What does a healthy tomato plant look like

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Water often and deeply, soaking the soil six to eight inches deep at least twice a week. Tomatoes do not respond well to letting the soil dry out between waterings. Keeping moisture levels in the soil even will help prevent the dreaded blossom-end rot, that small black spot on the bottom of the tomato which eventually can spread throughout the fruit.


A layer of mulch (straw, plastic, grass) will help conserve soil moisture during the hot, dry days of July and August. In addition to moisture, tomatoes need warm soil. Black or red plastic mulch will work wonders if you live in a land of cool summers. For people in warmer climes, straw or another organic will be your mulch of choice.

Using the right gardening ​products makes growing easier and more successful! ​At Planet Natural we stock everything you need; plant ties for securing ​stems and ​vines, ​frost protection to extend the season​ and ​hand tools for making short work of those big jobs.

Note: There has been quite a buzz lately over using red plastic mulch to improve tomato yields and reduce the number of days to harvest. Early research, conducted by the USDA and Clemson University, found that tomato plants grown over red mulch produced about 20% more fruit than those grown over black plastic. Another study conducted by Montana State University found no difference in the color of mulch used and total yield, but did show that red mulch hastened ripening. Many other studies have been performed to determine the benefits of red mulch … all with varying results. It’s our opinion, that if you’re out to grow the best tomatoes in the neighborhood, then it’s probably worth a try!


The numerical formula that appears on just about any fertilizer refers to the percentage of the three macro-nutrients in that product. A box that reads 5-3-4, for instance, contains 5% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 4% potassium. Nitrogen is most important in nourishing foliage, phosphorus in promoting the growth of flowers and fruits, and potassium in building strong stem and root systems.

Tomatoes are wild about fertilizer. In gardening parlance, they are “heavy feeders,” meaning that they require a lot of nutrients. Fertilize one week before as well as on the day of planting. They especially love phosphorous, which promotes the formation of blossoms and the fruits or vegetables that grow from them. Avoid high nitrogen when your tomato plants have blossoms as it promotes vine growth rather than fruit growth.

Neptune’s Harvest is a top-selling Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer that uses North Atlantic ocean harvests and gets great results from gardeners. They’re reporting bigger crops, increased sugars and better blooms.

A note also about what it means for a fertilizer or soil amendment to be “organic”: strictly speaking, a number of soil additives frequently referred to as “organic” are actually inorganic. Gypsum, lime, and greensand, or for that matter sand itself are all rock products and not, chemically speaking, organic, since carbon is not their primary component. However, the term “organic,” in casual gardening parlance, doesn’t refer to the chemical composition of a material, but to how much processing it has undergone, how toxic it is to the earth, its animals, and to humans, and most specifically, whether it is derived from petrochemicals such as oil. All of the additives recommended here have undergone minimal processing, are non-toxic to the earth and its inhabitants, and are not derived from petrochemicals.

Liquid Fertilizer: Organic liquid fertilizer, whether applied to foliage or to soil, has the advantage of being available immediately for plant use. If your plants are in dire straits, reach for the liquid. However, soil applications tend to leach quickly, so applications must be repeated fairly often, every one to three weeks.

The idea of applying fertilizer to foliage may seem odd, but it is gaining increasing acceptance as botanists and horticulturists become aware of the central role foliage uptake plays in plant nutrition. Most organic gardening stores can supply spray fertilizers which are usually a form of fish emulsion. They may not smell great that first hour after spraying, but they surely do work. One warning: they need to be applied in morning or evening, when plant pores are open and receptive. If you spray at noon, you are wasting your time and your money, not to mention your fish emulsion, because foliage pores close to protect the plant from drying out during mid-day heat.

If you have poor soil, plan on giving your plants one cup of fish emulsion mixture weekly until their first blossoms appear. Once blossoms appear, water your plants with compost tea or watered down fish emulsion every two to three weeks.


Ideal for ALL flowering plants! Dr. Earth® Bud & Bloom Booster is a handcrafted organic fertilizer used to promote MAXIMUM blooms and strong root development. Each 4 lb bag feeds 80 one-gallon plants or 16 five-gallon plants.

Slow-release granules: Organic dry fertilizers composed of natural and organic materials can be used as part of soil preparation or scattered on the surface under and beside already-established plants. Use these several weeks after planting for a slow, steady supply of nutrients. For young plants, use a balanced ratio (3-3-3 for instance) of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or even a compound that’s heavier on the nitrogen, as lush foliage will support the development of fruit. Once blossoms start appearing, the plants should receive less nitrogen and more phosphorus, which aids in the formation of blossoms and fruits.

A granule (or other fertilizer) marked 3-3-3 contains only about 10% in key, major nutrients, but you are not being cheated. Most organic compounds contain numerous other trace minerals besides the three major ones. Furthermore, the inert components in the granules aid in creating good soil texture and ensure that nutrients are released at an appropriately slow rate, to avoid “burning” or other plant damage.

Top & Side-dressing: Side-dressing means digging material into the soil around the plant. To avoid disturbing roots, be careful not to dig too deeply! During the blossom stage, side dress with a calcium source such as agricultural gypsum to prevent blossom-end rot. Crushed eggshells would seem to be an obvious and excellent source of calcium, but alas, they need to decay for several years before that calcium becomes available to plant roots.

Top-dressing is even simpler; this involves just putting the fertilizer on the surface of the soil. Compost is the easiest soil amendment to use this way; watering will carry nutrients down into the soil, as will earthworms, which concentrate and enrich it. Compost can also act as the medium for other fertilizers. Rather than spread bone or blood meal on the surface of the soil, mix them with compost; they will then be moved into the soil with the compost. It is a good idea to top or side-dress with two inches of compost or drench your plants with fish emulsion or compost tea in late summer.

Consider a Cover Crop: The United States Department of Agriculture says it knows the secret of “power” tomatoes, those large, juicy specimens which are the envy of all tomato growers. The government agency has published a 24-page paper — available for download at its Web site — entitled “Sustainable Production of Fresh-Market tomatoes and Other Summer Vegetables with Organic Mulches.” As its title implies, it advocates using a cover crop to protect and nurture your tomatoes.

