7 Reasons Tomatoes Are Dropping Off the Vine and What to Do

Tomatoes are easy plants to grow and maintain. However, it can be challenging for first-time gardeners. Everything may seem to be okay then you realize tomatoes dropping off the vine before they are ripe. It is discouraging especially if you don’t know what is happening to your plants.

So, why are tomatoes dropping off the vine?

There are various circumstances under which a tomato plant can become stressed and drop off its fruits prematurely. They include extreme temperatures, deficiency of certain nutrients, improper watering, inadequate light, heavy fruiting, excess nitrogen, pests, and diseases.

Tomatoes dropping off the vine

Why are tomatoes dropping off the vine?

There are various reasons why tomatoes may drop off the plant before they ripen. They include:

1. Extreme temperatures

Extreme temperatures are the main reason for tomatoes dropping off the vine before ripening. Extreme temperatures can also affect pollination negatively and prevent flowers from developing fruits. Tomato plants prefer mild temperate climates where the temperature is not too hot or too cold.

Tomato plants thrive well when the temperature is between 90 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit (32 – 10 degrees Celsius) during the day and 75 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit (24-13 degrees Celsius) at night. Sudden heat waves or cold fronts in summer can cause the plant to drop their fruits.

For instance, low temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit are detrimental to your tomatoes. It prevents the plant from producing enough energy to sustain itself and the fruits. This can cause the plant to drop its fruits.

Tomato plants suffering from extreme temperatures are characterized by wilted leaves and dropping flowers or fruits. Extreme temperatures may result from climate, unseasonable weather, and poor planting time. Planting in hot climatic conditions without irrigation can cause the plants to wilt and drop off the fruits. On the other hand, early planting may also expose your plants to frost.

How to fix

If you are planting your tomatoes in a climate that experiences hot summer, it is recommended to get a shade cloth for your plants. Shade cloth is a UV-stable mesh fabric that is designed to block a certain amount of light from the sun.

They come in different shades that block various percentages of sunlight. For tomato gardening, you may use a shade cloth that blocks between 30 – 50 % of the light from the sun when the temperature is too hot.

Planting tomatoes at the right time can also help to protect them from extreme temperatures. Planting too early or late in the season can expose your plants to early fall frost at the end of the season. If you have planted your tomatoes in containers, move them indoors when outdoor temperatures are too cold.

2. Under or over watering

Tomato plants tend to shed off fruits prematurely when stressed due to under or overwatering. Tomatoes require a steady supply of adequate water throughout the growing season. Plants use water in the process of photosynthesis to produce energy.

Lack of water as a result of drought or poor watering can also damage the root system of your tomato plants. Stress due to extended drought may trigger the plant to shed off the fruits to conserve some energy for survival.

Too much water can also affect your tomato plants negatively. Waterlogged soil as a result of frequent shallow watering can damage the root system of your plants. This may also result in tomatoes cracking or splitting on the vine. Frequent watering also discourages the plants from developing deeper roots.

How to fix

Tomato plants require even and deep watering to stay healthy and produce high-quality fruits. The appropriate time to water tomatoes is early in the morning when the sun is not too hot. It allows the plant to absorb enough water before it evaporates into the atmosphere.

When watering your plants, ensure the water is delivered at the base of the plant near the roots. Avoid wetting the leaves. Watering on the leaves can be detrimental to the health of the plant. It encourages fungal infection attacks, especially in areas with high humidity.

Planting your tomatoes deep into the soil can also help to make them resilient to dry conditions. The plant develops additional roots that absorb water, nutrients, and other minerals that are deeper into the soil.

Other practices like mulching also help to conserve soil moisture content. Apart from reducing the rate of evaporation, mulching helps to prevent the frequent growth of weeds and saves the leaves and fruits from becoming in contact with soil.

3. Deficiency of certain nutrients

Tomato plants require a sufficient amount of nutrients to grow healthy and produce fruits. Deficiency of some nutrients in the soil can lead to various symptoms such as tomatoes dropping off the vine, spindly vines, and chlorosis.

 Chlorosis is a common problem that is noted through the yellowing of leaves. This problem results from a deficiency of magnesium and iron in the soil. Tomato plants suffering from this condition are unable to produce chlorophyll which is a pigment that makes leaves appear green.

Calcium and iron deficits can also affect tomato plants negatively. Calcium deficiency causes tomatoes to turn black or brown at the blossom end. This problem is commonly referred to as blossom end rot. On the other hand, a low amount of iron in the soil causes top leaves and new growth to appear yellow.

