As a gardener, it’s important to recognize that you have a cooperative relationship with Nature. This ongoing connection involves learning how to effectively manage the various conditions and variables that arise in your garden.
Acceptance is a valuable aspect of my gardening journey. I’ve faced significant challenges such as disease outbreaks, infestations, and weather-related issues that have resulted in the loss of thousands of plants. However, I’ve reached a point in my gardening life where I embrace acceptance. I understand that I am just a part of the larger natural cycle, and I approach my role with responsibility and respect for all forms of life. While I’ve encountered numerous difficulties, particularly with gophers, deer, bugs, and viruses, I have personally chosen not to use harmful pesticides.
I advocate for sustainable farming practices and strive to maintain a harmonious relationship with the creatures and pests that enter my garden and my life.
In the following information, I aim to assist you in alleviating some of the frustrations that arise when identifying and addressing gardening problems. Whether it involves taking action, refraining from action, accepting what you cannot change, or preparing for successful future harvests, I hope to provide valuable insights.
Blossom End Rot:
Blossom end rot is often caused by a calcium deficiency, which can be attributed to factors such as acidic soil, irregular watering, water-logging, or high humidity combined with limited air movement.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for plants, and the presence of excessive soluble salts like ammonium, potassium, magnesium, or sodium can decrease the availability of calcium compared to other salts. Both extremely dry and overly wet weather conditions can disrupt the calcium-salt ratio.
Interestingly, heavily pruned tomato plants tend to be more susceptible to blossom end rot.
Advice: When watering your plants, avoid overwatering them, especially when they are young. Once a seedling is established, it’s beneficial to encourage the development of a deep and extensive root system by slightly stressing the plant and allowing the soil to dry out a bit before watering again. Observe your plant, and it will indicate when it needs watering. Initially, water the plants thoroughly on the day of planting to saturate the soil. In the first week, water every couple of days, gradually increasing the time between watering. In the first month, aim for a deep soaking once a week. Once 2-4 trusses of flowers have set, increase the frequency of watering. Regular and even watering, along with mulching the soil and watering during dry spells, can help prevent blossom end rot.
To prevent the development of blossom end rot, consider adding superphosphate fertilizer or calcium sulfate (gypsum) to your soil before planting. The lime application can also be beneficial as a side dressing.
Blossom-drop is a common problem primarily influenced by weather conditions. Many tomato varieties require specific night temperatures for fruit sets. Night temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit are necessary for the initial fruit set, while temperatures exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit can inhibit the fruit set and lead to blossom drop. When night temperatures drop below 55 degrees, germination becomes slow, and blossoms may drop before fertilization occurs. Different varieties have varying temperature requirements for fruit sets, and each region experiences good and bad years for tomato cultivation.
Advice: In early spring, you can attempt to increase night temperatures by covering young plants with fabric covers or tents. Providing protection against strong winds and gently vibrating flower clusters can also aid fertilization. However, the best course of action is to maintain plant health. Deep watering encourages extensive root growth, making the plant less susceptible to minor stresses. Ensure that your soil contains sufficient organic matter and apply balanced fertilizer when planting and when fruits form. Keep in mind that excessive nitrogen promotes foliage growth rather than fruit production. While nothing can guarantee fruit set, practicing patience can help until the weather conditions improve.
Septoria Leaf Spot:
Septoria leaf spot manifests as brown spots on the lower branches of tomato plants, which gradually turn yellow or brown. Wet weather conditions facilitate the disease’s progression up the plant.
Advice: Mulching can reduce soil splash onto the plant, thus lowering the likelihood of leaf diseases. Staked tomatoes benefit from improved air circulation, which discourages the spread of diseases. Promptly remove infected leaves when you notice them to minimize the disease’s spread. Additionally, it is advisable to remove infected plants at the end of the season and practice a 3-year crop rotation.
Sunscald commonly affects immature, green fruit. It appears as white or yellow patches on the side of the fruit exposed to direct sunlight. These spots can develop into blisters and eventually turn into gray-white patches with a papery surface.
Advice: Leaf cover serves as the best protection against sunscald. Ensure that your plants are adequately watered and nourished to promote the growth of a lush, protective canopy of leaves. Trellising or using cages are effective methods for shielding your tomatoes. Avoid flimsy conical cages that are quickly outgrown by the plants. Instead, consider tying up your plants using a trellis between stakes or constructing your own cages from the concrete-reinforcing wire. Creating cages with a diameter of about 30 inches and attaching them to stakes for stability can help form a dense foliage canopy when you tuck the leaf stems into the squares of the tomato cage.
