When should I induce N deficiency?

Ohiofem(6a Ohio)February 12, 2011

In the wonderful thread in the Houseplant Forum on converting an avocado tree to a houseplant, I mentioned that I have been using a complete, soluble 20-10-20 fertilizer on all my houseplants but wanted to change to a fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio as a result of reading the Fertilizer Program for Containerized Plants II thread started by tapla (Al).

In response, Al told me not to discard the 20-10-20 because, he wrote, "There will be times when you want to intentionally induce a N deficiency, and using a fertilizer with a 2:1:2 ratio is a very good way to do it. Changing ratios doesn't really do anything for you (the plant) though, unless you actually ARE reducing the amount of N the plant is getting to the point of mild deficiency."

He specifically mentioned growing tomatoes in containers. My question is, why would I want to induce a deficiency of any nutrient in container plants?�And how should I do that?

Here's a link to the Fertilizer thread:


Here is a link that might be useful: Fertilizer Program for Containerized Plants II

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Very generally, a reduction in the amount of N a plant is receiving is often necessary for it to flower and fruit properly. Excessive or extra N encourages leafy growth at the expense of flower or fruit production. And since both avocados and tomatoes produce an edible fruit, less N when it comes down to bloom time and during the fruit maturation period is desirable. Tomatoes and some other crops also require higher phosphorus levels during their early growth stages.

A number of fertilizer formulations are created with this in mind. Often you will see them with a 1-3-2 formula or a 1-1-2 formula......sometimes called "bloom booster" or "bud and bloom" fertilizers. But typically, anything with a lower N and a higher P and K will achieve similar results.

Al, please jump in if you have other thoughts :-) I'm sure you'd explain it much more thoroughly.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:38AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, Pam. This had come up in conversation on the houseplant forum on one of Josh's threads. So we wouldn't stray from the OT on his thread, I suggested to OF that she ask over here. I wrote her a note yesterday mentioning that I had company most of the day & by the time they cleared out & I had finished my chores, that it was late & I'd talk a little about it today.

Managing the amount of N your plants are getting is a lot like managing our own caloric intake. If, for example, your Dr tells you to reduce the number of calories in your diet, it does little good to start eating low fat cottage cheese or yogurt, then have two servings per day instead of one because they are 'low in calories'.

The same is true when we consider the N content of fertilizers. Because N is the element plants use the most of, we generally tailor all fertilizer programs around the usage of N; but can we actually manage the plant's N intake by changing fertilizers to one with a lower N content in relation to the other macro-nutrients? NO, we can't; that is, as long as we're still supplying nutrients as a function of their N needs.

Another way of putting it is like this: If you're using 30-10-10 (a 3:1:1 ratio) fertilizer on your tomatoes, you might notice that there is a lot of leafy growth and you're unhappy with bloom/fruit numbers. You've been fertilizing just enough to keep the foliage nice & green. You decide the plants are getting too much N and decide to start using 20-20-20 (a 1:1:1 ratio) that supplies 2/3 LESS N than the 30-10-10.

You like the nice green color, so you watch leaf color carefully & fertilize as soon as the leaves start to show a little chlorosis. You get more blooms & fruit, and that makes you happy. YOU think you solved the problem by limiting the N supply by reducing it by 2/3. In reality, if you're supplying just enough N to keep foliage green, you're probably still supplying the same amount of N that you did before. So what happened?

Well, when you reduce the N content of the fertilizer by 2/3, but then apply 3X as much, you're supplying the same amount of N as you were before, but you have increased the amount of P & K supplied (which solved the problem), so we might better have considered these nutrients BEFORE we considered the N.

