Typical Tomato Problems & Solutions
Are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of fresh, juicy tomatoes in your vegetable garden? While tomato plants are fairly easy to grow, they are susceptible to a host of diseases, pests and environmental stresses that may require some extra attention. Here are some common tomato problems and solutions that will help you produce a plentiful harvest.
Black and brown spots on your tomato plant? Get a soaker hose and some eggshells!
Why are there black & brown spots on the leaves, stems and fruit of my tomato plant?
Early Blight
• Fungal disease that survives in warm soil
• Spreads through the wind
• Stains stems and rots fruit
• Get a soaker hose or drip irrigation system
• Mix dried, crushed eggshells into the soil
Discolored foliage and sunken-in fruit are symptoms of early blight. This particular fungal disease survives in warm soil, and is spread through the wind. Then, as the spores settle on nearby plants, they'll begin to germinate, causing stems to stain and fruit to rot. If your tomato plant is showing signs of early blight, you should replace your regular garden hose with a soaker hose. Since fungal spores are easily water-splashed from one leaf to another, a drip irrigation system will supply the plant with water where it needs it without encouraging spore growth on the stems and leaves. You can also prevent future blight breakouts by mixing in a dozen dried and crushed eggshells to the surface soil of your tomato plant; this will enrich the soil and provide your plant with enough calcium to produce blight-fighting oils.
Missing leaves from your tomato plant? Protect from hornworms!
Why is my tomato plant missing lots of leaves?
Tomato Hornworms
• Consume leaves, stems and fruit
• Pick them off by hand
• Interplant chives and marigolds
If entire portions of your plant are missing, you probably have an insect infestation. The only garden pests that can do that much damage are tomato hornworms. These large caterpillar-like pests consume entire leaves, stems and even fruiting vegetables in record time. You can easily remove hornworms from your plant by handpicking them. Since these insects are not hazardous to humans, you can easily pluck them off your plant and drop them in a basin of soapy water. And, if you're looking for a long-term solution, you should interplant chives and marigold around your tomato plant. These companion plants will protect your tomatoes by repelling unwanted pests and attracting beneficial insects.
Cracked or splitting tomatoes? Add some mulch!
Why are my tomatoes cracking and splitting open?
High Temperatures
• Warm weather causes moisture loss
• Pack 3–4 inches of organic mulch at the base of the tomato to retain moisture
Circular cracks along the tomato stems and blossom ends are caused by high temperatures and high soil moisture levels. When the weather is excessively warm, tomato plants can lose a majority of their moisture, which is often revealed through wilted leaves and ruptured tomatoes. You can help your tomato plant retain its moisture by packing 3–4 inches of organic mulch at the base of the plant. The thick layer of mulch will reduce the rate of evaporation while it redirects the moisture to the roots of your plant.
Yellowing and curling tomato leaves? Protect from aphids!
Why are the leaves of my plant yellowing and curling?
Aphid Infestation
• Often invisible to the naked eye
• Leaves behind a sticky, sugary liquid
• Results in moldy fungus
• Spray your plant with water
• Apply neem oil or insecticidal soap
Curled leaves are usually a tell-tale sign of aphid infestation. These small insects attack every part of a tomato plant as they search for sustenance. While they are often invisible to the naked eye, their presence can be detected by what they leave behind. As aphids feast on a plant, they excrete a sticky substance known as honeydew. This sugary liquid will not only attract other pests to the plant, but it will also infect it with a moldy fungus. If your plant is plagued with aphids, you can remove some of them by spraying your plant with a strong blast of water every couple of days. However, if the aphid infestation is quite large, you should apply neem oil or insecticidal soap to the undersides of your plant's leaves. Since aphids are soft-bodied arthropods, they are susceptible to soap-based solutions that erode their exoskeleton.
Sunken or rotting tomatoes? Balance your soil!
Why are some of my tomatoes sunken in, leathery and rotting at the bottom?
Blossom end-rot
• Calcium deficiency in the soil
• Too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer
• Mix in organic mulch and gypsum at the base of the plant
The symptoms described are often signs of blossom-end rot. Surprisingly, blossom-end rot is not a result of a parasitic organism; it is actually caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil. Blossom-end rot occurs when plants are given too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer or when they are grown in soil with an imbalanced pH level. Although most vegetables do well with a soil pH of 6.2 to 6.8, plants affected by blossom-end rot need to reside in soil with a higher pH of 6.5 to 6.8. You can raise your garden soil's calcium levels by mixing in organic mulch and gypsum at the base of your infected tomato plant. These amendments will help your plant retain moisture as well as keep the nitrogen levels at bay.
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