Leggy Tomato Plants

February 2, 2006

It’s hard to top a juicy, home grown, vine ripened heirloom tomato, but if you’re not careful when growing tomatoes you may wind up with leggy plants and few tomatoes.

Jerry discovered this the hard way as he commented: “Kenny, I would like to see some tips on growing tomatoes, how deep should I plant them, and why do I get tall plants and no fruit, please advise me?”

This is a common complaint from gardeners growing tomatoes; beautiful plants reaching for the tree tops, but few tomato fruits to show for it.

There’s nothing wrong with tall tomato vines if you can devise adequate tomato supports, but if they’re all vine and no fruit the problem is usually the result of over fertilization and feeding the plants too much nitrogen.

Nitrogen promotes rapid plant leaf growth but when over applied to fruiting plants such as tomatoes the result is excessive leaf production at the expense of flowering and fruit production.

If the damage is already done and you have overly lush tomato foliage you may be able to coax additional fruiting by applying a foliar fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous to encourage flowering and tomato production.

The long term solution for the tomato problem is to reduce the amount of nitrogen applied to the area of the garden where your tomatoes will be planted. Use mature compost rather than nitrogen rich manures around the tomato plants.

Gardens Alive also carries a natural fertilizer called Tomatoes Alive that is formulated to supply the specific nutrients that encourage fruit production in crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Regarding the question of how deep tomatoes should be planted, the answer is the deeper the better. Especially for a leggy tomato transplant, it’s a good practice to bury a significant portion of the transplants stem under the soil.

Deeper planting will allow the tomato transplant to grow stocky as it receives direct sunlight after being placed outdoors in the garden. More importantly, the plant will grow a stronger root system, as roots will develop all along the portion of the stem that is buried under the soil.

For extremely tall tomato transplants place the plant in the ground at an angle rather than straight up and down, and gently remove the leaves from the portion of the stem that will be underground.

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  • Randy Coursey


    The last few years I’ve tried to grow tomatoes the vines and tomatoes turn brown in Sept. then rot. What am I doing wrong?

    Randy Coursey

  • Kendra Linkous

    I have a problem. Just when my cucumbers have begun to produce little cukes, the plant starts to die, the leaves shrivel and turn brown, and growth stops. I keep my garden well irrigated, it gets sun nearly the entire day, I keep weed growth away. What is happening to my cucumbers?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kendra, check your cucumbers for signs of Cucumber Beetle activity. These small, yellow insects with black spots or stripes don’t cause much actual damage to plants when feeding, but they may transmit diseases such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus that can cause later problems and kill your plants. Susceptible crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, and melons.

  • Kathleen Hall

    This is my very first garden ever! I planted tomato, bell pepper and okra plants in a small, plastic covered “greenhouse” I purchased at a local store. Using the pellets provided I added seeds and placed the container on the fridge. My results were tall and “leggy” vegetable with only one set of leaves. What am I doing wrong? I have been told that I won’t grow anything. Would like to prove them wrong.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kathleen, sounds like your vegetable seedlings are not getting enough light. If you want to start your own seeds indoors it’s really best to have some type of supplemental light source to help them grow strong until they can be transplanted outdoors. Don’t pay any mind to the doubters… stick with it, keep learning, and I’m sure your garden will grow!

  • Kathleen Hall

    Thank you so much, Kenny. I have lost plants because I didn’t understand why they were leaning over and later breaking. As time goes by, I am sure to get better with my gardening. Naysayers…..watch me grow! This is a wonderful site with very helpful people. So glad that I found it!

  • Bobbi

    Hi, I live in southeast texas and I’ve had vegetable gardens for years in the summer with great success. I recently moved to a rental and made a raised bed to avoid tilling the ground. I have a mixture of topsoil, garden soil and potting soil in the bed, and I have tomatoes, bell peppers and jalapenos planted. The tomatoes are doing great, but the bell peppers are leaning, and not from weight, the stalk itself is leaning and they are not producing much or looking healthy. Does anyone have any idea what the problem might be?

  • van zwettler

    My tomato plants are way leggy ( 15-18 inchs tall, spiny). I understand the part about planting them at a angle. And removing leaves that will be under the surface. My question is, when I remove lower leaves, do I remove lower stems also, or just the leaves?

  • Kenny Point

    Van, remove the tomato leaves that will wind up underground along with any stems connecting them to the plant.

  • van zwettler

    I did just that, removed all branchs,leaves,etc. I planted 28 tomato plants ( a variety )… They were all extremely leggy, I layed them in a trench, approx. 3inchs deep at the root end. I exposed just the very top of the plants… That was May 15th. By the 25th ( 10 days ), I could not believe the size of the stems!!! They went from very spiny to 1 1/2 times the thickness of a pencil! I haven’t lost a single plant. —–WOW planting them sideways REALLY works,–thanks

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