Most of us associate cover crops with full-scale farms, not with back (or front) yard tomato gardening. But don’t let that term “crop” fool you; cover crops work as well on a four-by-four plot as they do in a field of several acres. They just require less seed at planting time, and perhaps a machete rather than a machine for mowing. All that’s involved is growing something valuable for what it does to or on the soil, rather than for what it produces.

Cover crops are used to prevent several problems: soil erosion during the off-season, weeds during the growing season, and soil depletion any time. Dense root growth holds earth in place, thus preventing erosion, while dense foliage above ground crowds out weeds, acting as a mulch even after it is cut. Good cover crops add nutrients in two ways: first, that cut vegetation, left in place, will decay and compost, adding biomass to the soil. The second process, known as “fixing nitrogen,” involves capturing nitrogen from the air and storing it in root nodules, thus making it available to other crops after the cover crop is cut or mowed. This process is performed by members of the legume family (consisting of peas and beans), so most cover crops are members of this family. Read more about the benefits of cover crops here.


Need a tiny growing area? Earthbox® Organic Ready-To-Grow Garden Kit has the solution. This grow-anywhere tomato planter, complete with fertilizer and dialed-in watering system will have you growing veggies, herbs, flowers and fruits quickly and easily.

Cover crops are often grown on a field that lies fallow for a year, and are plowed under when mature to speed the composting process. They can also be grown after the main crop is harvested in the fall, and cut the following spring just before the field (or garden) is replanted with a main crop. This is the use that might be helpful to the back-yard tomato grower. The idea, then, is to plant a fast-growing nitrogen-fixing crop that sprouts in the fall, dies back during the winter, and resprouts in the spring.

The USDA recommends taking four criteria into consideration: winter-hardiness, efficiency in fixing nitrogen, efficiency in creating bio-mass (in other words, the ability to grow big, fast), and suitability for your climate. Some possibilities include big flower vetch or crimson clover followed by common vetch, subterranean clover, arrowleaf clover, and Austrian winter pea. But there was a hands-down winner in the government’s tests in Maryland: hairy vetch.

Hairy vetch was found to be the “most adaptable” and to yield “consistently high amounts of nitrogen and biomass.” Not only did it fix enough nitrogen to sustain tomatoes without other additions, it also provided the other two main plant chemicals, phosphate and potassium, in significant quantities, as well as a number of micronutrients.

To establish a cover crop, prepare your seedbeds in late summer. You want to get your cover crop established about two months before winter sets in. The USDA says to form permanent beds that can be used for more than one production season. Seed each bed with the winter annual crop.

Hairy vetch will start emerging about a week after you plant it. The seedlings will grow to five to six inches high and will form a ground-covering mat before the first snow hits. When subfreezing temperatures become the norm, the plants will turn purple and die back, but as soon as spring comes, they will resume growth. By the time it’s warm enough to transplant your tomatoes into the ground, the vetch plants will be about four to five feet in length.

Allow the cover crop to grow until right before you begin planting tomatoes. Before you put your tomato plants into the ground, you’ll need to convert the cover crop into mulch by mowing or rowing. For mowing, you’ll need to cut the plants two to three inches above the bed surface.

If you live in a warm area, once your vetch is mown, plant your tomatoes right through it, leaving the cut foliage in place. If you’re in a cooler area, remove and compost the cut stalks, as they will insulate the soil if left lying, preventing it from warming. Alternatively, leave them in place and cover everything (except the tomato seedlings) with clear, red or black plastic, which will speed both the warming of the soil and the decay of the cuttings.


Pruning involves removing suckers, the volunteer sprouts that develop right where a leaf stem meets the main plant stem, at what’s known as the axial. Left to themselves, suckers will produce leaves, blossoms, fruit — and more suckers. A popular but somewhat old-fashioned school of thought holds that these secondary (and tertiary) sprouts “suck” the life from the plant, and that all should be removed. Actually, allowing some suckers to remain will increase your overall yield. If, however, you’re going for sheer size of individual fruit, then removing all suckers will help.


Super sharp blades give you the control you’re looking for! Fiskars® Pruning Snips with easy-open spring action reduce hand stress while trimming. Perfect for deadheading or shaping plants.

Whether and how much to prune depends on how you plan to support your tomatoes. Trellised tomatoes require the most radical treatment, with staked tomatoes next. In both cases, the support system can’t handle more than a couple of stems laden with heavy fruit. Caged tomatoes are generally pruned down to four or five producing stems, though Charles H. Wilbur, he of the 25 foot-tall tomato plants, goes for 18, one tied to each vertical wire of his homemade tomato cages.

Advice on pruning tomatoes abounds. Missouri State University recommends keeping the sucker that develops immediately below the first bloom cluster, and one sucker below that. Remove all the other suckers as you tie the plants and then remove additional suckers as they develop.

Training and Supporting Tomatoes

No, we’re not talking obedience training or getting tomatoes to jump through hoops. Nor do we recommend talk therapy for tomatoes. Training or supporting tomato plants means using stakes, cages, trellises or other support devices to keep their fruit off the ground and reduce rotting.

Why can’t tomatoes hold up their end of the stake? It would appear that tomatoes have a serious identity problem: they’re the vegetable that is actually a fruit, and the bush that is really a vine. Most of us don’t think of tomatoes as vines, but technically they are, even if they don’t twine winsomely round the nearest vertical support. Like most vines, they don’t put a lot of energy into developing sturdy stalks, so if you don’t want your tomatoes to sprawl, you’ll probably have to support them with wooden stakes or metal cages (see My Name is Tom and I’m Indeterminate).

Unsupported tomato plants can be healthy and can produce prolifically, but they are vulnerable to several drawbacks. They take up far more space than their supported cousins, and the fruit that lies on the ground is an easy target for slugs, fruit rot, sunscald, and other problems.

Finally, there is the aesthetic consideration: Like urban sprawl, tomato sprawl can be considered unsightly, and may invite objections (even petitions) from your neighbors. Moral: Support Your Tomatoes Today!

