What Happens When you Don't Fertilize your Tomato Plants

If you've ever wondered whether fertilizer was really important to the health of your plants, let me show you an experiment that I've been running in my garden this year.

I intended to grow 14 tomato plants, but when I bought plants I wound up with 18. So I planted my usual 14 and then put the other 4 in a separate location.

Since they were not sharing the same plot of dirt, I thought this was a great time to experiment.

 I fertilized all of the tomato plants at planting time. I planted them all at the same depth and have watered them at the same levels consistently since planting.

After the initial fertilizer, I stopped fertilizing the four separate plants and kept on feeding the others every two weeks. I fertilize all of my other plants with a low concentration of fish fertilizer every few weeks.

The plants when in around May 9th and today is June 6th. (click here to see what they all looked like at planting time.)

Here are the results:

The 4 unfertilized plants - 1 Black Krim, 2 Better Boys, and 1 Big Boy

The Black Krim is the largest one on the left. The Big Boy is on the right and the Better Boys are in the "middle."

A closer view of the Black Krim

The other 14 Tomato Plants - 1 Black Krim, 1 Brandy Wine, 1 Sweet 100, 1 roma, 5 Better Boy and 5 Big Boy. 

The Fertilized Black Krim is on the Left (the other 3 are sweet 100, Brandywine, and Roma (behind))

The Fertilized Better Boys 

The  Fertilized Big Boys

What a difference!! Some of my fertilized tomatoes are already starting to set flowers. It may be hard to discern from the photos, but in real life, the growth of these tomatoes versus my unfertilized batch is night-and-day. They are greener, bigger, taller, and thicker stemmed. 

At this point, it seems like plant brutality to let the experiment go any longer. Plus, I really want to maximize tomato production, so I'll be fertilizing the underserved starting today. Oh and by the way, I am not letting weeds grow in the garden. My tomatoes are flanked by a row of Marigolds - yet to blossom - they naturally keep away bugs. It's a slow but organic way to deter insects - it takes a while and some sun for the Marigolds to grow.

Want to see another example of underfertlizing versus regular fish feeding? Check out my Raspberry pacth from July 2011. 

I had just started started fertilizing them a month prior (missing all of the spring growth!!!) Pay attention to the top of the green fence. I know, I know, it's all green in this photo. In July 2011, the berries weren't even half way up the fence. In June 2012, they are at the top of the fence!

Take a look at them on June 6, 2012.

These have been fed regularly since the buds started opening. All of the tall growth is NEW. The shorter (a little lighter in color) is the growth from last year - the plants you saw in the 2011 picture. You can even seen the stake I put in last summer in the left hand corner (also green.) That stake holds 3 invisible wire lines that keep my berries vertical. I had chopped off the stake because I only needed it to be so high. Once these new plants fill with berries this fall, I may be installing a new stake/wire system....

2011 was my best raspberry year ever (EVER!) and the plants are performing leaps and bounds over last year. What does that mean for 2012? The old canes are loaded with berries for a fantastic summer crop.

Once they fruit, I'll remove them and let the new canes go crazy. Last fall, we had so many berries it was unbelievable. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens this fall. But I'm not too excited about restaking again....

Bottom line: Fertilize your plants. It improves the soil (if you're fertilizing organically,) it improves the plants, and it increases yields.


Jessica-MomForHim said...

The bottle says to fertilize 3 times a season, but you said you are using a lower concentration and fertilizing every few weeks. What concentration do you use per gallon? Thanks!

Angela said...

I fertilize about every 2 weeks. I use 2-3 tablespoons of fish fertilizer to 1 gallon of water.

In talking with the company, they may be updating their recommendations because they feel the dilution may be too weak.

The good news is that you can't really do it wrong. If you underfertilize, the plants will still survive and you may realize you need more if they aren't growing as much as you'd like. But if you over fertilize, you can't really kill them or burn them unless you get super extreme and dump pure concentrate on the plants.

It's even okay (and actually good) to get a little on the leaves and stems. They will incorporate the nutrients in through the foliage.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

Jess said...

I did exactly whqwt you did! It actually works!!!! Thanks a lot!

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!


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