cages and stakes assumed to be adequate are likely to be over-topped already. The decision of if or what to prune, if or what to top often get overwhelmed by the effort in the heat and other garden tasks (hand up here). Gusty storms then put so much pressure on fruit-laden tall vines that bending occurs, and perhaps snapping of the stake itself. I’ve experienced all of this over the years.
Second - gardeners will also notice (as evidenced by FB, IG and Twitter comments, as well as emails) that flowers are dropping without setting fruit. Many large fruited beefsteak type heirlooms in the 1 pound and greater range really don’t care much for 90 degree and above, and add in elevated humidity and those blossoms on impacted varieties open, fail to pollinate, shrivel and drop off, leaving fruitless gaps along the stem.
Cherry tomatoes, golf-ball sized tomatoes, right up to medium sized varieties are far less fussy with fruit set temperature and will drop blossoms much less. The main things you can do if you are growing the monster sized tomatoes and forecast temperatures are 90 and above during flowering are to gently flick the flower clusters once the flowers open a few times each day (or use an electric toothbrush to gently vibrate the blossoms). Some may find success using a shade cloth over the plants during mid-day; I can’t personally comment on its effectiveness, as it doesn’t impact humidity, though may offer a few degrees of relief. Choice of tomato type will have the greatest impact on success, but of course, those of us who are smitten by the one pound colorful super delicious heirlooms will stubbornly stick with those and go with using season shifting strategies (planting out so that flowering occurs before or after the extreme heat) to get our tomato fix. The other thing to focus on - keep the plants growing well (well watered and fed, remove blemished foliage) and don’t overprune suckers. You want those plants to continue to flower so that as the temperatures start to ease, flowers will set fruit and you will get a nice later summer harvest.
My parting words for this blog - don’t let your plants get stressed - indicated by wilting during the hot part of the day. Keep them well watered. And keep them well fed. And please - remove that nasty looking lower blemished foliage - it spreads the fungal spores quickly. It isn’t fun, but eating tomatoes is certainly a LOT of fun!