Hydroponically grown tomatoes supported by a trellis system.

Stakes: Requires wooden, bamboo, or metal stakes. The stakes are normally five to six feet long for indeterminates and shorter (three to four feet long) for determinates. The stakes should be at least one-inch square if wooden, slightly smaller if made of metal. Do not use chemically treated wood for stakes (or for raised beds, cold frames, etc.; the chemicals can leach into the soil, be taken up by the tomatoes, and passed on to the consumer, i.e. you.) Concrete reinforcement rods, known as re-bar, are great for staking tomato plants. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows. Drive a stake next to each plant or every other plant. The stake should be placed three to four inches from the base of the plant on the side away from the first bloom cluster.

Staked tomatoes are usually pruned, since a single stake can’t support the many stalks an unpruned tomato will develop. There are different methods of tying tomato plants. Anything strong and soft will work — strips of old sheets or T-shirts, bits cut from row covers, even old panty hose cut into strips. Any of these will help support the plant without bruising the stalks. You can also buy commercial plant ties if you’re not on a budget. If you use something thin like twine or twist-ties, you need to check occasionally that it isn’t cutting into the stalk, or that the stalk, especially as it grows longer, doesn’t just keel over and hang from the highest tie. You can avoid such problems by adding ties as the plant grows, being sure that there is always a tie above the most recent fruit cluster.


Reusable Tomato Vine Clips make it easy to tie plants to stakes, trellises or support wire. Works with stems up to 3/4″ in diameter and features open sides to improve air circulation and reduce disease problems.

Whatever method you use, don’t depend on a single tie for an adult plant. Ties can slip, letting the weight of the plant bow the stalk away from the support, leading to a damaged or even snapped stem. Never tie a plant immediately below a fruit cluster because the weight of the fruit may cause the plant to sag and strip the cluster from the plant. Prune and tie the plant as it grows.

Cages: Concrete reinforcing wire makes great cages. Caging is also less work than staking tomatoes or training them to a trellis. There’s no tying and less pruning. According to Montana State University (MSU), a five-foot length of 10-guage reinforcing wire with six-inch openings will make a cage about 18-inches in diameter. Make cages at least five feet high for indeterminates. Set your tomato plants three feet apart in a row and place a cage over each plant. Anchor the cage by pushing its bottom into the ground. If you need to protect young plants from cold and wind, wrap the bottom 18 inches of each cage with clear plastic. As plants grow, turn the ends of the branches back into the cages.

If your tomato outgrows its cage and decides to start growing down instead of up, don’t instantly reach for the pruning shears or a longer support pole. Many tomato plants grow to the top of their cages and then droop down over them and continue to produce. Remember that these are vines. If a major stem develops a kink that looks like trouble and you’re trying to keep your plant on a vertical track, try splinting it with a stick and several twist ties, and stake the stem securely along its whole length. You can extend cages either by adding wire on top or by setting long stakes inside them.

Trellises: Only use with indeterminates. Trellised plants are always pruned back to only one or at most two main stems, so this method isn’t appropriate for determinates, which need their full complement of stems. Plants should be about one foot apart. Prune just to the main stem and remove all suckers as they develop. Build a simple garden trellis by setting at least four vertical support posts in the ground at the length and width you want. The top of the posts should be about six feet above the soil surface. With strong twine, tie the vertical posts directly across from each together to form a teepee shape. Use more twine to attach horizontal rails to each side of the vertical posts. Add another horizontal rail into the crossed pieces at the top of the trellis, and secure. As the plants grow, wrap them around the rails for support or carefully tie them to the trellis.

Extending the Growing Season

You can’t change what weather Mother Nature throws at you, but there are ways and ways to handle it.

Spring — Starting early (seedlings, protection)

Getting an early start is one of the key ways to make the most out of warm weather when it does come. If you’re starting from seeds, and you wait till it’s actually growing season to plant them, you’ve lost close to two months. If you’re using seedlings, buy them early enough to have a good selection, and then care for them well.

You can transplant outside early if you protect the young plants from cool weather. Greenhouse kits will of course give the most protection, but there are several options short of those. The simplest, and one of the best tools for extending the growing season, is to use floating row covers. These come in several different weights, and they work whether you’ve got twenty-foot rows, a few plants in a single plot, or individual plants in barrels or other containers. These thin sheets of cotton or polyester can protect frost-sensitive plants down to 28˚F.


N-Sulate® is a premium-grade frost fabric that can be draped directly over the plants or over hoops above them. Then, they can be tucked into the earth, or anchored using staples (or a rock or old brick or two.) The big advantage of hoops is that they keep the cloth from touching the leaves. In very cold weather, leaves in contact with the fabric can be damaged before others. Another tactic is to use two layers of fabric. This creates an insulated layer of air between the two layers.

Be aware that tomatoes grown in containers are especially vulnerable to cold, because air, which cools faster than the ground, surrounds them. If you suspect a real cold snap, it’s best to surround pots and planters with some sort of insulation — straw, leaves, old blankets, anything that will block the easy flow of cold air. Even setting them under a hedge will provide some protection.

Fall — Ending late

When the days get shorter and colder, prune leaves from your tomato plants to help warm sunshine reach the ripening fruit. Sun light doesn’t help tomatoes ripen, but its warmth does.

Everything about row covers and protecting plants from frost applies to extending the season into the fall, except that you are now dealing with large, mature plants, rather than young seedlings.

When, despite your best efforts, the end of the season is in sight, prune off all flowers that have not set fruit, and water with dissolved epsom salts to encourage the remaining fruit to ripen. Another way to signal “it’s autumn” to your tomato plants is as follows: Set a shovel about one foot from the stem of the plant, and stamp it straight down into the earth, severing the outer roots. Do this in about three places around each plant or, in urgent cases, all the way around. This deprives the plant of some water, and will further shock it into making suitable preparations for winter– ie, ripening its fruit.

Why is my whole plant wilting, curling, with tips turning black and leaves turning yellow?

Question: Why is my whole plant wilting, curling, with tips turning black and leaves turning yellow? Just flipped to flowering stage. Plant is drinking less than normal.

