Fruit Set & Flowers Dropping

June 27, 2006

Vegetable gardeners have been noticing the mysterious loss of flowers and immature fruits which have been shriveling and falling off of plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, and squash.

Losing a few vegetable blossoms or young fruits isn’t uncommon, especially early in the summer and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

Vegetable Flowers Falling Off without Setting Fruit

Frank, who gardens in Cambria England, raised the following question: “Can you tell me the cause of my tomato flowers falling off before setting as fruit? The variety is Gardener’s Delight.”

It’s not unusual to lose flowers on vegetable plants before the fruits begin to form, particularly early in the season when temperatures are still on the cooler side, during periods of rainy weather, or when there are fewer numbers of beneficial insects present to help pollinate the flower blossoms.

Tomatoes are self pollinating for the most part, but weather conditions and uneven moisture to the plants could be the culprit causing the flowers to fall off before the fruits have a chance to set.

Tomato Blossom End Rot normally causes a bigger headache for tomato growers but I would recommend that you just be patient and hopefully the plants will stop shedding their flowers and begin developing tomato fruits.

If you find it difficult to stand by waiting for those blossoms to take fruit, Garden’s Alive markets a product called Tomato & Blossom Set Spray that can be applied to your tomato and other vegetable plants early in the season to encourage fruit set.

Cucumber Plants Failing to Produce or Develop Fruits

Joyce in Fredonia Kansas reported a similar issue in her vegetable garden: “I am having a problem with my cucumbers. I use a piece of cattle panel, arch it and planted cucumbers on one side and Morning Glory’s on the other.”

“They are growing good and setting on good, then they start drying up after they get about an inch long. They get plenty of water and Miracle Grow. Could it be not enough sun? I would hate to cut the Morning Glory’s down!”

Spare the Morning Glory’s, cucumbers are well known for the immature fruits drying, shriveling up, and falling off before they have a chance to start growing. I doubt that your problem has anything to do with a lack of sunlight reaching the vines. More likely the cucumber plants are not setting fruits because of poor pollination or there are just more flowers being produced than the vines can support.

Hand Pollinating Cucumber and Vegetable Plants

Again, I would be patient and not worry about it as the situation usually improves itself as the season progresses. Some gardeners attempt to improve fruit set on their cucumber plants by hand pollinating the individual flowers early in the growing season.

To hand pollinate cucumbers or other vegetables simply remove a male flower (the ones that are attached to a stem and don’t have a tiny fruit attached to the base), strip off the petals and rub the male flower’s pollen producing stamen against the stigma of the female flower (the ones connected to tiny immature fruits). For the best results hand pollinate during the morning hours using newly opened blossoms.

A less tedious solution to improve pollination and fruit set is to plant other pollen producing flowers and herbs throughout the garden to attract and welcome beneficial pollinating insects to your garden beds. You can even purchase insectary seed mixes containing plants known to attract all types of good bugs to the garden.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Kenny, this is really helpful information — it answers some of the questions I’ve had lately! Thanks for this post.


  • Rebekah

    I have had my flowers drop for the second season now. I have tons of wasps, and occasional bumble bee, and honey bees. Could it be anything else? I am mourning my tomatoes and zuchinni!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Rebekah, sorry to hear about the tomato and squash blosoms that you’re losing. If you’re sure that pollination isn’t an issue with the flowers dropping off, are the plants receiving enough rainfall or irrigation to prevent stress related to a lack of moisture? Are the temperatures excessively hot in your growing region? Have you tried planting at a different time so that the plants would blossom and bear fruit at a slightly different time of year? Is your soil fertile enough to support the vegetables that you’re growing? Just a few other things to consider.

  • Thanks for the facts… really beautiful place, I posted a picture of our Yucca plant as it grows here. You will see it is a far cry from what your country grows.

  • Jafar

    I have two varieties of cucumber growing commercially. One variety has had two picks while the other variety is producing plenty flowers and small fruits present. However, fruits turn yellow and drop off. Flowers also dropping. Is it something wrong with nutrient (lack or excess)? The plant itself is healthy.

  • Kenny Point

    Jafar, normally I would guess that you have an issue with poor pollination that is causing the cucumbers to fall off. The curious part is that one variety is producing cucumbers without a problem and the other isn’t producing any but it could be that one variety is self pollinating to some degree.

