The 10 Most Common Tomato Plant Problems
There is nothing quite like a fresh, juicy tomato right out of your own garden. Tomatoes are the most widely grown among the home-gardener. In fact, when gardeners don’t grow any other kind of vegetable, they will grow tomatoes in garden plots and in pots on patios. This is also usually the first vegetable plant that a novice will grow. It will help to know what the most common problems are and what the solutions will be, in advance, so that you can be properly prepared.
- Blossom-End Rot—Often called End Rot, Tomato End Rot or BER is probably the most common tomato problem for home gardeners. It appears as a leathery, brownish area that is indented on the blossom end of the tomato. It can be anywhere from the size of a dime to about the size of a half dollar. Fluctuations in moisture levels combined with a calcium deficiency will usually result in BER. Providing consistent moisture to your tomato plants and mulching to maintain moisture levels will help, as will insuring that you have the proper amount of calcium for all of your garden plants. Nutri-Cal® is our supplement of choice.
- Tomato Skins Splitting or Cracking—This, though an unsightly problem, is not a problem that will prevent the fruit from being eaten. Cracking or splitting usually occurs because of sudden accelerated growth that can come about due to a sudden increase in moisture after a dry period. It can also occur when the fruit is overripe. Providing consistent moisture and planting hybrid varieties that are less prone to cracking may solve the problem. Cherry tomatoes are the most prolific sufferers of cracking. Picking them when they are ripe or almost ripe, just before a predicted rain storm, will often prevent these from cracking.
- Tomato Hornworm—If you start to see chewed up leaves and fruits that are still unripe but damaged, start scouring your plants for tomato hornworms. Amazingly able to blend in to your tomato plants, once you see one you will wonder how in the world you ever missed seeing it to begin with. They are HUGE and one of the ugliest, grayish-greenish wormy looking things you’ll ever see. There are a few companion plants you can plant to discourage hornworms. You can plant marigolds, dill, or opal basil. You can also do things that will invite birds to your garden, such as putting out bird feeders and bird baths or providing bird houses. Ladybugs, wasps and lacewings will eat the hornworm eggs and some people have found that using a hot pepper spray is really effective. But, to begin with, you’ll have to pick those darn things off your tomato plants.
- Yellow Leaves—If the leaves are uncurled and yellowing at the bottom of the plant, this may actually just be a sign of the plant starting to die off at the end of the season; but if this occurs while your plant is still actively blooming or early in the season, you most likely have a nitrogen deficiency. This can also be an early sign of other problems like a pest, a fungus or a bacterium, but your first step should be to use a soil tester to determine if it is a nitrogen deficiency and then use a nitrogen-rich supplement in order to increase the amount of nitrogen. Proper soil preparation prior to planting, with good organic material or compost, would also have prevented this condition.
- Late Blight—This blight develops as water-soaked patches that turn brown and appear dry and papery. The fungus is normally present when the weather is very wet and the spores can travel long distances, infecting very large areas. Preventing Late Blight is possible by rotating your crops annually and by maintaining good air circulation around your plants. If you think that you have Late Blight, remove all the diseased stems, leaves and fruit and throw them away. You shouldn’t put them in the compost pile. In fact, if your plants are severely infected, you may have to dispose of all of your plants. If you think your plants are salvageable, you might try Bonide Copper Dust.
- Early Blight—This is a fungus that survives the winter on old vines and then rears its ugly head on your new plants. The best solution is to clean up old vines when the season ends, rotate your planting areas and space the plants according to recommendations in order to allow for good air circulation. You will know its Early Blight when you see blackish-brownish spots on tomato leaves, the leaves start to drop off or you have “sunburned” fruit. If caught early, you can use Bonide Copper Dust, which can be used as either a dust or a spray and is an organic solution to Early Blight and many other diseases that has been used for more than 150 years.
- Flowers Form But Drop Before Fruiting—This normally happens when the weather is going through changes that are not common for your area. If nighttime temperatures drop below 55°F or if daytime temps are higher than 95°F with nighttime temperatures that don’t drop below 75°F, you may have a much larger occurrence of blossom drop. If the plant is not blooming during these periods, you have nothing to worry about. Mulch can help to keep the moisture level in your garden adequate for the plants. If the hot temps are occurring at the same time as hot, drying winds, mulching can be really important. Garden Harvest Supply staffers use Bonide Tomato Blossom Set on their own tomato plants. This organic growth hormone not only allows the blossoms to withstand these weather extremes but will increase the yield and quality of your tomato plants.
- Shiny, Sticky & Deformed Leaves—This condition can be the result of aphids, whiteflies or spider mites. Aphids are the most common. They suck the plant sap and excrete a sticky substance on the leaves and fruit. They tend to congregate either on the top growth or the undersides of the leaves and are small, dark, pear-shaped insects. Spider mites will cause bunches of small yellow specks and spin fine webs on the leaves, making them feel sticky. Whiteflies, on the other hand, will actually fly when you brush the plant. If you shake the plant, they may look like dust. So, how do you deal with them? Keeping your tomato plants well-weeded will help, to some degree. But to obliterate them and keep them totally under control, use Safer® Insecticidal Soap.
- Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt—Both of these are caused by an incurable fungal infection. Once a plant has either one, you should dispose of the plant immediately, in the garbage; do not add to the compost pile. You will recognize Fusarium Wilt when the leaves on one branch of the infected plant start wilting and then turning yellow. Verticillium Wilt is noticeable as yellowing starts appearing between the major veins on already mature leaves. The only way to avoid either of these is to select a hybrid variety that is resistant to wilt or to buy your plants from a very reputable grower like Garden Harvest Supply. Almost without fail, these two types of wilt will occur in plants from a large retailer that doesn’t specialize in gardening. Garden Harvest Supply grows all of their own plants and adheres to strict organic guidelines. All of our seeds are “certified organic”, which means they are grown by “certified” growers all over the nation—the best of the best. If you experience either of these problems, we want to know.
- Nematodes—This insect is virtually invisible. They live under the soil and cause the root of the plant to swell. The only sign will be stunted plants and discolored leaves. These microscopic eelworms are soil-born, so there is no “cure” for them. Fortunately, your tomato plants will still bear edible fruit, but once you;ve discovered the culprit, you will have to wait until next year to address the problem. One of the most common fixes is to simply plant marigolds with your tomatoes. They look pretty and killing Nematodes is not the only beneficial reason to plant marigolds. You might try “Nema-gone”, “Golden Guardian” or “Tangerine”. These varieties, among others, release a chemical into the soil that kills Nematodes. There are also many plants that you can “companion” plant that will “help” the tomato plant. Check out this fantastic book from our library.
I’ve grown tomatoes and had none of these problems on a good year and multiple problems on a bad year. I’ve learned that soil quality and paying a bit of daily attention to my tomato plants will yield the best crop. Here’s wishing you many beautiful and yummy tomatoes!