Additional info: Grown in coco coir with Fox Farms nutrients. Have been growing this plant from a seed and was in veg state growing very well with CFL lights (6500k) 24/7. Very full and bushy plant with many leaves and smelled nicely.

Switched to flowering stage by changing the lights to 12/12 (2700k). Two day later, the plant leaves were drooping, curling inwards, drying out and tips were turning black. Other leaves were a bright green and now almost yellow.

During veg stage plant was getting PH’d water and mixture of Grow Big and Big Bloom. On 5/9 plant got mixture of Tiger Bloom and Big Bloom. Plants have always been watered with PH’d water but noticed as of recently it wasn’t drinking as much. As of 5/11 I have flushed the plant with PH’d water 3 times in case there was salt buildup. I have also hand sprayed the plant hoping it would help the very dry leaves that were close to dying. After all this the plant looks worse today and hoping I can still save. Not sure what has caused it to start dying but please help.

Answer: This plant is showing classic signs of root problems like root rot. The fact that your plant is drinking less than normal also seems to indicate that there’s a problem at the roots. When the whole plant seems to just “deflate” overnight, it’s often caused by root problems. Heat can be a trigger (root bacteria love warm temps) and will also make this problem worse.

Root problems often hit growers in soil or coco coir soon after the flip to the flowering stage, especially with less powerful lights like CFLs. This is because plants use a lot more water when they’re receiving 24 hours of light a day. When you flip to 12/12 light for the flowering stage, it’s easy to overwater plants if you continue watering them on the same schedule.

It’s important to user proper watering practices throughout your grow.

What to do:

If you think you may have root problems, there are two easy ways to deal with this.

1.) You can purchase Hydrogen Peroxide in 3% – 35% strength.

Mix 1 cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide with a gallon of water. For 35% strength Hydrogen Peroxide, mix one tablespoon to a gallon of water.

Water your plants with the mixture to kill any bacteria living in your root area. Unfortunately, hydrogen peroxide also kills good bacteria, which can protect your plant from future infections.

2.) (My prefered method) Conversely, you can start adding Aquashield to your nutrient-water when you feed.

This will build up colonies of good bacteria that out-compete the bad bacteria and actually promote plant growth.

In addition, the beneficial bacteria will offer protection for those times when the temperature of the grow area rises at a time when you can’t control it. When I first got started with bubbleponics, I had a few tough bouts with root rot.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried many “good bacteria” products including the ($$$) Great White and Subculture B additives, but no product has ever worked 1/4 as good at maintaining healthy roots as super cheap, readily available Aquashield.

My soil / coco coir / growing medium seems to stay wet no matter what

If plant medium seems to stay wet no matter what you do, you may need better drainage. It may also help to move plants to a smaller pot until they get bigger and start drinking more.

Make sure that water drains freely from the bottom of your container (it’s recommended that you provide enough water to get at least 20% extra runoff every time you water your plants). You should see water coming out the bottom within a minute or two after watering. Then don’t water your plants again until the soil is dry up to your first knuckle.

For soil / coco coir grows, you generally only want to water the plant when the soil feels dry if you press a finger in it. You can also use the “lift the pot” method to decide when to water your plants (basically wait until your pot feels “light” since the plants have used up all the water). For other growing mediums besides soil, your watering method will vary, but if your plants are drooping and you’ve been feeding them a lot of water, it’s a good idea to cut back and see if that helps.

If your plants are already overwatered, you can try to increase airflow to help the water evaporate more quickly. You can also use a pencil to gently poke some air holes into the growing medium to provide extra aeration and oxygen to the roots. Some growers will even replant a heavily overwatered plant, to get some oxygen immediately to the roots.

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pink elf hydrangea is wilting and leaves curling up – Knowledgebase Question

I apologize if this is the second answer your recieve, there was a computer problem earlier today. Hydrangeas can show this type of symptom if over or under watered, or due to a disease problem such as botrytis or bacterial wilt.
They need soil that is evenly moist yet well drained meaning damp like a wrung out sponge and not saturated/sopping wet or dried out. It is better to water deeply but less often than lightly every day. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger. If it is still damp, don’t water yet. When you do water, apply it slowly and thoroughly so it soaks down to the deepest roots. Apply the water to the soil and avoid wetting the foliage. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far it went, it can be surprising.
Using a two to three inch layer of organic mulch over the root area can help keep the soil more evenly moist. This also helps feed the soil as it breaks down slowly over time.
Hydrangeas are potentially subject to a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases, these can indeed spread. In case it is a disease, clean up any fallen leaves, remove affected flowers and leaves, and avoid handling the plant when wet. This fall, do a thorough cleanup off all fallen leaves and old blooms as well.
Since I am not able to diagnose the problem long distance, I would suggest you consult with your local county extension to obtain a specific diagnosis. If it is a disease that requires chemical control, they will have the most up to date information on what to use and how/when to apply it for best results. Since it is a new plant, you might also check with your retailer. I’m sorry you are having trouble with your hydrangea.

Possible Causes of Sudden Wilt and Death in Tomatoes
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator

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Many gardeners have been puzzled by the sudden wilting and death of tomato plants. Possible causes of wilting include lack of water, vascular wilts, tomato spotted wilt virus, walnut toxicity, or stalk borers.

–Lack of Water

Tomato plants require approximately 1 inch of water per week. Plants may wilt badly when soils are dry, but will revive rapidly when they are watered. A thorough watering once a week during hot, dry weather should be sufficient. Apply water directly to the soil around the base of the plants with a garden or soaker hose. If an overhead sprinkler is used to water the tomatoes, water the plants in the morning to reduce foliar disease problems.

–Vascular Wilts

The initial symptoms of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts are wilting of the plant leaves during the heat of the day. Affected plants often recover in the evening or overnight. Gradually, however, the wilting becomes progressively worse and many plants eventually die. Verticillium and Fusarium wilts are caused by soil-borne fungi that invade tomato plants through injured roots. The fungi spread into the water-conducting tissue (xylem) in the stem and block the flow of water to the foliage. Foliage of affected plants turns yellow, then wilts and dies. A cut through the lower stem of a dead plant often reveals a brownish discoloration of the vascular tissue.

