The First Time Gardener: My ________ isn’t producing! What’s Wrong?!?

July 20 006Every year, at some point during the summer, the Master Gardener Hotline is inundated with calls from frantic vegetable gardeners concerned about one or more of the plants in their garden not producing.

Usually this starts out with cucumbers and occasionally squash. The complaint is that there are lots of flowers, but no cucumbers/squash are growing. What most gardeners don’t realize (until they’ve experienced it a couple times), is that squash, cucumbers, and melons all have both male and female flowers on each plant. The first flush of flowers is almost always male, and so no fruit will set until the plant begins producing female flowers. The ratio of male to female flowers will balance out as the season progresses. Sometimes drought or heat stress will cause the ratio to switch back to predominately male flowers.

A bit later on in the summer we start getting calls about tomatoes and peppers not setting or producing enough. Here the situation can be a bit more tricky to diagnose. Often, tomatoes and peppers will not flower or set fruit if they have too much nitrogen. The excess fertilizer is like pampering them, and the plants see no reason to reproduce. (There might be an interesting parallel in human behavior, but this is a garden blog, so I’ll leave that to the sociologists and philosophers to figure out.) Anyway, often new gardeners think that more fertilizer will help push the plants to produce more, making the problem worse.

Another common problem for home gardeners is shade. A shady location (less than 6 hours of direct sunlight) will delay flowering of tomatoes and peppers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, whenever we get that wonderful, typically hot Kansas summer weather, the plants stop setting fruit again! Tomatoes will generally drop their flowers without setting fruit when daytime temperatures are above 90-95 and nighttime temperatures stay about 75-80. The overnight temperatures are actually more critical than the daytime temperatures. The same thing can happen with peppers, but at slightly hotter temperatures. (85 degrees overnight) Cold temperatures also delay fruit set and flowering, but since when have we had those in the summer in Kansas?

So why am I lecturing you about this? Well, I thought you might be interested to know. However, this was also so I could tell you that the squash in the Family of 4 Garden are blooming, but we don’t have any baby squashes yet, since we’ve seen only male flowers (and 1 female flowers that didn’t get pollinated)! Maybe by next week we’ll have some cute, tiny squashes on our plants!

About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on July 22, 2009, in Around the Garden, Family of 4 Garden, Plant Problems & Diseases, The First Time Gardener and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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