You can't limit the N supply by changing fertilizer ratios, you have to do it by limiting the actual amount of N supplied. I wonder if we should be blaming stress for the increased number of blooms that a mild N deficiency can induce? (Probably, in part.) Greenhouse bedding crops generally start out under very close to a 3:1:2 ratio. At some point, the N is reduced to something like a 2:1:2 ratio. This inhibits vegetative growth and forces the plant to channel energy to reproductive growth - blooms/fruit. Though it probably isn't germane to this conversation, 'finishing' is usually done with nitrate fertilizers, which tend to promote smaller leaves and shorter internodes. The result, through nutrient manipulation, is a stocky, sturdy little plant that is sexually mature and appealing to the eye because it's in bloom.

Here's a chart that shows the range of nutrients plants actually use. Plants change surprisingly little in the ratio of nutrients they use as they go through the growth cycle, and tissue analysis of all plant parts, including fruits/blooms/foliage show roughly the same %s of NPK content. Plants that might be said to be high in one element or another (bananas and potassium is an example) are not tremendously higher in their content of individual nutrients, they're simply as the high end of the scale. So, almost all plants fall within the limits of the following chart in their nutrient usage. While plants generally always use close to the same RATIO of of nutrients, the actual o/a volume of these nutrients varies considerably due to a wide range of cultural (conditions)and genetics (vigor level of the plant, which is different from vitality).

Nitrogen, being the largest nutrient component, has been given the value of 100. Other nutrients are listed as a weight percentage of N.

N 100
P 13-19 (16) 1/6
K 45-80 (62) 3/5
S 6-9 (8) 1/12
Mg 5-15 (10) 1/10
Ca 5-15 (10) 1/10
Fe 0.7
Mn 0.4
B(oron) 0.2
Zn 0.06
Cu 0.03
Cl 0.03
M(olybden) 0.003

To read the chart: Let's go to P first - plants use a range of 13-19 parts of P or an average of about 16 parts of P for every 100 parts of N, which is 6 times more N than P. Plants use about 45-80 parts of K or an average of about 62 parts for every 100 parts of N, or about 3/5 as much K as N, and so on.

On it's face, a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer like 20-20-20 would SEEM to supply 6X more P than the plant could ever use in relation to N, but there's a surprise coming. In fertilizers, the % of P shown is not the amount of P the fertilizer actually contains. P is reported as the % of P2O5 (phosphorous pentoxide) and needs to be multiplied by a factor of .43 to get the ACTUAL P %. K is similar, reported as the % of K2O and a factor of .83 applied.

When all is said and done and the calculations made, 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers come extremely close to supplying NPK in the 10:1.5:7 ratio that (on average) plants actually USE nutrients.

This brings us to the idea that we need to use fertilizers with higher P or K contents at certain times of the growth cycle. What's the deal here? 10-30-10 is a popular high P fertilizer, but lets examine what almost always happens: Since we all tend to fertilize as a function of the N the plant needs, almost every one of us is going to go by plant color or stick to a schedule when we fertilize. What other methods are there? ;o) When the factoring is done, a fertilizer with 10 parts of N should have a reported P % of 3.4. 10 parts of a 3:1:2 fertilizer has 3.3. You'll find that the K content of 3:1:2 ratios also corresponds almost exactly with the average ratio that plants actually use. That's not a coincidence. ;o) All that extra P does is add unnecessarily to the EC/TDS (salt levels) in the soil, raise pH unnecessarily, and make it more difficult for the plant to assimilate SEVERAL other nutrients - especially Fe. Keep in mind that an excess of anything - light/water/nutrients/heat/cold ....... all have the potential to limit growth, just as surely as a deficiency.

The key issues in all I said above are:

* If you lower the % of N in your fertilizer by changing to a 2:1:2 ratio and still supply fertilizer in a way that meets your plant's N wants, you're not limiting N or inducing a deficiency, you're increasing P and K.

* YOU limit the N supplied or induce intentional deficiencies, not the fertilizer.