There is nothing that can be done for plants that have Verticillium or Fusarium wilts. Plants that die should be removed and destroyed. Crop rotation is of limited value as the vascular wilt fungi may survive in the soil for several years. The use of resistant varieties is the most practical way for home gardeners to prevent losses due to wilts. Resistant varieties may become infected but many plants survive and produce an acceptable crop. Resistant varieties are available in seed catalogs and at garden centers. The letters V and F following the variety name in seed catalogs or on seed packets denote varieties that are resistant to Verticillium and Fusarium wilts. Wilt resistant tomato varieties that perform well include Jetstar, Better Boy, Burpee VF, and Celebrity.

–Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) can cause stunting, wilting, bronzing of foliage, and brown or green rings on fruit. A virus disease, TSWV can infect plants in the greenhouse or in the field. Infected plants cannot be cured and should be removed from the garden. No tomato varieties are resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus.

–Walnut Toxicity

Black walnut trees produce a toxic material (juglone) that can injure and kill solanaceous crops (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant) and other juglone-sensitive vegetables in the garden. Symptoms of walnut toxicity include stunted growth, yellowing and wilting of foliage, and death of susceptible plants. Juglone is present in all parts of the black walnut tree (fruits, leaves, branches and roots).

The sources of juglone in the soil include both living and decaying plant material. Rain droplets leach juglone from the buds, leaves, and twigs. The decomposition of leaves and other plant debris by soil microorganisms also releases juglone. Living roots exude juglone into the surrounding soil. Generally, the greatest concentration of juglone in the soil exists within the dripline of walnut trees.

Nothing can be done to save juglone-damaged tomato plants. Simply remove and destroy dead plants. Gardeners who have large walnut trees near their gardens should consider alternate sites. If alternate sites are unavailable, plant tomatoes and other susceptible plants 20 to 25 feet beyond the dripline of walnut trees to minimize walnut toxicity problems.

Corn, beans, onions, beets, and carrots are tolerant of juglone and can be planted closer to walnut trees provided the area receives sufficient sunlight. Walnut trees that are 75 to 100 feet from the garden shouldn’t be a big threat to tomatoes and other juglone-sensitive vegetables.

–Stalk Borer

The stalk borer is an insect pest that attacks a wide variety of plants including tomatoes. The larva (caterpillar) bores into the stem and tunnels inside the stalk. (The entrance hole is small and often difficult to locate). Affected plants wilt and often die. However, stalk borer damaged plants that are given good care may survive.

The stalk borer is a purple and cream striped caterpillar with a solid purple band around its body 1/3 of the way back from its head. It is an early season pest that moves from tall grassy weeds and occasionally attacks tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers in the vegetable garden. An individual stalk borer may damage more than 1 tomato plant. The adult is an inconspicuous grayish brown moth.

Tomato plants that die should be pulled and destroyed. The destruction of the plants may also kill the stalk borer. Cutting or mowing tall weedy areas around vegetable gardens may also help control the pest. Stalk borers cannot be effectively controlled with insecticides.

(This resource was added July 2002 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

Return for more resources – http://lancaster.unl.edu

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


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You don’t have to be an expert gardener to recognize that it’s a bad sign to find your tomato plant wilting. The downward drooping leaves are certainly an indication that something is wrong.

When you see a tomato plant wilting, you’re left wondering:

Is it just thirsty or does it have a disease?

In some cases, you just need to adjust your watering schedule and your plant will be fine. But sometimes, wilting is a symptom of infectious disease that can ruin your entire crop.

There are some clues that can help you distinguish between them, and in this post, I’m going to go over the causes of tomato wilt and what you need to do to help your plant recover.

What causes tomato plant wilting?

Tomato wilt is a symptom of dis-ease that makes the tomato plant leaves droop and lose their shape. Wilting is most commonly a sign that your plants need water, and all plants will respond this way to dehydration.

If the soil is dry and your plant is droopy with flat, thin leaves, you probably just need to water it. It should recover, but if it got too dry or this happens very often, don’t expect a good crop off of that plant.

On the flip side, too much water can cause wilting of plants. In this case, the soil around the plant will be wet and the leaves will droop but stay hydrated.

Let the plant dry out and watch it for the next couple of days to see how it does. Don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry. Container plants will also need some fertilizer as nutrients were likely washed out with the overwatering.

Pro Tip:

Watering tomato plants is a balancing act. Tomatoes need even moisture, and they don’t respond well to periods of dry or soggy soil. Water stress can lead to problems like tasteless fruit, blossom end rot, and cracking and even facilitate the spread of disease.

Other environmental causes of wilt in tomato plants

Tomatoes that experience a frost will wilt and not recover. The freezing of the water in their cells causes them to burst thus killing the plant.

Also, certain trees like the black walnut, will stunt the growth and cause wilting of many plants including tomatoes. It is recommended not to plant under or near a walnut tree.

If you’re looking at your wilted plant and there’s not an environmental issue causing wilt, then you might be dealing with one of the infectious causes of wilt.

Infectious causes of tomato wilt

When experienced gardeners and farmers talk about wilt, they are often talking about an infectious disease. Tomato wilt can be caused by many types of viral, bacterial, and fungal infections that can infect and destroy your entire crop.

That’s why it’s very important to determine whether your plant is having a physiological response to stress or it’s come down with a sickness and you need to get it out of your garden asap.

There are several common causes of infectious wilt:

Tomato spotted wilt virus

Tomato spotted wilt virus is an infection that is can be seen worldwide. This viral infection is transmitted by several species of thrips which are tiny biting insects that find hosts on tomatoes and many other plants.

TSWV is not a disease of just tomatoes, but can also be found on peppers, potatoes, and several other flower and weed species. Symptoms vary by strain of virus, species of plant infected, and age of plant infected.

