Gardening Vegetables

What Causes Bland-Tasting Tomatoes

Tomato cut in slices

By Larry Hodgson

Question: My homegrown tomatoes are bland tasting. What can I do?

Vivian

Answer: This is actually quite a frequent problem … and a most disappointing one. After all those weeks of care, you finally harvest your first tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and discover they are soft, watery and flavorless! What went wrong?

Well, the problem could be a poor choice of varieties: some tomatoes are just naturally not as flavorful as others, although that can be a question of opinion.

Notably, store-bought tomatoes tend to not have much flavor: they were designed to produce massive amounts of easily shipped fruits with a long shelf life, not for taste. Plants grown from seed from those tomatoes tend to be just as insipid. 

Heirloom tomatoes are often said to be particularly tasty, but so are many modern hybrids … those developed specifically for home gardens, that is. Just not those bred for commercial tomato production. 

However, most home gardeners are not growing “supermarket tomatoes”, but garden varieties. If they’re not offering the taste they should, the main cause is likely too much water

Water Well, But Not Excessively

Watering can in front of tomato plants.
Careful but thorough watering may be the solution. Photo: Zdeněk Chalupský, Pixabay

As the fruit reaches maturity, extra watering can cause it to expand in size, giving you a bigger tomato, but with a diluted flavor. As a result, tomatoes watered twice a week or more tend to be less tasty. You’ll have better success with a deep, thorough watering about once a week (and only if there is not enough rain), especially as the fruits approach their final size. When possible, always let the soil in which your tomatoes grow approach dryness before you water again.

Other Factors

Lack of light can also be a factor. Make sure you grow your tomatoes in full sun if you want the best flavor.

Careful fertilizing is also important. Many gardeners find they get good results when they apply compost and an organic slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season, but then complete with occasional treatments, about every two weeks, with a soluble complete fertilizer (one with a full range of major and minor elements) like ones derived from algae or fish. 

Which fertilizer should you apply? The actual NPK numbers have little importance and “tomato fertilizers” will give no better results than all-purpose fertilizers. For ecological reasons, avoid fertilizers with NPK numbers greater than 10 (15-15-30, for example), as the unused minerals will likely do more harm by polluting water sources with excess minerals than helping the plant. 

Finally, you might need to consider improving the quality of the soil in your garden. Very heavy soils and very sandy ones are not good choices for growing tomatoes.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “What Causes Bland-Tasting Tomatoes

  1. I find that warmth is a limiting factor. The varieties that perform well in the warm (but not hot) Santa Clara Valley may not get enough prolonged warmth on the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains to develop comparable flavor. However, as you say, I suppose that would be an issue of variety, since there are varieties that perform very well with less warmth. I just want to grow the same familiar types.

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