You may want to use your 2:1:2 ratio fertilizer to help keep vegetative growth under control by keeping the N supply on the low side, but this is usually evidenced by some yellowing of foliage, fewer lateral breaks, smaller leaves, and shorter internodes. This can also be of some value in plants continually exposed to low light conditions. Even the fluorescent lights I employ as grow lights for my plants are no where near as bright as sun. I habitually prune off what growth occurs on my plants during winter when spring arrives & the plants are moved outdoors. This keeps the internodes short & the plant compact. The use of fertilizers that supply all or most of their N in nitrate form (like FP) helps in this area too. Nitrate fertilizers promote stockier and shorter plants with shorter internodes.

I hope that was helpful & not too technical?


    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 12:50PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Thank you so much, Al. You are so knowledgeable and so generous with your time, it takes my breath away. If I could, and you would offer it, I would sign up to take a college course from you on the subject of soils and fertilization. Actually, in reading scores of your comments on GW in the past couple months, I feel like I AM taking a college course! ( I hope you won't take offense if I also add that the first time I read your post through and saw your final sentence -- I hope that was helpful & not too technical -- I wanted to respond: ROTFLMAO!)

But, now that I've re-read it several times, I want to try bringing it down to what I think is its essence to see if I am understanding you. Are you saying that if I want to induce an intentional deficiency of N while continuing to supply an adequate supply of other nutrients, I need to use something like my 2:1:2 ratio fertilizer at reduced strength? And that the evidence that I am achieving my goal would be yellowing leaves, fewer lateral breaks, smaller leaves and shorter internodes?

To bring it down to the practical level, let's take the case of the tomatoes I grow in containers in my summer garden. The 20-10-20 fertilizer I use is formulated for constant feeding. A representative of the company that sells it tells me that it is equivalent to a fertilizer that you would use every two weeks at 1 tablespoon per gallon, so if I water my plants twice a week, I should use 3/4 teaspoon per gallon each time I water. Then, to induce a deficiency, would I switch to using about 1/4 teaspoon per gallon every time I water? And if I need to water more often, I would need to reduce the amount of fertilizer correspondingly?

There is one other issue that Pam raised and I thought you referenced, and that is the question of timing. Am I right in thinking I wouldn't want to reduce the amount of N I am supplying until the tomatoes were flowering and beginning to form fruit? In my experience, that would probably be four to six weeks after I've set them out. So, if I want to acheive optimum growth in the first six weeks, I would feed my tomatoes a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer like Foliage Pro at full strength, then switch to the 2:1:2 ratio at half strength at six weeks?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 3:50PM
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I use something somewhat reccommended by good ole Al. I fertilize with Dyna Gro Foliage Pro 9-3-6. Then, when blooming starts, I add a little extra K with ProteKt 0-0-3. I had excellent sucess with this last year. This plan starts the plants on the 3-1-2 ratio, then balances it out to a 3-1-3 by addind the ProteKt.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 7:33PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I know - It's hard to keep all the numbers with dashes and colons and changing back & forth from ratios to %s all straight, huh! ;o)

If you are using a 2:1:2 fertilizer with all the essential nutrients (check on Ca and Mg for me?), and you fertilize frequently at low doses, and are fertilizing so your foliage isn't quite as green as you think it could be, you're probably seeing evidence of a minor N deficiency. You may or may not notice the smaller leaves and shorter internodes unless you look for them. The same is true with the lateral breaks because the tendency is also genetically encoded & varies by variety - so you may not notice anything.

All the fussing around really isn't necessary. You'd probably be perfectly happy using either a 3:1:2 or your 2:1:2 ratio fertilizer, and lots of folks have felt they've done perfectly well using a 1:1:1 soluble like 20-20-20.

Tomatoes don't mind and can use higher fertility levels than many other plants, so I would think that 1/4 tsp per gallon at every watering is going to be on the light side when soil temperatures are above 60* and below 85*, but see what you think, by the color of the foliage.

I use FP 9-3-6 until the plants are about 30" above the soil (top of the cage) and there is a good volume of foliage, then I cut back on the 9-3-6 fertilizer and start adding the 0-0-3 Pro-TeKt. It seems to work very well.