On tomatoes, symptoms usually appear on the youngest/growing portions of the plant. While signs of infection vary on a case by case basis, plants usually exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Leaves turn a brown/bronze color and may curl upward
  • Leaves can get clusters of small black spots
  • Wilting and death of the growing portions of the plant.
  • Both green and ripe fruit are lumpy with ring-shaped marks

Unfortunately, there is no way to treat infection with TSWV and infected plants should be culled and burned or tossed into the trash. You can send your plant for testing at your local university extension service if you want a firm diagnosis.

To prevent spread, you really need to focus on getting rid of the thrips. If I knew they were spreading TSWV, I would skip all the horticultural oils and treat instead with either PyGanic or Naturalyte. Both of which are organic approved pesticides.

My preference is for Naturalyte because the active ingredient, spinosad, has no residual effect on pollinators, but PyGanic is a sure bet to get rid of your pest problem. In either case, avoid spraying when bees and other pollinators are active.

Fusarium wilt

Image of tomato plant infected with Fusarium wilt: Edward Sikora, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

Fusarium wilt is a fungal infection common in areas with warm, moist weather. The fungus lives in the soil and enters the plants via their root system.

As it spreads, it grows up the inside of the tomato plant to the stem and branches via the vascular system. This clogging of its vascular system is what causes the symptoms of wilting and stunted growth.

You’ll first notice the lower leaves turn yellow and start to die. Sometimes only one side or branch is affected at first, but eventually infected plants die.

This fungal disease is persistent in the soil indefinitely so the only recourse is planting resistant plants (indicated by the letter F after the name) or growing in new/sterilized containers and potting soil. Do not compost – destroy infected plants.

verticillium wilt

Image of tomatoes with verticillium wilt via Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org

Verticillium wilt is very similar to fusarium wilt, but is more common in the north and favors cool moist soils. Verticillium wilt does not kill tomato plants but rather causes a drastic decrease in vigor and production.

Symptoms appear later in the season and include yellow discoloration of the older (lower) leaves of the plant. On the leaf, yellowing often begins in a v-shape and eventually extends to the whole leaf.

The plant will wilt during the day but recover at night. Fruit may set but are smaller and fewer in numbers.

Both Fusarium and Verticillium will be evident if you cut open the stem of affected plants. You’ll see a brown to black discoloration of the vascular system whereas a healthy stem is only shades of green.

While there are ways to tell the difference, it can be very difficult to distinguish between verticillium and fusarium wilt in the field. So if you want to know which your property is affected with, you’ll need to send your plants to your local university extension office.

Like Fusarium, once verticillium is established in the soil, it will remain indefinitely. There is no way to treat or prevent infection so the only course of action is to plant resistant varieties (look for resistance label V) or plant in new containers and soil. Don’t compost – destroy infected plants

Bacterial Wilt

Caused by the bacterium Ralstonia (Pseudomonas) solanacearum, bacterial wilt works in the same way as the fungal wilts. The bacteria grow in and lead to the death of tomato plants. This bacteria thrives in hot and wet soils and once established remains infective for many years.

Bacterial wilt can be distinguished from other forms of wilt at home. Compared to the fungal wilts, bacterial wilt causes wilting of the youngest (uppermost) leaves.

Leaves do not turn yellow but rather stay green. When you cut the stem of tomato plants infected with bacterial wilt, you’ll see a white milky substance instead of the brown growth of the fungi.

When freshly cut stems are placed in a glass of water, you can see the white substance draining from inside. If you notice these symptoms and suspect your plant is infected with bacterial wilt, pull it out of the garden right away and dispose of it. Don’t compost – destroy infected plants.

The only method of control for bacterial wilt is planting resistant varieties or grafted plants on resistant rootstock. There is no treatment for infected plants or soil.

If you confirm the presence of bacterial wilt in your garden, you’ll do better to plant tomatoes in containers from now on.

Root knot Nematodes

Root-knot nematode damage. Infected roots on the left, normal roots on the right. source:Jonathan D. Eisenback, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

Nematodes are tiny wormlike creatures that infest and feed on tomato roots. Their presence causes knots or galls of the roots and damages their ability to take up food and water.

Symptoms of root knot nematodes include wilting, stunted growth, and pale color. You’ll also see the knots or galls on the roots of the plants.

You can find tomato varieties that are resistant to nematodes as indicated by the letter ‘N’ after the variety name. Nematode numbers can be decreased by growing resistant varieties for several seasons. However, when susceptible varieties are then planted, numbers of nematodes will rise again.

Also affects pepper, cucumber, squash, eggplant, and okra.

Southern Blight

image left: Rebecca A. Melanson, Mississippi State University Extension, Bugwood.org image right: Edward Sikora, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

Another fungal disease, southern blight causes sudden wilting and death of the entire plant. Also known as Southern Wilt and Southern Stem Rot, the fungus enters the stem at the soil line causing the plant to suddenly wilt and die.

Infection leaves a telltale dry brown rotten spot around the base of the stem which may develop a white moldy growth in high moisture situations.

The fungus lives in the top 2-3 inches of soil and high temps and wet, acidic soils encourage growth. Once the fungus is established in the soil, it can be hard to get rid of it.

Grow tomatoes in raised beds or containers or grow nonsusceptible crops (corn and cover crops) for a minimum of 2 years before planting tomatoes in that area again.

Dealing with tomato wilt

Beyond optimizing your watering schedule, the best recourse for dealing with tomato wilt is to plant resistant varieties.

Look for resistance label VFN, and keep in mind that many resistant tomatoes are hybrids…and it’s okay to grow hybrids even in an organic garden.

Some of my favorite wilt resistant tomatoes are:

  • Sungold
  • Big Beef
  • Polbig

But there are several options for you to look through at Johnny’s seed supply.

Have you lost tomato plants to tomato wilt disease?

Tell us about your experience in the comments below.


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Top of tomato plants wilting — quick onset!

