The Q&A Archives: Overgrown Leaves and No Fruits

Question: I started my garden three years ago, and was excited to find that my vegetable plants grew to monsterous heights with generous leaves. Only to be disappointed to realize that they weren't flowering and producing fruits. Tiny broccoli heads appeared 5 or more inches from the ground. Big Boy tomatoes stopped at cherry tomato sizes. The squash vine went wild, and produced one thumb sized fruit. I had used compost (bought & home), some vegetable plant fertilizer and a bit of Miracle-Gro. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Well, from the growth of your plants it sounds as if you have plenty of nitrogen and organic matter in your soil--that's terrific! However to produce fruits, plants need phosphorous. The numbers on a fertilizer bag refer to the percentage of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous), and K (potassium) in the bag. There are different formulations for different purposes. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush
green growth, phosphorous helps strengthen stems and produce flowers, and potassium keeps the root system healthy. In reality, these elements work in conjunction with one another. If you're applying fertilizer to tomato plants, for example, you're not as interested in the plant developing leaves as you are in it flowers and fruit, so you'd use a formulation lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous and potassium, such as a 5-10-10. Miracle-Gro's Plant Food at 15-30-15 is another example. Bone meal is an organic source of phosphorous. Since phosphorous doesn't move as readily through the soil as does nitrogen, it's a good idea to mix a small amount (follow package instructions) into the hole before transplanting, or to mix it into the soil before sowing seeds. Also, keep adding compost every year. Organic matter is excellent for soil fertility and contains many essential trace elements, such as magnesium. Your plants sound healthy, I think they just got an overdose of nitrogen. Good luck!

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