    It doesn’t sound like a deficiency or problem with disease, so you could try using some of the male flowers to pollinate the fruits on the plants that aren’t maturing. If that helps then you’ll know that it is an issue with pollination. Has your weather been rainy, or have you sprayed anything on the plants that would affect beneficial insects?

  • Devine Liman

    Hi Kenny, Great website with helpful information too… I just started planting tomatoes in containers, I put them in sunny and airy spot of the house, what I noticed is that although they grow pretty healthily, the leaves at the top part of the plant usually curl up and don’t grow to a good size. The plants also have lotsa flowers but like the previous problems of your reader they seldom grow to fruits and just drop off. Could you tell me what is happening to my tomatoe plants??

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Devine, a common problem with container grown tomatoes relates to adequate watering. It can be a challenge to provide the proper levels of moisture to tomatoes grown in containers. Inconsistent watering could have something to do with the fruit loss. The problem with the plant’s leaves may be related to a virus that causes a disease called Tomato Leaf Curl.

  • Kahealani Love

    I work at a nursery and I’ve been having quite a few customers come in with shriveled immature squash and ask what the problem could be? Thanks to Kenny’s advice a was able to help some of them with their problem with poor pollination and I’ve been giving them this page address as well. Thank you Kenny for all the GREAT INFO that helps me help my customers.

  • Kahea Love

    Hi Kenny, I have over 40 tomato plants and for the most part I am having fruit sets on them. This year I’ve tried a few heirlooms that I haven’t grown before. I know that a lot of them have about 85 days to mature, but I’m worried that with summer going by so quickly they might not have enough time to set and ripen because they keep dropping their blossoms. I planted many of them in May and they are large and healthy plants, just like the ones that are producing fruit. I have plenty of flowers to attract pollinating insects but I haven’t seen any around. I’ve been pollinating my squash by hand and that seems to work, is there a way for me to pollinate my tomatoes by hand as well? If so, how do I know which is male or female flowers? Please help! I appreciate any info you can provide. Also I forgot to mention that many of these were orphans that I rescued from work and were stressed but had at least one fruit set on them when I rought them home and planted them, but I removed the fruit so they could spend their energy on growing big and healthy, could iit be possible that they are too comfortable now?
    Thank You,

  • Kenny Point

    Kahea, some gardeners shake the the flower clusters of their tomato plants to help spread the pollen and increase pollination. Tomato flowers contain both male and female components for pollination and to produce fruit. The problem may be that some of your tomato varieties that aren’t suitable for your growing region because of weather conditions or the length of your growing season. It was a good idea to remove the fruits before setting the tomato transplants into the garden.

  • William Pugh

    My Mr. Stripy tomato’s immature fruit appears to be drying up. The small tomatoes are soft and have a shrunken leathery skin. They have had plenty of water. It’s in a container. Not all fruits are affected. Some on the same stem are not affected.

  • Devine Liman

    Kenny, I started growing cucumbers in containers and was surfing the web for some info on them, apparently they don’t really say much things on how to grow them in containers. Is it possible to grow them in containers (how big/small) and what about hte trelis??please give me some info on how to grow them, so far my seeds just germinates and there are 1 set of leaves (new sets are already shooting).One more thing, what should i do to the leafminers on my tomato plants’ leaves… some of them are already ‘mined’,should i just cut the infected leaves off and discard? or is there other possible treatment?Thanks much…

  • Kenny Point

    William, I’m not sure what Mr. Stripy’s problem is I would just remove the defective tomato fruits, keep the container watered, and hope that the situation improves.

    Devine, you can grow cucumbers successfully in containers. Check out the article that I wrote on Growing Container Veggies. I used a simple three prong trellis that was about five feet tall but you can also let the cucumber vines just ramble about the ground. I’ve never noticed leaf miners on tomato leaves they usually go after leafy greens such as Swiss Chard. I simply discard the infected leaves and the problem normally improves as the season continues.