I think the main keys to good tomatoes is not to over or under-water, and not to over or under-fertilize. Planting them where they get good air movement, and being careful not to wet the foliage or splash soil on the stems of foliage when you water can really help to keep them disease free if you don't use fungicides prophlactically, too.


    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I did not mean to suggest that I don't like the technical details. On the contrary, I have been hungry for this kind of discussion for a long time. You have a gift for explaining the science behind your conclusions in a way I think most of us can understand. Unlike most of the gardening books I've read and most of the horticultural experts I've listened to, you don't just prescribe a formula to be followed. You give us evidence and inspire us to think scientifically about what our plants need. I've had enough experience growing things to know in my gut that you are on to something fundamental about plant growth and nutrition. A kind of Zen and the art of gardening. Thank you.

On the more practical level, my fertilizer is not quite complete. Although it contains most of the trace elements in the formula you laid out, including Mg, it is lacking calcium and sulfur. Because of that, I also have mixed agricultural lime and Osmocote Plus 15-9-12 controlled release fertilizer into my soil mix. It has 10 times as much Mg as the 20-10-20 as well as Ca and sulfur. I started using it after a year when my tomatoes suffered a lot of blossom end rot. I concluded that it was caused either by poor watering practices and/or a lack of calcium. My tomatoes have improved considerably as a result. But, because of that apparent success, I think I may have begun erring on the side of overfertilizing. Your information about the benefits of inducing a mild imbalance of nitrogen in relation to the other elements is very welcome.

But now I am wondering if using a controlled release fertilizer in my potting mix is such a good idea. I started using it a few years go for a couple reasons. It was the first fertilizer I found that had all the trace elements in it, including the calcium I wanted to address BER. And it gives me a sense of security that my plants are getting constant feeding even when we have lots of rain. In my part of the Ohio valley, we often have 20 days or more of rain in June when my vegetables are tiny in pots of 20 gallons or more of potting soil. I do plan to switch to a faster draining mix, but even then I can't imagine needing to water more often than once a week. If I stop using the CRF and switch to FP with every watering for the first month or so, will my plants be able to get the steady feeding they need?

I have to say once again how grateful I am for your patience and counsel. I am learning so much.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 9:05AM
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Good to see you again, Al. :) Hope all is going well with your garden so far this year & thanks again a ton for my new fertilization method!!! Despite my horrible garden last year from 2 moves and more, I still got a good bit of maters & such.

- Steve

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 12:32PM
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I think Ohiofem has just encapsulated what I've been doing a poor job of expressing to you, Al... so, thank you for that, Ohiofem!

I'm not a huge vegetable gardener, although I would like to incorporate more food growing into my current repertoire. The above discussion will help me tremendously! Thank you, Al, for taking the time to explain everything so thoroughly and with such easy precision! I get it! :-)

As lame as it might sound, I'm gonna grow me some tomatoes this year... better than previous tries have amounted to!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 2:38PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

That was very gracious of you to offer the nice comments, OF. I appreciate your kindness.

Carolyn J. Male, Ph.D., is a retired professor of microbiology from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.

You might find what she says about BER very enlightening - I did:

Blossom End Rot (BER) is one of the most common tomato problems seen in the early part of the season. It is a physiological condition, not a disease caused by a fungus, a bacterium or a virus. Therefore it cannot be treated. And as I'll explain below, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prevent.

BER has nothing to do with the blossoms, it refers to the fact that at the end of the tomato opposite the place where the tomato is attached to the stem, called the stem end, is the bottom of the tomato, which is called the blossom end. You often can see remnants of the blossom attached to that end as the tomato forms. At the blossom end one sees a flattened area that looks leathery and initially brown and then black, as the fruit rots.

BER is said to occur when there is uneven watering, drought, heavy rainfall, excessive nitrogen fertilization, rapid plant growth or root pruning during cultivation, high winds and rapid temperature changes. So lots of conditions have been associated with BER. But the rapid plant growth and nitrogen fertilization are both common to conditions seen early in the season, and indeed, that is when most BER occurs. Then it usually just goes away.