Catfacing refers to the puckering and deep scarring of the blossom end of fruits, primarily affecting large-fruited varieties. This issue often arises when bloom set occurs during cooler weather. Warmer weather during bloom set usually prevents Catfacing. Unfortunately, in this case, there is little that can be done except hoping for warm weather during the bloom set period.
Fruit cracking can be classified into two types: radial and concentric. Radial cracking is the most common and occurs during rainy periods when temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, particularly after a prolonged dry spell. Such conditions promote rapid growth in ripening fruit, and tomatoes with more direct sunlight exposure are more susceptible to cracking.
Advice: Encourage even watering of your plants and ensure they have a sufficient leaf canopy for shading from the sun.
Leaf roll can be caused by prolonged rainy periods, saturated soil , or excessive pruning. Certain tomato varieties are more susceptible to leaf roll than others. The phenomenon typically starts with the lower leaves and continues upward throughout the plant.
Advice: Maintaining uniform soil moisture and following an even watering schedule can help manage leaf roll. Using mulch assists in leveling off moisture level fluctuations.
Insects themselves typically cause minimal damage compared to the diseases they can spread. Therefore, controlling insects is primarily necessary to prevent the spread of diseases. To minimize insect populations, it is recommended to remove weeds from around your tomato plants as they serve as breeding grounds for insects.
Whitefly problems are frequently reported by gardeners in the Southeast and tropical regions. This pest is highly frustrating as both the adult whiteflies and their larvae feed on tomato plants, sucking sap from leaves and excreting a sticky substance called honeydew that covers the leaves and fruits. The honeydew attracts a black sooty fungus. Infestation leads to wilting, deformed growth, and plant damage. Additionally, whiteflies can transmit plant viruses.
Advice: Regularly check the undersides of leaves for adults and nymphs. Gently knocking tomato leaves is an effective way to monitor adult whitefly activity, as they are easily disturbed and will fly away. Some garden centers sell yellow sticky cards that can be used to measure the number of flying adult whiteflies. In small gardens, these cards can also help manage whitefly populations by capturing and killing adults.
One of the best preventive measures against whiteflies is to purchase clean plants. Inspect tomato plants before purchasing them to ensure they are not already infested with whiteflies.
To reduce whitefly populations, spraying water from a garden hose underneath the leaves can be helpful in reducing the number of adults and eggs. Introducing beneficial insects can also be highly beneficial. In nature, there are predator or parasitic insects that feed on pest insects. These “beneficial” insects can help control whitefly populations. Lacewings and Encarsia Formosa are examples of beneficial insects that you can release.
Hornworms can cause significant foliage damage to tomato plants.
Advice: Hand-picking the hornworms off the plants is an effective control method. Vigilance and regular inspection of your plants will help you detect and remove these invaders promptly.
Early blight is a fungal disease that thrives in moist areas with spring and summer rains. It is typically not a problem in arid regions of the West. Early blight appears as small, irregular, brown, dead spots on older leaves, which later grow into “bullseye” patterns measuring about ½ inch. Eventually, the entire leaf may turn yellow. As the disease progresses, older fruits may exhibit dark, leathery, sunken spots.
Late blight is a fungal disease that can become severe during extended periods of muggy, damp weather with cool nights and warm days. Symptoms include greasy, black areas on the leaves and a gray mold on the leaf undersides during wet periods. Hot and dry weather conditions usually impede the progress of this fungus.
Verticillium wilt initially causes yellowing of the oldest leaves and slight wilting of the tips. As the disease progresses, these older leaves wither and drop off, resulting in the entire plant losing its leaves. Affected branches tend to appear weaker than those of healthier plants. In the late stages, only the uppermost branches remain alive, leaving the fruit susceptible to sunscald.
Fusarium wilt is one of the most destructive soil-borne diseases affecting tomatoes. The fungus responsible for this disease survives in the soil for many years. It can spread through seeds, transplants, soil on farm machinery, and even footwear. Fusarium wilt becomes a serious problem when soil and air temperatures consistently reach around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include drooping of the oldest leaves in seedlings, eventually leading to plant death. Older plants can be affected at any growth stage, but symptoms are commonly observed during fruit maturation.
The earliest sign of fusarium wilt is the yellowing of the older leaves, which gradually die off. Sometimes, only one side of the plant shows symptoms. If you cut the stem lengthwise on a wilted plant, you will observe a dark brown discoloration of the tissue next to the green outer cortex.
By implementing these strategies and being attentive to the needs of your tomato plants, you can improve your gardening outcomes and minimize the impact of common challenges. Remember, gardening is a continuous learning process, and your feedback is always welcome.