too tall toms

texasjack(Houston Tx)June 22, 2012

I container grow tomatos on my small 17th floor balcony. Plants are doing great this year...thanks to advice from the folks here. Healthy, robust, lots of fruit, but I'm about to run out of overhead space. My Black Krim is at 6'and growing. Don't want to screw anything up, but what do I do??

Should I top trim the plants, let them hit the ceiling, etc.??

I know it's a nice problem to have, but I need your collective wisdom.

Texas Jack

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give a haircut when thet reach the ceiling or let them flop over and keep on growin. or cur a hole in the ceiling.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 6:48PM
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Terry has it right. Cut a hole in the ceiling. It's the only way.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 10:35PM
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Agreed, holes in the ceiling are just par for the course. Your tomatoes demand sacrifice.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 11:05AM
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Oh wait, you're in Houston? Fine, I'll give a neighbor more serious advice...

How are these plants being staked or caged? Assuming you have the room and the time, there's nothing wrong with allowing the vines to flop over the top of whatever support you have and begin heading towards the floor... as long as you're willing to rig a support for them before they get heavy with tomatoes. There's also nothing wrong with just giving them a haircut. It's a personal choice, and depends mostly on how much of a tomato jungle you're willing to deal with.

I'm not experienced with balcony growing so high up. But as a general rule, the spring tomato growing season is pretty much over now in Houston. It's just getting too hot and humid for the plants to set fruit. All that's left is to allow the fruits that are already on the vine to begin to ripen. Black Krim isn't well known for heat tolerance either.

But things may be a little different on a 17th floor balcony.. I just don't know. In any case, you can heavily trim your plant and keep it in relative shade to get it through the hottest part of the summer.. and then get a great fall harvest too!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 11:14AM
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texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dear neighbor Greentiger,

Thanks for the insight. This year I invested in the Ultimate Tomato Cages from Woodstream Corp. It's a set of 3 of their standard 60" green metal stakes with 9 plastic snap on horizontal braces. Creates a triangular open cage that fits perfectly in Earth Boxes.The braces can be repositioned as needed. Looks good and knocks down for easy stoeage. Available at HD. I added more heigth by strapping on more vertical stakes with cable ties.

The "high altitude" provides more or less steady winds of 3-8 mph. Bad for evaporation, but good for assisting in pollination.I use plastic mulch. My balcony provides pleanty of shade and my plants tend to come through summer heat pretty well. Even last year...30+ days over 95F...I had some fruit in late November.

Is there anything that can improve fruit set in these conditions?

As to my height problem... hole cutting is not an option. My 18th floor neighbors would likely object.


    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 3:05PM
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Oh, I didn't realize you were doing the Earthtainer thing. I've never done it, though I've read a lot about it (and experimented with other forms of subirrigated planters).

As far as I can tell, there is nothing practical you can do to increase fruit set in the heat. The heat actually denatures the pollen, and the humidity makes it too "sticky" to do it's job. Because it becomes denatured, even hand pollinating or using a vibrating toothbrush isn't sufficient.

Don't bother with the Blossom Set (cytokinin) sprays being sold lately.. there is no evidence that they help with blossom drop caused by high temperatures (as opposed to low temperatures, for which there is some evidence).

If there's a period in July where you normally don't set any fruit, I'd at least consider doing this - hard prune both the top growth and the roots, and repot into the Earthtainer with fresh potting mix. I know this is scary, but Tomatoes can handle it and will reward you with renewed vigor and yield.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 5:42PM
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TexasJack, there is another way that you might consider for next year. Prune each plant to one leader and when it gets too high, untie and drop the leader to the ground, twist it around the pot and then lead it up again. I have done this with a row of six plants. The first leader is dropped and positioned to climb up the stake in the fourth pot, the second leader goes to the fifth pot, the third leader to the sixth pot, the fourth leader comes back to the first pot and so on. This worked very well with Tigerella and is the way they do it in glass houses. Most vining tomatoes have malleable stems but Black Krim may be a little stiff.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 7:28AM
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texasjack(Houston Tx)

Thanks Mike,

Interesting idea. I wish I had the space to line up 6 or even 4 plants. Urban gardening tends to be on a micro scale.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 3:57PM
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Jack, it is amazing that you can grow vegies on your balcony. I should have explained that the tomatoes were in 25 litre recycled square section plastic drums that are just 11 inches wide. A tomato with just one leader is quite well suited to this size of pot, particularly when they are placed against each other and it makes efficient use of space. The reason I stopped using this system is that tomatoes give me dermatitis so I need a system with the least amount of handling - even then I put my hands in recycled plastic bags when tending or picking! Mike

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 4:52AM
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texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dear Mike 1938,

I'd rather have sent an email and not cluttered up the forum ,but don't have your address. I see from your Bio that you are in Australia. My daughter spent her Junior college year at Monash in Berwick. My son joined her and they spent another year back packing around Aus and NZ.I hope to do the same someday, but in a car.

As you can see from my posts my big problem is the Houston weather. June through September day temps 95+F, nites above 80F.I've mastered growing healthy, blooming plants, but can't set fruit. Just wondering if there might be Australian varieties that prosper in similar conditions?

I'd be happy to swap some Mexican/South American seeds for any Aussie seeds that might do well in Texas.

You can email me at



    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 11:20PM
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I feel like I'm intruding now, but what the heck.

One thing I did forget to mention is the availability of so called "heat-setting" varieties. I'm sure you've already looked this up, but there's lots of information about it on the web. Even Home Depot and Lowe's are selling them now. And of course, there's a general trend that smaller fruits mean better heat set (so cherry and grape tomatoes do better).

But it's just asking too much I think to expect the plants to set fruit when air temperatures are in the 100's. The only variety I know that will do that is the Texas Wild Tomato.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 11:59AM
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