BER occurs because under the conditions just stated, Ca++ moves from the fruit into the vasculature (stems) of the plant. Or, some feel that Ca++ never reaches the fruits because under stress demand for Ca++ exceeds supply. This lowered amount of Ca++ is what causes BER. Excessive rates of transpiration (kind of like sweating in humans) also is involved in Ca++ displacement. Thus, the plant as a whole is NOT Ca++ deficient, the Ca++ has just been displaced. Many books and magazine articles tell you that by adding Ca++ in the form of lime or eggshells, for instance, that you can prevent BER. That does NOT appear to be true. University field trial experiments have so far failed to show that BER can be prevented by addition of Ca++. Peppers and many cole crops are also susceptible to BER and there's quite a bit of literature on BER and Ca++ for those crops also. The results are the same; addition of Ca++ does not prevent BER.

Some data strongly suggests that foliar spraying with Ca++ is of no use because not enough gets to the fruits to do any good. And it's known that the sprays for fruits that are sold are useless. No molecules can get across the fruit epidermis. If they did, just what do you think would happen to the fruits when it rained.

Not all varieties of tomatoes get BER. Some never do, others are horrible. That's not surprising since certainly there are slight physiological differences between varieties. After all, almost all garden tomatoes, with the exception of the currant tomatoes are in the same genus and species, Lycopersicon lycopersicum. And we humans are all in the same species, Homo sapiens, var. sapiens....and look how different some of our physiologies are. Whoa!

So, BER is a physiological condition, cannot be cured, and current literature data suggests it cannot be prevented. It occurs on some, but not all varieties of tomatoes, is usually seen early in the season and then stops, for most folks. It would be nice to say that you could even out your watering, prevent droughts and heavy rainfalls, ensure even and not rapid growth of plants and not disturb the roots by shallow cultivating. But on a practical basis, I think we all know that's almost impossible. So, BER has never bothered me, I just ignore it, and it goes away with time.

Adding Ca++ to soils that are Ca++ deficient makes sense, but few soils are. And if soils are acidic, Ca++ is not taken up well but addition of Epsom Salts to the soil can aid in Ca++ uptake in such acidic soils.

Many folks add Ca++ and then see that BER disappears. What they fail to realize is that BER is going to go away anyway, as the season progresses. And that's because as the plants get larger they are better able to handle the many stresses that can induce it. So one cannot correlate addition of Ca++ to disappearance of BER. Universities have done so many studies on this already because BER is a billion dollar problem in the commercial veggie industry.

Of all the stresses that can induce BER the two that are most under control of the home gardener are fertilization and water delivery. That is, too much fertilizer causes plants to grow too rapidly and is perhaps one of the major causes of BER developing. Too rich soils do the same thing. Plant growth simply outstrips the ability of Ca++ to get to the fruits.

Mulching to help ensure even delivery of water can also be done and is also one of the two major causes, in my humble opinion, of BER. BER appears usually on half ripe fruits but also can appear on grass green ones. Lack of Ca++ only occurs at the blossom end of the fruit and it causes tissue destruction which leads to that papery grayish/blackish lesion appearing. Now sometimes that lesion opens up and fungi and bacteria enter and that causes the rotting and also the appearance of fungal growth on and in the lesion.

Just pick off any BER fruits that appear and soon the next fruits to ripen will BER-less.

Many books, magazine articles and websites still say to add Ca++ as lime, eggshells, etc, and seem not to be aware of all the research that has been done in the last 20 years. But many books, magazine articles, are now sharing this newer information about addition of Ca++ not being able to either prevent or cure BER except in rare situations of low Ca++ soils or acidic soils.

I suppose it will take another generation for the right information to be present everywhere. And from my own experience I can tell you that there will be folks who will get madder than can be when they read this kind of info because they simply believe otherwise. So be it. Addition of modest amounts of Ca++ aren't' harmful, but I feel strongly that folks should know what's going on with past and current research re BER and Ca++.