  • ernie keay

    In the early part of the season to pollinate my tomato’s and pole beans I use a small kids paint brush and go from flower to flower on each plant and so far I have good results

  • Please, do you have any suggestion to help save my tomatoes. The plants are like six feet tall with beautiful large tomatoes. Some have like 8 tomatoes to the cluster. Leafminers have almost destroyed my beautiful plants. Last year the miners were a small problem so I contacted the County Agent and was advised to dump the dirt from my containers and spray the inside of the pots with a 10% clorox solution. I did that and bought new soil to fill my pots for this year. The plants were just perfect until about 10 days ago and now they are covered from top to bottom with leafminer damage. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Freeda

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Freeda, I just posted an article with some info that I found on Leafminers and Tomatoes… hope it helps with the problem in your garden.

  • pat

    I live in colorado springs, CO.
    I have found a way to pollinate my cucumber plants!!!!!
    I was at a park with my family and we sat under a pavillion that had a trash can close by. I kept having to get up and away because of all the BEES!!! bingo!!! I thought about how to bring that kind of smell to my garden with out having my trash can out for all to see. so as I was opening up a can of dog food to feed the dogs I said to myself, “self, I could put the empty can of dog food out next to my plants with out the neighbors seeing it!” I put it next to the plant with out washing the remaining dog food residue out of the can and waited. in just about a week of putting out new dog food cans and removing the dried up ones I now have 7, that’s right 7 cucumbers on ONE branch. almost every flower has been pollinated!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t belive that it worked!!!! by next week I will have about a cucumber every three days or so!!!!! try it and I bet it will work for you!!!!!!!!!

  • Raj

    I am growing Indian Ridged Gourds and bottle gourds and by evening have a lot of bright yellow flowers but by the next morning most of them drop..we havent had a fruit yet..there is plenty of sunlight and since we live in Alabama temp are usually above 90 this time of the year.

    Garden nourished with lots of Miracle grow and water,any suggestions for fruit appreciated.

  • Natalia

    THank you so much!!! Your website is awesome. I am new at gardening and your site is so so helpful 🙂
    thank you again

  • prakash

    Dear Friend,
    My ridge gourd crop has failed to hold fruit set, when the fruit attains a height of 2 cm it will die, is there any solution for this?
    Regards, Prakash

  • cherry

    I have had a like problem with my mellons and squash, the fruit gets about an inch long and then turns black and dies. I thought maybe it was some sort of fungi and remove the blackened fruit as soon as I see it.

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Prakash, I’m not familiar with the ridge gourd but it could have something to do with poor pollination. You can try hand pollinating some of the flowers by using a small paintbrush to spread pollen between different plants and see if that makes a difference.

    Cherry, you might also want to try hand pollinating some of your melons to see if that helps, otherwise it could be some type of fungus or virus affecting the plants.

  • Billie Womancatcher

    Hello to all!

    I live in the Ozark Mtn. foothills here in the Cherokee Indian Nation of Oklahoma. I’m having tomato troubles. I’m a long-time gardener and have successfully grown all sorts of tomatoes for many years, but this year I have a wrench in the works!

    I have abundant healthy plants of several varieties: Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Burbank, Sioux, Better Boy, and—the “problem child”—Japanese Trifele. These JT’s are grafted to eggplant rootstock to improve productivity. The plants are healthy and I have flowers galore. But, they will not set fruit. After a point, they fall off. I live in the middle of an extremely rural spot surrounded by several thousand acres of dense hardwood forest. Bees are plentiful and they have pollinated everything else just fine. I see them at work non-stop, all day long in the garden and all over the place.

    Kenny, (or anyone else with an idea!), should I apply some blossom-set or just leave it alone? Maybe they just aren’t meant to grow here. Our spring was very cool with big late-season snows this year. We experienced some very cold weather (Below -25 Degrees) this winter and had a lot of cool nights (a little too cool, really) in the spring. But, the other plants are doing well despite the cool nights in April and May.

    I should also say that as cool as spring was, summer came on like a bear. We have been about 10 degrees above normal highs (91-93) for this time of year, and this HAS stressed all the vegetables. We also had way too much rain in May, with some flooding and such.

    Any advice you may offer will be appreciated.

    Billie Womancatcher

  • Kenny Point

    Billie, I have one grafted Japanese Trifele tomato in the garden also, I’ll have to go out and check to see if it is setting blossoms or fruit at this point and will let you know. I would give your plant more time and hopefully it will begin producing soon.

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