A couple of days ago, my tomato plants starting wilting from the top. They are seemingly healthy one day, then severely wilted the next — with the top being impacted first. There is no indication that the plants are sick before they wilt — no spotting or color change. They are nice and dark and green, and drooping. (Photos attached)
I removed the first two affected plants, hoping that whatever blight or bug was causing the problem would be removed as well. No luck, through. Two more plants started wilting today — since morning watering.
When I removed the dying plants, their roots still seemed firmly in the ground. The garden is surrounded by lawn – not high weeds. There is a walnut tree in the area, but the garden is well beyond the drip line. A few leaves might have gotten tilled in last fall, but very few. I’ve been watering them every day — it’s been fairly warm and dry. The soil had pretty good drainage.
Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. I’ve lost four plants in two days and at this rate, I’ll lose them all.
The attached photos show 1) one entire plant, showing that the top is wilted and the bottom leaves look much better. Also, there is no discoloration or spotting, and 2) a close up of lower leaves shows that some leaves look OK, while leaves from the branch above are severely wilted.

Fusarium Wilt of Tomato – Vegetables

Back to Vegetable Crops

Tomato Plants Wilting

There can be numerous causes of tomato plant wilting, including lack of water, very hot weather, nearby walnut trees, and root-knot nematodes. Gardeners must be careful to distinguish between actual wilting of green leaves and stems and the appearance of dead leaves and stems caused by other diseases and conditions. The major diseases that produce wilting in tomatoes are fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, and bacterial wilt. Fusarium is, by far, the most common wilt disease in Maryland. Symptoms include yellowing and browning of foliage stunting and wilting with some recovery at night.

The first symptoms appear when fruit begins to mature. Lower leaves turn yellow, sometimes on one side of the plant or one side of a branch. This is followed by leaf and stem wilting. When an infected stem is scraped or split lengthwise you will see browning of the vascular tissue (the tissue closest to the “skin”). The pith (tissue in the middle of the stem) remains healthy. It is the clogging of the vascular tubes (that carry food and water in the plant) that produces the wilting and yellowing. Verticillium proceeds more slowly and the symptoms are more uniform through the plant. Bacterial wilt of tomato is a top-down wilt as opposed to fusarium and verticillium where symptoms begin at the bottom of the plant.

These wilt diseases are all soil borne and can persist for many years in the soil even if no host plants are grown. They can also be brought into a garden on infected transplants or soil. Fusarium wilt does not spread above the ground from plant to plant. Each plant is individually infected when the organism enters the root system.

When an infected stem is scraped or split lengthwise you will see browning of the vascular tissue.


The best defense is to grow or purchase resistant varieties. If you suspect a fusarium problem, only select varieties resistant to race 1 and race 2 of this disease. However, under severe disease pressure, even plants with resistance to both strains may exhibit symptoms. Rotate tomato plants to another part of the garden or grow plants in containers (keeping infected soil out). Pull up and discard infected plants immediately. If you grow your own plants be sure to sterilize all plant growing equipment and supplies with a 10% chlorine bleach solution and use sterile soil-less growing media.

There is no cure for this disease. Plants must be removed and destroyed. When planting, avoid all wet spots and build raised beds if drainage is less than ideal.

Tomato Plants – tops drooping

Your problem could be “water wilt”. Tomatoes are highly susceptible to “water wilt,” and especially so when grown in poorly drained soils.
The question is frequently asked, “Why are my tomato plants wilting? I thought they loved water.” In most cases this is true, but too much of a good thing leads to problems when gardens with poorly drained soil receive rainfall almost every day.

The first signs of “water wilt” is a slight wilting of foliage in the top of plants. Wilted plants cannot survive when exposed to waterlogged soil conditions even for a few days and quickly decline. Three or four days of wilt as a result of soggy soils often leads to plant death.

Under soggy soil conditions, tomato roots use up available supplies of gaseous soil oxygen and carbon dioxide levels rapidly build up. Roots of tomato plants can’t survive without oxygen, and root death leads to plant wilting. Peppers and other vegetable crops are also susceptible to “water wilt.”

If saturated soils dry quickly enough, tomato plants suffering the effects of “water wilt” may survive. However, gardeners shouldn’t count on plant survival, since in most cases root systems have been damaged beyond recovery and replacement with a new tomato trans- plant will probably be necessary.

Replanting of damaged plants in a new garden location is rarely successful, since damaged roots are frequently attacked by Pythium or Phytophthora root rot and other soil diseases.

Water wilt is a good reason to think about making raised-row gardening part of your vegetable production program.

Wilting Tomato Plants – What Causes Tomato Plants To Wilt And Die

When a tomato plant wilts, it can leave gardeners scratching their heads, particularly if the tomato plant leaves wilting happened quickly, seemingly overnight. This happening leaves many wondering, “My tomato plants are wilting, why?” Let’s take a look at the possible reasons for wilting tomato plants.

Causes of Tomato Plant Leaves Wilting

Tomato Plants Wilt Due to Under Watering

The most common and easily fixed reason for wilting tomato plants is simply a lack of water. Make sure that you are properly watering your tomato plants. Tomatoes need at least 2 inches of water a week, provided either through rainfall or manual watering.

Wilted Tomato Plants Due to Fungal Diseases

If your tomatoes are well watered and seem to wilt more after being watered, then chances are your tomatoes are being affected by a fungal wilt. Fungal wilt in tomatoes is caused by either Verticillium wilt fungus or Fusarium wilt fungus. The effects of both are very similar, in that tomato plants wilt and die rapidly as the fungus clogs the vascular system of the tomato plant. It can be difficult to determine which fungus is causing the wilted tomato plants.

Another fungal wilt of tomatoes is Southern Blight. This fungus can be identified by the appearance of white mold on the soil around the base of the plant, in addition to the rapid wilting of the plant.

Unfortunately, all of these fungi are untreatable and any tomato plants wilting due to these fungi should be immediately discarded and you will not be able to plant any nightshade vegetables (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) in that area for at least a year, possibly two years.

You can, however, purchase tomato plants that are resistant to both Verticillium wilt fungus and Fusarium wilt fungus if you find that you have a continued problem with these fungi despite rotating tomatoes to new areas in your garden.

Wilting Tomato Plants Due to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

If your tomatoes are wilting and the leaves also have purple or brown spots, the tomato plants may have a virus called spotted wilt. As with the fungi listed above, there is no treatment and the wilting tomato plants should be removed from the garden as soon as possible. And, again, you will not be able to plant tomatoes there for at least a year.

