Common Tomato Plant ProblemsGrowing Vegetables Last Updated On 12/19/2022
Nothing feels better than picking a juicy, fresh tomato straight from your garden. It shows your dedication and all the energy you've put into your tomato garden is finally paying off! This is why vegetable gardening is so rewarding: you get to enjoy the product of your work for a long time.
One of the main appeals of tomatoes is that they are very versatile and can be used in many different ways in the kitchen. They are great in salads, and you may use them raw in many ways. When cooked, they are great in various meals. You may try many different recipes for your tasty homegrown tomatoes.
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetables to grow. They are also not difficult to grow so many beginner gardeners decide to have them in their garden. Tomatoes are great for newbies and they prove to be very rewarding. They are highly recommended for those who wish to try vegetable gardening for the first time. Tomatoes like warm, sunny garden plots, but you may even grow them in pots on patios. There are no complicated care instructions you have to follow.
However, beginner gardeners need to understand that there are some common problems they may encounter with tomato gardening. Being aware of these issues will help you a lot when it comes to growing your first tomatoes. These problems occur frequently and you need to be prepared for them and know how to deal with them to produce healthy, strong tomatoes in your garden.
Knowing about these problems and knowing how to deal with them will make your tomato planting so much rewarding. You need to be aware of these problems and solutions so can grow strong, healthy tomatoes and become a successful tomato grower.
Here are the most common problems tomato gardeners face:
End Rot (Blossom-End Rot)
Also known as Tomato End Rot or BER (Blossom-End Rot), this is the most common tomato problem you may encounter. You will recognize it as a leathery, brownish area on the blossom end of a tomato. The size varies: it can be like a dime or the size of a half a dollar.
This problem is typically caused by fluctuations in moisture levels and calcium deficiency. To prevent and cure this problem, it's important to provide consistent moisture to your tomatoes. Mulching will help tomatoes keep the optimal moisture levels. You should also make sure that you offer the proper amount of calcium to your garden plants.
Yellowing of the leaves is another common problem you will likely encounter when growing tomatoes. The leaves might uncurl and become yellow at the bottom of the plant. This may be a sign that the plant is starting to die off at the end of the season. If this is the case, you should not worry because it's normal occurrence.
However, if leaf yellowing occur earlier in the season and while your tomato plants are blooming, it may be a sign of a nitrogen deficiency. Another common reason for yellowing of the leaves may be pests or bacteria.
The first thing you need to do when you observe yellowing of the leaves is to apply a soil test to see if a nitrogen deficiency is indeed the problem you are facing. If this is the case, you should apply a nitrogen-rich supplement to increase the nitrogen amount in the soil. Next time, make sure to do proper soil preparation before you plant tomatoes in your garden. Use some rich organic material and compost to help your plants. Using these materials will most likely prevent yellowing of the leaves.
Tomato skin cracking and splitting is another common problem. However, you need to keep in mind that although it doesn't look pretty it won't harm your plants much and it won't prevent your enjoyment of the tomatoes.
Cracking and splitting typically happens as a result of sudden, accelerated growth that may happen as a sudden increase in moisture levels after a very dry period. It may also occur when the fruit is overripe.
To prevent this problem, make sure to always provide consistent moisture to your tomatoes. It's also useful to plant hybrid varieties of tomatoes. These are less prone to cracking.
Cherry tomatoes are the most common types of tomatoes to crack. If you wish to grow cherry tomatoes, make sure to pick them when they are ripe or almost ripe. Also, always pick them before a predicted rain storm. These measures will usually prevent skin cracking and splitting in cherry tomatoes.
Flowers Drop before Fruiting
From time to time, you may observe the flowers forming but they drop off before they manage to give fruit. If this happens it's an unfortunate situation because you grow tomatoes for its fruit.
This problem typically occurs when the weather is changing in a way that is not common for your area. For example, if the night temperatures drop below 55 degrees F or if day temperatures rise above 95 degrees F, with the night temperatures not going below 75 F, the chances of blossom drop increase. However, if the plant is not blooming when these weather changes occur, you have nothing to worry about.
To prevent this problem, try mulching your plants. Mulch will help your plant retain moisture levels ideal for the plants. In case the hot temperatures occur at the same time as the hot winds, mulching can be vital in saving your plants.
Some tomato problems are caused by pests and diseases rather than weather or soil conditions. In order to grow tomatoes successfully, it's important to know what the common pests and diseases are and how to successfully prevent them in your tomato garden.