How to fix

Before adding any fertilizer or soil amendments, it is important to conduct a soil test to determine the exact nutrient that is lacking. Extreme pH levels are a sign that your soil is missing a certain nutrient. 

Add organic matter into the soil to increase fertility and humus content. Magnesium, calcium, and iron deficiencies can be improved by adding magnesium sulfate, iron sulfate, and lime respectively into the soil.

Practice crop rotation to enhance fertility as well as to prevent the build-up of soil-borne pests and diseases. Avoid planting crops that belong to the nightshade family such as pepper and potatoes in the same area year in and year out.

4. Inadequate light

Tomato plants require adequate light to grow healthy and develop their fruits. They require at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Inadequate light causes the plant to become stressed and may drop off fruits before they mature fully. If you are lucky, the fruits may take a longer time to ripen.

Planting tomatoes near tall buildings or structures can block the plants from accessing light. Tomatoes like any other plant require sunlight to produce energy through the process of photosynthesis. Inadequate light equals less energy produced by the plant. The plants require a lot of energy to develop the fruits. With less energy, they may shed some of the fruits prematurely.

How to fix

When intending to plant tomatoes, look for a suitable place within your garden that receives the maximum amount of sunlight. Avoid places with tall buildings or trees that may block light from the sun.

If you are practicing indoor tomato gardening, place your plants near a large window that allows for more light. If the window is not allowing in enough light, you can enhance lighting with artificial lights. Alternatively, you can use mirrors to reflect more light on your plants.

5. Heavy fruiting

Tomatoes dropping off the vine can also result from too many fruits. The plant can support a certain amount of fruits depending on water, nutrients, and other environmental factors. You may notice many fruits on your plants. However, the plant may start to shed some of the fruits as they develop.

Too much fruit on a tomato plant can be problematic for several reasons. For instance, the plant may not have enough energy to develop all the fruits. Therefore, it will drop some of them to concentrate the energy on the remaining fruits.

Heavy fruiting can also cause damage to the plant. Excess weight from the fruits can break the entire branch. To prevent this from happening, the plant may shed off some of the fruits.

How to fix

Prune off some of the blossoms towards the end of the bunch. Leave 3 to 4 sets of flowers to develop into fruits. It helps the plant to produce large and quality fruits. It is also important to pinch off extra suckers, excess weight can cause the plant to tip over.

Provide your plants with cages or trellis to enable them to grow in an upward position and to support the weight of the plant together with its fruits.

6. Pest and diseases

Stress as a result of pest and disease attacks can also cause the premature dropping of fruits. Tomatoes are commonly attacked by aphids, hornworms, cutworms, and thrips. Small insects like aphids, spider mites, and thrips suck juices from the leaves while large insects like hornworms and cutworms may cause serious damage by cutting and feeding on the leaves, stems, and branches of the plant.

Tomatoes are prone to various diseases like early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spots, and blossom end rot among others. Disease attack can cause the plants to have stunted growth, wilt, yellowing of leaves, and premature dropping of fruits.

How to fix

Check your plants regularly for any signs of disease or pest infestation. Treat the plant depending on the type of disease or pest attack. Small pests like thrips and aphids can be controlled by the use of organic spray while large insects can be picked and killed.

In some cases, you may be required to uproot the whole plant and destroy it away from the garden to prevent the disease from spreading to other healthy plants. Practice crop rotation to control pests and diseases.

7. Excess nitrogen levels

Feeding your tomato plants with excess nitrogen can cause them to drop their fruits off the vine prematurely. Excess nitrogen in the soil encourages the growth of foliage at the expense of flowers and fruits. The stems become thin and elongated and unable to support the weight of fruits.

Tomato plants require potassium and phosphorus to grow healthy and develop fruits. On the other hand, nitrogen is necessary when the plant is still young.

How to fix

Use a slow-release Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizer when planting tomatoes. Give low nitrogen, high potassium, and phosphorus during the fruiting season at least once every month. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know why tomatoes may drop off the vine prematurely and how to fix them, you can make the right decision on when to plant and how to take care of your plants. It all starts with choosing the right variety that is suitable for your climatic conditions. Feed and water your plants correctly for them to stay healthy and produce quality fruits.


Heatwave makes vegetables misbehave – the University of Minnesota Extension

Blossom Drop in Tomato, by Joseph Kemble, Edward Sikora, and Kerry Smith – Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Protect Tomatoes from Burning Summer Weather by George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., a horticulturist with New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service.

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