Some Crops Like It Hot … Some Don’t

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

As the summer progresses it is about time to start harvesting fresh tomatoes from the garden. In the south, it can be considered one of the highlights of the year. There are numerous neighborhood races, not for the biggest tomato, but for the earliest tomato! It’s a matter of pride-who does the best job at judging the perfect time to put in those first tomato plants while at the same time, dodging late frosts.

Of course, frost is now a thing of the past and so we patiently wait for the first big, ripe, juicy tomato. But there might be a glitch in this year’s plans: The extreme hot temperatures that we are having this year can put a halt to tomato pollination. Tomatoes are self-pollinating plants. This means that each flower has both male and female parts so that while insects can help things along, they aren’t absolutely necessary. Pollen falls within the flower itself to provide pollination. When temps reach 85-90 degrees during the day and remain above 75 degrees at night, along with the high humidity that we experience during the summer months, pollen can become too sticky to fall. Extreme temperatures can also make pollen unviable. Blooms will fall to the ground without forming fruit. This isn’t uncommon during August but it isn’t normally a problem in June and July.

What can you do about it? Well, nothing! You can keep your plants well hydrated and when Mother Nature sees fit to give us some relief from the heat, things will crank back up again. Most of us are seeing fruits right now because these formed before the extreme weather arrived, but don’t be too alarmed if tomato production lags a bit after the initial first picking. When the weather regulates, so will the tomato crop.