NY, Zone 4/5color>

I noticed that it seems like you are supplying a LOT of Mg in relation to Ca. These elements share an antagonistic relationship, so an over-abundance of one can have an influence on the uptake of the other. Not only do Ca and Mg need to be present in the soil in amounts that ensure they are physically present in the 'adequate' range, but their ratio to each other should be reasonably balanced to prevent antagonism. Somewhere around 3-4:1, Ca:Mg is preferred.

I used to use CRF all the time, but over the last 10 years or so, I've gotten away from using it. I like the control I have when using soluble products because I know exactly how much of what and when. It is more effort, but everyone knows I'm fond of saying that grower convenience and what is best for the plants are often mutually exclusive. If I didn't walk the walk, I'd still be trying to figure out how to grow in topsoil or something else easier than what I use.

If your soils are saturated, they're saturated - and fertigating right after a rain when the soil is saturated isn't going to make them any wetter - right? ;o)

You can really eliminate a LOT (in some soils, ALL) of the excess water in a container by making sure there is a drain hole with a wick in at near the outside edge of a container on the bottom. If you're worried your soil is too heavy, or you're worried about 'days of rain'- just tip that container at a steep angle with the wick down. That dramatically reduces the volume of soil that supports perched water, which dramatically reduces the amount of perched water.

Experiment: Water a heavy soil until it's completely saturated and wait for it to stop draining. Then, tilt the container at a 45* angle (or as steep as you can) & see how much additional water exits the pot. If you have a drain hole like I described, with a wick in it - even more water flows out of the pot. Who'd've thought you could use physics to improve your chances at growing better? Chemistry ..... maybe, but physics? That's actually what the durable, well aerated and fast-draining soils are about - making physics work FOR us instead of against us.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Steve - I haven't seen my garden so far this year, so I can't say. It's resting quietly under about 2' of snow, though it IS a sunny 36* and thawing as I write.

No big deal if everything didn't go as planned last year. This is THIS year - last year is gone - fini. I'm sure you've gained even more knowledge that you can apply to sharpen your skills & make this the best year yet. The more you learn, the faster it all comes together ..... and the less dependant you become on trial & error.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 2:56PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Al: Thanks again for all the good information. I am familiar with Carolyn Male, having read her wonderful book on heirloom tomatoes (which I highly recommend). And I was aware that many reliable sources don't believe there is a "cure" for BER other than choosing to grow tomato varieties that are generally less susceptible to it. Makes sense to me. The year I had my problem it was mostly confined to one variety of paste tomatoes I will never try growing again.

I guess one of my weaknesses is that I'm willing to try a lot of different things I hear about from people who are considered experts if they don't seem like they will do any harm. But now that I've found GW and your detailed posts about fertilizing and container soils, I think I can come up with a solid plan for a fantastic container garden next summer. You've given me so much to think about, and a wonderful cure for the spring fever I am suffering from now with all this ice and snow on the ground!

Jodik: If you like to eat tomatoes, you're gonna love eating your own home grown tomatoes. I've seen your posts in the citrus forum and would guess you'll be very good at growing them. I wish you the best of luck.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 4:10PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Great Thread, tons of valuable information!

I'm an admitted tomato-hater (can't stand most red sauces, in general), yet even I enjoy home-grown tomatoes!
Because of my aversion to heartburn, I grow mostly low-acid varieties...and I give away whatever I can't use.

Some of my favorites are Sungold (for my back-deck container tomato), and then Roma for solid fruit.

Quite a few of my friends do like tomatoes, and they had problems with BER. Thanks to Al's information,
I was able to keep their tomatoes healthy last Summer. It's amazing what a little Calcium will do for the
plant (as long as other conditions are right).

This weekend I soaked my hot pepper seeds....and soon I'll pot them under grow lights.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 5:49PM
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Thanks, Ohiofem! I rarely post in the citrus forum, unless it's to congratulate one of my citrus growing friends... I'm surprised you saw a comment from me over there. I don't even have any citrus trees at the moment, though I hope to rectify that this year.