The most common pests and diseases you will likely face as a tomato grower:
Tomato hornworms are common pests attacking garden tomatoes. You will know the worms are there if you notice chewed up leaves and fruits that are unripe but damaged. If you observe these problems, scour your tomatoes to locate the hornworms.
Keep in mind that the worms are very capable of blending into tomato plants. Don't worry if you don't notice them straight away and don't be surprised if you miss them. The worms are big and gray-green in color.
To discourage hornworms, it's wise to plant some companion plants that are known to deter these pests. Marigolds, opal basil and dill are good companion plants you might wish to try.
Another way to prevent hornworms and to control them is to invite birds to your garden. Put some bird feeders and baths in the garden, as well as some bird houses. However, if you choose this you need to be careful because birds love to eat tomatoes (usually because they are thirsty), so make sure to provide plenty of water for birds. Other animals known to control hornworms are those that eat hornworm eggs: ladybugs, wasps and lacewings. Some people also report that using a hot pepper spray can be effective against hornworms appearing. However, once you spot them you usually need to hand-pick them and remove them from your tomato plants.
Early blight is a fungus that can survive the winter. It can be found on old vines and after the winter is gone it infects the new plants in your garden. Early blight can be recognized as blackish and brownish spots on the leaves or the leaves will start to drop off because you have "sunburned" the fruit.
To prevent this problem, make sure to always clean up old vines at the end of the season. Also, you should rotate your planting areas and space the plants in order to maintain good air circulation to prevent fungi from growing.
Late blight is a problem that manifests as water-soaked patches that will turn brown. They will usually make the surface of the plant look papery and dry. It develops as a result of a fungal activity. This fungus is normally present during the wet weather so the spores can travel long distances and affect a very large area.
To prevent late blight, make sure to rotate crops regularly (each year). Another way to go is to maintain good air circulation around your tomato plants. If you suspect your tomatoes have late blight, remove all the diseased stems, leaves and fruit. Throw them away (not in the garden!) Never put the diseased parts of the plant in your compost pile. In case your tomato plants are severely infected, you might be forced to discard them completely. If this is a prevailing problem in your tomato garden, you may even be forced to discard all of your tomato plants.
Sticky and Deformed Leaves
In case your tomato leaves become shiny, sticky and deformed, it may be a sign of aphids, whiteflies, spired mites or some other pests. Aphids are the most common culprits. They will such the plant sap and excrete a sticky substance right on the leaves and fruit. Aphids congregate on the top growth or undersides of the leaves, but they may be found on other parts of the plant. They are dark, small, pear-shaped insects. Spider mites will produce a number of small yellow specks on the leaves and they will also spin a fine web you will notice on the leaves. The web will also make the leaves feel sticky. Whiteflies will fly when you brush the plant so this is how you can recognize them. If you shake the plant, they will look like dust.
To prevent all these problems, make sure to keep your tomatoes well-weeded. If you notice any of these pests on your plants, make sure to use some effective insecticidal soap to get rid of them.
Nematodes are tiny, microscopic pests that are virtually invisible. They live under the soil and they will cause the root of your plants to swell. The only sign you will be able to observe are discolored leaves.
Nematodes are soil-born and there is no effective cure for them. The good news is that a tomato plant attacked by nematodes will still be able to produce edible fruit. However, once you discover these pests, the only thing you can do is to wait until next year to solve this problem.
The best way to get rid of nematodes is to plant companion plants with your tomatoes. Marigolds are the best companion plants for this situation. They are beautiful and they can kill nematodes effectively. There are also some other companion plants you may try to get rid of nematodes.
Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt
These common problems are caused by an incurable fungal infection. Once your tomato plants develop one of these problems, there is nothing you can do to save them. If these problems occur, you should dispose the effected plants immediately. Make sure to dispose them far away from the garden. Never add the diseased plants to your compost pile!
Fusarium wilt manifests itself on the branches of the infected plants. The fungi will make the branch wilt and become yellow. Verticillium wilt can be recognized by noticeable yellowing between the major veins on the already mature leaves.
The only way to avoid these problems is to choose a hybrid tomato variety known for its resistance against these fungi. Another way to go is to buy your tomato plants from a reliable grower. Usually, these problems appear on plants bought at a large retailer store that's not specialized in gardening.
Photo credit: Scot Nelson