(Disclaimer: I'm a novice tomato-gardener, this is my first season)

I love in eastern NC, and my tomato plants just seem... small. And now I'm starting to get tomatoes on my plants, but they're already turning red and they're... small as well!

The plants are mostly Roma tomatoes with a few beef steak mixed in.

I water every single day!! I think they are hydrated. We have sandy soil, but this is a raised garden bed with what I believed to be rich soil. And the soil is as-is (no fertilizer or any other "additives").

By looking at these plants/tomatoes, is anything clear why they aren't bigger? Growing up in Jersey, I'm use to my parents having tomato plants that are a dark, deep green and grow fast and huge. And of course on those plants in Jersey the tomatoes were quite large as well. I don't know why I'm not getting the same results here.

Any thoughts are much appreciated!

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  • 1
    We'll need to know more - can you provide the following: Specific variant of roma? (I think any Roma should be larger here..) How did you start them? Buy seedlings or start from seed? You say its just soil - how are you feeding them - what fertilizer and how frequent? It looks like they're in an open area with lots of sun, true? When did you plant them outside? What were the outside temps?
    – mikegreen
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:51
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    Looks like the soil's too sour and/or you need to be fertilizing more. Low pH causes plants to become inefficient/unable to pick up certain nutrients. I'd get a soil test done quick, and use the results from that to decide where to go.
    – J. Musser
    Jul 10, 2015 at 22:11
  • Is there a bottom to the raised bed, or can the roots grow as deep as they want? Jul 11, 2015 at 8:22
  • Oh, just a postscript...tomatoes begin small and continue growing into a size appropriate for the species. Don't worry. Looks fine to me. Fertilize...stop watering EVERY DAY unless that soil is DRY!! Use a decomposed compost to coat soil 2"...maybe twice during the season...ALL plant roots on average only grow 4-6 inches below the soil...but drainage IS CRITICAL!!
    – stormy
    Jul 11, 2015 at 20:27
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    @Shule There is no bottom to the bed. The roots can go as deep as they want. Jul 13, 2015 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


I agree with Shule and J.Musser. Too much water (tap???) and at this moment, better fertilizing. If you have sandy soil and water everyday you are washing away nutrients. Your plants look FINE other than they need more fertilizer. I'd use Osmocote for vegies. It is extended release and can't be washed away, necessarily. DO add some completely decomposed compost to boost the microorganism component (VITAL) for your soil. Just put on top of your soil. Keeps moisture in and the organisms eating it will pull it into your soil profile and poop out great stuff for your soil. In fall, grow 'green compost' to build your soil. Only water if your soil is dry 2" down...Is there a bottom to this raised bed? Do you use tap (city) water or is it well water? Salts, chlorine and fluoride that we find in all of our city waters are horrid more so for potted plants than your outdoor garden. Finding this stuff in bottled water as well!! Kinda tough to buy water for your outdoor garden! My concern is drainage. Plants DO NOT NEED deep soil, drainage IS critical. Next year you'll need to watch for disease and probably you should plant another type of vegey that is not related to tomatoes!! Late blight is a huge bummer...!! Go get a soil test from your Extension Service! Cheap. Every year is always a year for experimenting and learning!! Learning the hard way is so very the making of a gardener, sigh!! But your plants are HEALTHY, a bit light in color that shows you NEED more fertilizer. DO NOT use a high nitrogen fertilizer! NPK ratio should be even numbers or the N should be less than the P and the K. Osmocote is easy and predictable. When you get more involved with plants, more testing, you can go to more complicated, organic fertilizers. Simple is always better. Osmocote has always worked for all of my clients for years...

  • I will get that fertilizer, hopefully that works for me! Thanks! Jul 13, 2015 at 20:57
  • I can guarantee it! Find some compost to put on top of your soil! I wouldn't use manure unless it was VERY decomposed. It would be too 'hot' as it is high in nitrogen. And make sure you keep the nitrogen percentage below the Phosphorus and Potassium percentages. Otherwise you'll get few tomatoes and lots of leaves! You'll have to make a few more of these raised beds so that you can rotate your crops every year but I think they look great! After your tomatoes are done for the year, pull up entire plants and discard (in case you've got disease). Plant 'green cover crops'.
    – stormy
    Jul 13, 2015 at 21:44
  • There are a number of types for these cover crops. Annual rye was my favorite. Grows dense and dark green. Gets to about 18" or more and looks great all winter! Weeds don't get a chance to take over. Turn it over early spring, let it sit a month (add some nitrogen at this point to help feed those decomposers). I'd also add a bunch more compost as I turn over the plants and chop up and mix and bury under your much improved soil! Don't plant tomatoes or peppers or potatoes in this first bed. Just to be cautious. It is no fun to lose a whole crop to 'Late Blight' for instance. Enjoy...
    – stormy
    Jul 13, 2015 at 21:55

You have a bunch of plants close together. This may impact your fruit size. If your raised bed has a bottom, that could limit the roots even further.

If you're watering every day, you may be watering too much.

In addition to that, my guess is you need more nitrogen and phosphorus. It's possible you need more potassium and magnesium, too, and a higher PH.

Roma tomatoes tend to have much broader, leafier-looking leaves than shown in your plants. The smaller leaves are possibly due to a phosphorus deficiency. I've personally seen rock phosphate make a huge difference in indoor Rocoto pepper leaves. However, this article also says that phosphorus helps with leaf size and the number of leaves. Nitrogen and magnesium should help your plants to become a darker green. Nitrogen is the most known nutrient that helps with growth. I wouldn't add more phosphorus than nitrogen unless you're particularly deficient in phosphorus, but not in nitrogen. Since you have bits of wood in your soil, you probably need nitrogen even more, because it takes nitrogen to decompose wood.

Phosphorus and potassium may help with fruit size, too. Potassium is most known for it, but I tend to think whatever you need more of is what's going to help. Get a soil test if you can. If your stems are weak (if they bend easily), you may need more potassium (potentially with calcium, too).

It's possible that you need better soil microbes. I've heard that they can affect fruit size (mycorrhizae in particular), and I know they can affect the leaf size (from experience trying to grow cucumbers/watermelon in sterilized soil, which plants had tiny leaves). Worm castings, composted horse manure (or such), rockdust and such should help you get good microbes in your soil. Rockdust doesn't contain microbes particularly, but microbes are said to like it. It's more of a long-term thing, though, I hear (rather than something to use for immediate results).

If your water is chlorinated (or such), it may be killing beneficial microbes. Watering less often would probably help, if you can't find another water source without chlorine.

  • 1
    Ok I must be watering too much then. I guess it's just hard for me to picture these plants not wanting water as much as possible. Again, I'm very novice. As for the water type, I'm actually drilling a well this week. I'll be using that water from here out. Jul 13, 2015 at 20:57
  • 1
    Allowing the soil to dry out makes deeper more vigorous root systems. So glad you are getting a well!!
    – stormy
    Jul 15, 2015 at 1:21

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