5 Causes of Veggie Plants Not Producing Fruit

Spring planting is often filled with hope and excitement, visions of a bountiful harvest and plans for what you will do with all of your extra garden produce. But does summer have you feeling discouraged as you wait for a harvest that is slow or nonexistent? 

Don’t lose hope!  If you’ve got zucchini not producing or tomato plant flowers but no fruit, here is a quick list to help you diagnose what your problem might be. Remember, gardening is often about trial and error… Even if some problems are too late to fix this season, you will be better equipped to succeed next season!

Speaking of equipped to succeed, get all the essential beginner tips from seed to harvest in the Very Easy Veggie Garden eBook!

Find out five common problems for beginner gardeners that end up with little or no veggies.  Troubleshooting vegetable gardening for beginners!

Not enough sunlight 

Plants that produce fruit (as opposed to herbs and leafy greens) need an average of at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. If yours don’t get this much, they may look healthy but will probably not give you much in terms of harvest. If your plants look “leggy” or lanky (stretching tall to search for light), and produce flowers but no fruit, this is another clue they might be lacking sunlight.

Reasons your garden plants won’t produce
These skinny, lanky tomatoes not producing fruit suggest they are probably in need more sunlight.

Too much water

One of the most common reasons for a tomato plant not producing fruit is too much water. Some plants, like tomato plants, will be slow to produce if they are given too much water. If you have tomato plants not producing even though the plants are large, leafy, and beautiful, this might be your problem. Try cutting back a bit on how much you water, or watering less often. This will signal to the plants that they need to produce their offspring (fruits) to create the next generation of plants before their conditions become less favorable. For more info on how watering affects your plants, see this post.

Incorrect fertilizing or poor soil

At the beginning of the season, plants need a good amount of nitrogen (the first of the three numbers on a fertilizer container) to get started and produce lots of leafy growth. Later in the season, though, phosphate or phosphorus (the second fertilizer number) becomes more important since it helps produce root and fruit growth. If you are still using a fertilizer that is highest in nitrogen, this may be why your plants are producing gorgeous leafy growth instead of fruit. Add some higher phosphate fertilizer instead. Just be sure not to over-fertilize (too much non-organic fertilizer can burn your plants). Read more about choosing and applying fertilizer here.

Even proper fertilizer can’t fix bad soil, though.  Soil is the most important part of your garden!  If you are planting in the ground, your soil most likely needs some sort of organic matter tilled in–compost, manure, or bagged garden soil. This helps the roots get the air and drainage they need, and provides some fertilizer as well.

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Temperatures aren’t right

If you have had an unusually hot or cold spell, some plants’ production may be affected by this. For instance, it’s common to have tomatoes not setting fruit well if temperatures are colder or hotter than the range they prefer. Warm season vegetables will need consistent warm temps, and cool season crops will not like too much heat.

If temperatures are a common challenge in your area, you should consider choosing plants that are listed as heat tolerant or cold tolerant. Also be sure that you are planting the right crops at the right time of year—don’t plant fall vegetable crops in the summer, for instance. 

They aren’t mature enough 

If it seems like everyone else is getting a good harvest, but your plants are not producing yet, it may be that you planted later than they did.  Each plant has a typical “days to harvest” length, which usually means it needs to be planted in your garden a certain number of days before the fruit will mature. If you plant late, sometimes applying a good fertilizer right away can help your plants catch up, but sometimes it’s still a matter of waiting until the maturity date.

If it’s getting close to the maturity date but your plants seem small, they may need a boost of balanced fertilizer.  This is one of the most common reasons for zucchini not producing or squash shriveling on the vine–squash plants need plenty of fertilizer. For tips on choosing a fertilizer, go here.  

Especially if your area has a short growing season, like mine, it is a good idea to choose plant varieties with shorter “ days to maturity” or “days to harvest” range. This is usually listed on their label. Counting out that number of days from when you transplanted them into your garden will usually give you the best idea of when to expect a harvest (starting out with bigger more mature plants might mean earlier harvest, but not necessarily).

Pollination Problems

Not enough pollinators in the garden is (hopefully) a less common problem, but it still happens. If you rarely see any bees in your yard or around your plants, there are a few solutions you can try. If you have lots of squash blooms but no fruit,

If possible, consider what pesticides your yard and area are exposed to, if they harm bees, and how you can minimize exposure. If you have a gardener or pest control company, ask what products they use. You can find information a few effective organic bee-safe products for your garden here.

Consider planting some flowers that attract bees. A quick internet search or visit to a garden center can give you some ideas for your area (you will often find plants or flower seed mixes marked “attracts bees and butterflies”).

If this doesn’t work, it is possible to find vegetable or ideas that don’t need insect pollination. Cavili squash is one variety that doesn’t.

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Which problem do you think your garden is facing? Let me know in the comments below!

If your beginner garden isn't producing, you're waiting on squash or tomatoes not ripening, read this page to learn what to do to grow more vegetables!

6 thoughts on “5 Causes of Veggie Plants Not Producing Fruit”

  1. tomatoes are open pollinators and not soley dependent on bees and other pollinators. Open and/or wind pollination more commonly.
    They wont set fruit above 95*f. Here is why.
    The pollen dies above 95*. If the flower didnt get pollinated before the intense heat, the flowers dry up and drop off.
    Electric toothbrush or a “vegi bee” when temps drop to 60-70 at night, or you can tap plant to help it along with a Vegibee apparatus or an Electric toothbrush. / https://vegibee.com/

  2. My garden looks gorgeous- the plants are thriving, blossoming, climbing, etc… but we haven’t gotten produce. We’ve planted butterfly bushes in addition to our herbs, marigolds and hummingbird plants, but still have very few pollinators. How can we encourage more pollinators, aside from marigolds, butterfly bushes, echinacea, lilies, and blossoming garden plants?

    Could the weather be to blame for the lack of pollinators? We had triple digit temperatures for a week in early May, soon followed by 50s. It has also been very windy all season and there were bad fires several miles from here in the late winter. Additionally, we have seen a bird species move into the area which we’d never seen before… and they are everywhere.

    1. So sorry for the late reply! I started homeschooling my kids last year and got a little too busy with that, but plan to get back on track this year. It sounds like your area had quite a weird year, that can always affect things. You are doing a lot of great things with all your pollinator flowers, sometimes it seems to take a couple seasons for them to catch on. I wonder if the wind is blowing away some of your pollen before it can fertilize. Some gardeners choose to hand pollinate some of their veggies, you could give that a try if you’re still lacking produce this year. but one of the things with gardening, you can take it as a good or bad thing, sometimes the elements are outside your control and you can just say “I did my best, hopefully next year!”
      you could also give your plants a little extra phosphorus boost (maybe some bone meal) to help support fruiting.

  3. I actually “lol”ed while reading this post! It appears my sad little garden may have had ALL these issues this past year! Going to pin this article to read again in the spring 🙂

    1. When temps reach 95*f or above for consecutive days, the pollen DIES on tomatoes and the unpollinated flowers dry up and fall off. Called “flower drop” There isnt much you can do about it other than try to shade them in the heat of the day. In order for the shade cloth to be effective, they MUST have ventilation. The garden group I belong to did a test study. he was able to lower the temperature by 4-6 degrees with a 30% cloth which may be enough to set fruit. Some use an electric toothbrush or a “Veggie Bee” or tap the plant to release the pollin at night when temps reach 60-70 degrees. https://vegibee.com/
      Tomatoes and other nightshade plants do NOT depend on pollinators as the ONLY source to move the pollen and set fruit they are not dependent on them alone.. Most tomatoes pollinate thru wind or “open polination’ unless the pollen is dead.

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