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Why aren't my tomato plants full and bushy?

My plants have flowers and small fruit, but they don't look very healthy to me. They're about 3ft tall. The leaves are small and not as dark green as I think they should be. The vines are thin too. They get light and water, and I have given them nitrogen fertilizer sticks. How can I help them?

Super Green Thumb
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Joined: Wed Oct 15, 2014 1:52 pm
Location: Woodbury NJ Zone 7a/7b

Your tomatoes look pretty much like the ones I planted in the ground - OK, but nothing spectacular. Yet, I had the soil tested in 3 different sections - the tomato row one of them, and there, everything was at or above the recommended level, with just a small amount of N recommended to be added, which I did.

The plants in my SIPs, OTOH, are huge - many over 7' tall - and so bushy that I can hardly find all of the tomatoes! In addition to the 2 c of dolomite in the 2 cu ft of mix in the Earthboxes (and homemade SIPs), plus a trench of 2 c of 10-10-10 organic pelleted fertilizer, I gave each tub a "snack" every week, of just 1 tsp. of calcium nitrate. It is amazing what this does for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in SIPs! Just that half tsp/plant every week does wonders - I did an experiment the first
year I used it, and didn't add it to some. While they were larger than the ones in the ground, the ones with the calcium nitrate snacks were definitely superior.

I am thinking of fertilizing some of my plants in the ground with some of the calcium nitrate, to see if it helps. The calcium in the soil tested high, but maybe this is more accessible, and the N should definitely help.

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Joined: Sat Nov 19, 2016 5:12 pm
Location: Portland, OR

They don't look unhealthy to me. Every variety of tomato has a different appearance, and yours might just be smaller-leafed.

That being said, they also look indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes will grow in a chaotic mess if not pruned and staked meticulously. Some will disagree, but I recommend heavily pruning indeterminate tomatoes down to 2-4 main growing vines, and pinching off all side shoots after that. It's a process that requires diligence the entire growing season as they will produce new shoots at every node, forever, as long as they're growing.

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:32 am
Location: Hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

If the tomato is still young, give it time, it will probably grow a bit more especially if it is an indeterminate. Your internodes look like they are long. What is the variety? Are you dry farming?
I plant tomatoes in 18 gallon pots using MG potting soil.
Tomatoes are very heavy feeders. I usually give them 1/2 cup of all purpose food or tomato food 9-12-12 mixed into the soil before planting. I supplement with 1 tablespoon of additional fertilizer at the first flower, first fruit and monthly thereafter. Some people also add gypsum or lime to the planting hole for added calcium. I don't need it, and I don't usually have problem with BER. Tomatoes need to have warmth, be in full sun unless you are in a hot climate, and regular watering. Irregular watering or a pot or soil that dries out quickly will cause issues with BER. Tomatoes do very well in SIPS and uneven watering is not a problem. SIPs will also make the best use of water by retaining water in the reservoir.

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Super Green Thumb
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Location: TN/GA 7b

Your tomatoes don't look terrible, but they certainly don't look vibrant. They are kind of pale and not well leafed out.

But the ground they are in looks bad. Also pale and not very organic. You can't make up for bad soil with a couple of fertilizer sticks.

Here's what good soil looks like:


If you don't have a compost pile, start one! :) (There's a whole section here on composting, if you aren't familiar with it.) In the meantime, you can buy good compost in a bag. Mix it generously into the soil around your plants, being careful not to disturb the roots. Then mulch over everything. A thick layer of organic mulch (not wood chips--straw, shredded paper, fall leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds or any combination) helps prevent weeds, hold moisture in the soil and eventually breaks down to help create that rich soil you are trying to build.

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Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 7:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M(11/B)

I think it needs to be watered more. There seems to be enough flower trusses to indicate it's getting nutrients -- probably from those sticks. Tomatoes start needing LOTS of water once they start blooming and setting and developing green fruits.

Since you seem to have the room, what I would recommend is to go out 2 feet radius and dig a trench/moat in a circle all the way around the plant.

But first do you have a source for some rich topsoil? Or compost? -- If you don't want to buy a bag, do you have a wood pile or leaf pile by the fence kind of an area? My property backs to some woods and I can always find some leafpile along the fence, and if I rake those aside, nice completed topsoil underneath. Same thing if I shift the wood from the woodpile (stick pile). If you have a compost pile, any semi decomposed stuff would work. Along the same idea, fresh veg scraps (peelings and ends, eggshells, coffee grounds) mixed up in the blender with water into a slurry might do the job.

I would put some of this kind of organic inoculant in a circle around the plant but not touching it, then dig that moat and pile the dug up stuff on top in a mound, burying the bottom of the stem a couple of inches. Use a rake or hoe to pull up the good soil from the moat until it's about 2-3 inches lower than the surrounding soil with gradual mound up to the plant and smooth out the mound. Now, when you water or it rains, the water should stay within the circle of the moat.

Once you see how the moat and mound functions and comprehend how much water it takes to water the plant, put down mulch over the mound and moat.

...I noticed you said plant(s) - plural - I should mention I do this in a bigger scale with the moat (what I call path/swale surrounding the entire bed and/or mounded row of tomatoes. My "moats" are probably deeper because I continuously "mulch" them by tossing pulled weeds as well as tree and shrub clippings in them, then rake up the resulting good soil down to the clay subsoil. I also trench compost in them during the off-season and then sometimes shift the rows so the mounded rows are where the swale/paths were. Building the compost piles in/on the beds during the winter has worked well, too.

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