Here are some common issues that gardeners can experience with tomatoes, and what you can do should they occur in your garden.
MOST COMMON ISSUE
Do your tomatoes wilt during the summer heat? Does this wilt affect the entire plant? After a few waterings, does your plant perk up again? If this is the case, the wilting is caused by insufficient watering. Tomatoes need quite a bit of water to sustain fruits and leaves. Without sufficient water, the plant will either stop proper fruit production or let its leaves wilt.
Tomatoes, like other fruiting plants, do best with a consistent watering schedule. Too much water leads to rot, while too little leads to plant decline and wilting. As a good rule of thumb, tomatoes grown in a garden bed require 1-2″ of water a week, and it is usually sufficient to give your plants a deep watering 1-2 times a week. However, they may require more water during the intense summer heat and when they are setting fruit. If you grow your tomatoes in a planter, you will need to water every 1- 2 days. Tomatoes do best with a slow, deep watering at the base. Using a soaker hose makes this super easy. Once the cooler weather hits and fruit begins to ripen, you can cut down on watering.
You can also help your tomato by pinching off any ‘suckers’. Suckers are the leaves that appear where the stem and branch meets. These will not produce any fruit and steal energy and water from the rest of the plant. It is best to pinch these out when they start so your plant sends its energy to the branches with fruit.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot (BER) runs hand in hand with your watering schedule. If you have ever had a tomato with a black bottom, you have experienced blossom end rot. At the heart of all well-grown tomatoes is the need for water and calcium. Too little water, and the plant cannot send necessary nutrients to the fruit. Too much water and the calcium is leeched away from the roots and the plant cannot send adequate nutrients to the fruit. With consistent watering you don’t need to worry about this, but to help further prevent BER, mulch your tomatoes and use a fertilizer low in nitrogen with added calcium.
Bacterial Wilt- UNCOMMON
If deep waterings and fertilization enriched with calcium does not fix your tomato issue you may have a bacterial wilt. Bacterial infections can come from the soil or even bugs. Common symptoms of these rare bacterial infections include:
- Plants with tomatoes wilt in hot afternoon sun, but suddenly perk up at dusk once its cooler and you have not watered
- Wilt seems to only affect one side or section of the tomato. (Check that the branch has not been damaged from a heavy rain or a critter. See if it has cracked from the main branch). These wilted leaves begin to yellow
- If you cut into a wilted branch, there is brown streaking
If you have leaves that are turning yellow near the base of the plant, pick them off and water the base. Do not overhead water as this can promote fungal issues.
If you have cut into a branch and see discolored streaking you most likely have a bacterial infection. It is best to pull up and throw out this plant, so that it does not affect any other tomatoes in your garden.
Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes
- Plant in a full sun location. Tomatoes require 6-8 hours of sun in order to produce fruit properly
- Dig your planting hole twice as wide and twice as deep. Mix nutrient-rich compost in with existing soil and back-fill in. Compost provides necessary nutrients and also will help retain proper moisture around the roots
- Remove suckers. Suckers are the leaves that appear where the stem and branch meet. When your plant reaches 2-3′ in height, remove the bottom leaves, as these leaves are usually the first to develop fungus. You can remove up to 3/4 of a foot, of the bottom leaves. When water splashes from rain or manual watering, pathogens and other bacteria hit the lower leaves and cause common fungal issues. By removing these leaves early on, you can prevent fungal issues. You can also mulch to help prevent waster splash-back and also to help retain moisture
- Tomatoes can develop a deep root system, making them more resilient to bugs and heat. By watering deeply once or twice a week, usually with a soaker hose or a hose left on a trickle, you will help your plant establish deep root systems. If you are growing in a pot, you need to water much more frequently than this.
- Fertilize your tomatoes with a low nitrogen fertilizer with added calcium.