Tomatoes, I've grown plenty of in the past... I just haven't gotten the crops I'd hoped for. Whenever I try to grow them in containers, I always bomb terribly. But I'm fairly certain it's my feeding habits, and Al's information will help greatly.

I'm thinking of incorporating some of the vegetable growing right in the rose beds... the roses will take at least another year or two to grow to a size that will fill the beds, so there will be extra space for green peppers and such.

Josh... have you grown Yellow Pear tomatoes? I find those to be lower acid, and quite delicious right off the vine! I love tomatoes, but they don't love me back! I keep a box of baking soda handy for any heartburn.

I agree... another thread loaded with great information! Can't wait to put it all to use! :-)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 7:57AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Jodik: I'm sorry to remember you in the wrong forum. Although I've spent most of my time in the Container Gardening forum, I have been reading so many topics in different forums that my head is spinning. What I should have said is that I have seen several comments by you that left me thinking I should pay attention when you have something to say. There are so many good people in this community, I feel so lucky to have found this place.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 10:15AM
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BER *shiver*...Hate it!!! lol...the year before last I had not experienced it yet. I ended up pulling over 100 full sized San Marzano tomatoes off the 2 plants I had, all with BER, until I finally decided to toss the plants. That was my year to learn about it I guess. That is one of many reasons I did so much research on soil composition & fertilization late in 2009. All of that research let me to my current fertilization plan, derived from Al. The FP 9-3-6, then ProTeKt 0-0-3 upon blooming. That, like I mentioned, worked great last year. I had absolutely no signs of BER on any of my maters. I also changed my soil composition last year too, which i'm sure also helped.

Al: You one of those Yanks who got the 7 feet of snow, eh? lol...I feel bad for all my gardening friends in Boston who are in the same boat as you, waiting for all the snow to melt.

- Steve

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 12:12PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Steve: FWIW, the plants I had so much BER trouble with also were San Marzano tomatoes. I lost close to two out of three tomatoes from that plant to BER. And it lasted all through the summer, right up until our first frost. None of the other tomatoes I've grown in more than 20 years has had more than a few fruits with BER, and those were early in the season as Carolyn said.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 1:59PM
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It's all good, Ohiofem! :-)

GardenWeb is huge and well populated... we can't be taken to task for getting people mixed up. I have a terrible memory... I'm surprised I even remembered that I don't frequent the Citrus forum that often! ;-)

It's very sweet of you to say such nice things about me... you'll find that I reiterate what Al says quite often, and that's because I know him well enough to trust his knowledge, judgment, and the information he shares. I'm a student of Al, you might say!

He has such a wonderful knack for breaking down all the technical information on plants and growing and putting it into layman's terms that anyone can understand. I often wish I'd met him decades ago! I'd be so much farther along in growing and gardening!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 4:07PM
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Ohio: Where'd you get your seeds, if you don't mind me asking? I know there are reports floating around that supposedly 40% of the seeds out there this year have disease. That's why I was very careful where I got mine this time (every single one, almost, from Baker Creek). I could probably find a link to that article. Maybe people are just now discovering what we learned over the last 2 years. lol.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 7:06PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I bought the tomatoes that were overwhelmed by BER from Tomato Growers Supply in 2008. They were listed as Super Marzano VFNT Hybrid. I had three plants that were huge and seemed healthy in every other way. They produced hundreds of five- to six-inch long tomatoes, but I had to throw out most of them. None of the other tomato varieties I grew that year had any BER.

Like I said, I have had BER a few times in more than 20 years of growing tomatoes, but it's been rare and seems to go away after a week or two. I've bought seeds from TGS for many years and found them to be quite reliable. I think what Carolyn Male says in the piece Al quoted above is correct. The problem is mostly in the genes. By that I mean some varieties are more sensitive to the conditions that contribute to BER. In a good year, they might not have the problem. I've heard that paste tomatoes are more susceptible to BER, but I didn't have the problem with roma or opalka tomatoes.