Tomatoes Wilting Due to Tomato Bacterial Wilt

Though less common than the other reasons listed above for wilted tomatoes, Tomato Bacterial Wilt can also cause a tomato plant to wilt. Often, this disease cannot be positively identified until after the tomato plants have died. The tomatoes will wilt and die quickly and when the stem is inspected, the inside will be dark, watery and even hollow.

As above, there is no fix for this and affected tomato plants should be removed. If you suspect that your tomatoes have died of Tomato Bacterial Wilt, you may want to solarize the affected bed, as this disease can survive in many weeds and is difficult to remove from beds, even if they are left unused.

Other Less Common Reasons for Tomatoes Wilting

Some uncommon tomato pests, such as stalk borers, root knot nematodes and aphids, can also cause wilting.

Also, planting tomato plants near allelopathic plants such as black walnut trees, butternut trees, sunflowers and tree of heaven, can cause wilting in tomato plants.

So, Your Tomato Plant Has Wilted Leaves? Here’s What To Do.

Image source: ucanr.edu

The leaves on a tomato plant are good indicators of the plant’s health. Tomato leaves can display all kinds of distress signals: yellowing, brown spots, purple edges and curling are all signs that the plant needs a little extra TLC. Wilted leaves mean the same.

Don’t be too concerned, though, if you spot wilted leaves during the hottest part of the day. The leaves just may be hot and languid (like all of us!). However, if the leaves remain wilted during the cooler evening or morning hours, your tomato plant is likely sending an SOS signal. Check for these issues:

Under Watering

A general rule is that mature, producing tomato plants need two inches of water per week. If you’re a stickler for following exact rules, set up a rain gauge and supplement any weekly rainfall with manual watering, as required. That said, the two-inch guideline may be insufficient at times. Extremely hot, dry and windy weather, or watering during the hottest part of the day, can increase evaporation and decrease moisture absorption by the soil. Sandy soils drain quickly and may not hold moisture long enough for your plants’ needs. Also, two inches per week is not sufficient for most container tomatoes.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

It’s easy to check and see if there’s enough moisture in the soil. While the surface will usually be dry, soil 1-2 inches beneath the surface should feel damp. Stick your finger into the soil up to your knuckle; if the soil at the tip of your finger feels dry, your tomatoes need more water.

Fungal Diseases

If your soil seems adequately moist, and your plants seem to wilt more after being watered, they probably have a fungal disease such as verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or southern blight. Unfortunately, tomato plants infected with any of these need to be destroyed, to stop the fungi from spreading.

Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium Wilt

Image source: .com

Verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt are quite similar, and it can be difficult to tell which is infecting a plant. In both cases, the fungus lives in the soil, and the plant’s roots absorb it. As it infects the plant, it clogs the plant’s vascular system so that moisture can’t travel to the branches and leaves.

Both verticillium wilt and fusarium cause leaves to develop yellow spots, brown veins and wilt. Lower leaves show symptoms first. As the disease progresses, browned leaves dry up and fall off. The main difference between the two diseases is that fusarium wilt generally shows up on one side of a plant, while verticillium wilt moves more slowly, is less dramatic (noticeable), and isn’t restricted to one side.

Again, there is no cure for either of these diseases. It’s best to practice preventative measures including rotating crops, amending soil (when needed) so that it has adequate drainage, and choosing disease-resistant tomato varieties. Also, make sure to clean and sanitize all your garden tools (including tomato stakes and cages) if you suspect your plants have either of these diseases so that you don’t inadvertently transfer the fungi to a new bed. If you still end up with an infected plant, destroy it promptly and remove the surrounding soil.

Southern Blight

The initial symptoms of southern blight are quite similar to those of verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt: discolored leaves and wilt, starting at the base of the plant. However, once it progresses far enough, the plant collapses. You can determine whether it’s southern blight before your plant gets to that point; check for white hyphae or mycelia (soft, stringy, mold-type substances) around the plant’s lower stem, roots, and in the surrounding soil.

As with the other two fungal diseases, plants infected with southern blight cannot be treated.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Wilting is actually the last stage of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV); long before the plant starts to wilt, the rest of the plant will be sending out serious distress signals. Typically, plants infected with TSWV are stunted and pale, and often turn a bronze color. Leaves on these plants often have distinctive markings of circular or swirling patterns. Unlike other tomato diseases, TSWV first shows up in a plant’s top leaves.

TSWV is spread by small insects called thrips, which pierce plants in order to feed off them. As with fungal diseases, there is no way to stop TSWV from progressing once it sets in. Plants (and the thrips on them) should be destroyed. The best preventative measure is weed control, because thrips will feed on weeds until tastier plants are available to them.

The good news about TSWV is that it’s not transmitted through soil, and therefore there’s no need to remove soil when destroying plants.

Bacterial Wilt and Canker

Bacterial wilt is the one tomato disease where wilt is the predominant symptom. There is generally no discoloration of the leaves. The entire plant stays green, wilts and dies shortly afterward.

Bacterial wilt is most common in hot, humid regions, and particularly in soils that have a high pH. As with the other tomato diseases discussed here, there is no treatment for bacterial wilt. Diseased plants should be destroyed and preventative measures should be taken. Rotate crops, choose modern disease-resistant varieties, monitor soil pH (and adjust as necessary), and ensure generous air circulation by spacing plants widely and pruning indeterminate varieties.

Other Possibilities

Pests such as stalk borers, root knot nematodes, and aphids also can cause wilting, but they aren’t commonly attracted to tomato plants. However, if your plant displays symptoms that don’t seem to match any of the diseases listed above, it’s worth taking a close look for pests.

Also, the allelopathic properties of some plants can adversely affect tomatoes and cause wilting. Through allelopathy, plants leach their own natural chemicals into the soil, and those chemicals can affect nearby plants in both good and bad ways. Tomatoes are negatively impacted by black walnut and butternut trees and by sunflowers. If you have wilted tomato plants, in addition to checking for diseases and pests, take a look at what’s planted nearby.

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