Why. There is an atrium around one part of my house. I had successfully grown a tomato plant there last year. This year, I started a plant there, and it bloomed but did not bear fruit. I followed all of your advice (egg shells, worm castings, and bone meal), and I sprayed “Blossom Start” on it, but the flowers just dried up and fell off. Any suggestions?
Carol Meacham, Danville
a. I’ve never used “Blossom Start” before, so I’m sure you followed the directions for its use. As it didn’t work out, and you’re having problems, it’s time to look at your gardening area as a whole.
The most important thing to consider is whether you are getting enough sunlight. Tomatoes, unless you are growing cherry tomatoes, need 8 hours of sun every day. Even if you had success last year, the conditions in your yard may have changed. The most common problem is trees that have grown and are now shading your garden.
You also want to check if the tomatoes are getting enough water. Tomatoes do best when they are on a consistent watering schedule. If you don’t have drip irrigation and a timer, you may want to consider installing them.
If the plants are getting nice and leafy, fertilizer isn’t a problem. If you add more at this point, you can promote more growth, which will take away from fruit production. Nitrogen-heavy fertilizers tell plants to grow more green leaves, and if they are doing so, they are not directing energy toward fruit.
Tomatoes are self-pollinating, aided by wind. Atriums can be over-protected, so practice running your hands lightly over the plants, which will help pollinate the flowers.
Despite the growing conditions, the weather is something we cannot control. When temperatures exceed 85 degrees during the day or less than 55 degrees at night, the plant will drop its blooms and focus energy on keeping it alive. We’ve seen a lot of temperature fluctuations, and I suspect that’s the main issue.
I will not hold back from having a healthy crop of tomatoes. The plant may just need to settle in and develop its root system, and there is still a lot of heat left.
Why. We have three large bottle brush plants that hummingbirds and bees enjoy. Any benefit to cutting them back along with the existing reduced growth to promote more growth, or best leave them alone?
Terry and Diane Sullivan, Los Gatoso
a. While some shrubs benefit from serious pruning, bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.) is not one of them. Cutting too far back can damage the shrub and in some cases even kill it.
Blooms on new wood, so you never want to cut too deeply into the interior of a bottlebrush. Instead, cut off the tips of the plants to shape the bush and promote new growth. If your bottlebrush has grown too large or has a lot of “dead wood” in its interior, it’s best to prune at ground level.
Bottlebrush is native to Australia and does well in our Mediterranean climate. It requires very little pruning, unless you want it to grow into a tree form rather than its natural shrub shape. It can get quite large — up to 25 feet — so some pruning may be needed to keep the size down. However, experts recommend looking for dwarf varieties if it’s a small shrub or tree you’re looking for.
There are two common methods for bottlebrush pruning. You can cut off the tips as soon as new growth appears, taking away 1 to 2 inches at a time. Or you can cut off the flowers as soon as the flowers fade. Both methods are considered gentle pruning.
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