The one good thing that came out of my BER experience is that I started working harder to make sure my veggies were growing in fast draining soil and fed with complete fertilizers, with all trace elements, especially including Calcium. I used to grow them exclusively using organic soils and fertilizers. But I've veered away from strict organic methods in my container growing. As Al has said elsewhere, the plants don't give a hoot whether their fed organically or not so long as they get a steady supply of the nutrients they need. With organic fertilizers, you're at the mercy of the weather more than you are with chemical fertilizers.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I haven't had any significant BER issues (a very few first fruit on some varieties) until this past year. Curious, I grabbed a couple of 'Rutgers' and potted them. Happy foliage, but every fruit on both plants ended up with BER all year long, while none of the other varieties I grew had any. I never got a single tomato from either plant. That one is forever crossed off the list. ;o)

BTW - SunGold rocks! When they're ripening, I'll wander past the vines 4-5 times each day for a sun-warmed handful of fruit to enjoy.

"'Knowledge' is knowing tomatoes are a fruit. 'Wisdom' is knowing not to use them in fruit salad."


    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 9:40PM
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Some very good points & you are correct that paste tomatoes are more prone to BER. I think they are ones that require, as you specify, more attention to soil composition & micronutrients (especially Calcium). I believe I bought my SM seeds from Wal-Mart or Lowe's. Probably Ferry Morse, as that's the brand I usually buy, if any, at the "box stores." My BER experience is what made me get off the typical "box store" fertilizers like MG & go on a fertilization plan that Al uses, which has worked great! :) I am ready to try the paste varieties again & am growing San Marzano Lungo No 2 & Amish Paste this year. I am confident that with my improved fertilization plan & soil composition plan, that I will have great luck with them. I used to use pre-bagged somewhat higher quality soils like MG Moisture Control Potting mix, etc.. They worked great for most veggies. Some of the more "touchy" ones work better in soils with pine bark, perlite, etc.. I guess i'll find out soon if my attempt at the SM's & Amish Paste is successfull, as my wee seedlings are starting to grow their first true sets of leaves now! Yay! =) Happy Gardening!

- Steve

P.S. _ started my gardening blog in the late Winter of 2008/2009. I looked through my posts from 2009 & found the one where I talk about the BER on the Marzano's. Towards the bottom of the post below. You can see how healthy the plants look (and how nice all my other maters look). Disappointing to revisit it...lol...A hard learning experience that I will rectify this year! =)

Here is a link that might be useful: July 2009 BER On SM Plants Post

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 9:47PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)


Very nice blog. I'd really like to do that, but so far my gardens are like my kids. I have loads of photos from the early days but get too busy to keep up with taking pictures when they get a little older and, shall we say, "more complex." I wish you luck with the San Marzanos. You couldn't pay me to ever grow them or most any paste tomato again. I grew them because I love to make Italian food. But I've figured out that the big heirloom oxheart tomatoes I like best raw actually make better tomato sauce than any paste tomato I've grown. It's a matter of taste, I guess. Please keep us informed about whether your SM's get BER this year.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 10:08PM
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The paste tomato conundrum reminds me of cooking wines... why would you use something to cook with that you wouldn't drink?

The same probably goes for anything... if you wouldn't eat it for what it is, why would it make a good candidate for cooking?

I've never really considered what brand of seeds I use for the vegetable garden... but I do notice that the quality and consistency has dropped within the past couple of years. Germination rates are patchy, fruiting is patchy, etc... and you get less seeds for your money, on top of it.

I used to just grab whatever seeds were handy at the local farm type store... but this year, I'll be a little more picky.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2011 at 2:55AM
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Ohio: lol...I hear ya! I have a 3 year old boy & a 5 year old girl. They are the loves of my life. :) I will keep y'all updated on the progress of the SM's.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2011 at 11:45AM
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