Ask The Readers {What Happened To My Tomatoes?}

I am really hoping that some of you gardeners can help me with this week’s Ask The Readers.

You see I am having problems with my tomatoes. We love tomatoes and grow them almost every year, but I am seriously considering giving up on them.

Every year we seem get a few good weeks of really good tomatoes and then our plants do this.

The lower leaves start turning yellow and then brown. And then the whole plant starts to do this and eventually by the end of July over half the plant is dead. It seems like the problem is getting worse every year. And this year they are dying off much earlier than normal.

My husband and in-laws tell me this is the way tomato plants are supposed to look. They think it is just the Oklahoma weather. They say that any tomatoes that they have grown do this. I am not sure I agree with them. I think something might be wrong.

I have seen many gardens and tomato plants in Oklahoma and not all tomatoes look like this. Many people have beautiful plants and tomatoes until October. My tomatoes on the other hand have done this the last few years and are half dead by the end of July.

From the research I have done I am thinking they may be diseased or it might be our soil, but besides that I have no clue. And if it is one of those things I have no clue how to keep it from happening.

I am hoping that you all might have some advice. Is this what tomato plants are supposed to do? Or am I doing something wrong? And how can I prevent it from happening?

Lynn's Kitchen Adventures

Comments

  1. I have a couple of ideas which may not be what’s going on with your tomatoes. I live in metro-Detroit, so we have very different weather than you have in Oklahoma. The first thing that comes to mind is over-watering. Overwatering can make any plant do what your tomatoes are doing. It could also be underwatering causing this. It’s funny that both over- and under-watering a plant yields the same results.

    My next thought is your soil. From the photos it looks very dry and clay-ish, but it’s hard to tell from a picture. Something you could do now to see if the soil is a factor is top-dress those plants with compost or composted cow manure and then water it in. You could also try watering them with compost tea and see if that helps (steep a bag of compost or composted cow manure in a gallon of water & then water with that).

    • @Dorothy, Also from Metro Detroit, here:) Do you have experience with tomatoes? My soil is very hard and clay-like as well, and I haven’t even bothered to plant them, but have been itching to do so because I am exploring canning (Was even chosen for the Ball Canning House party!), and LOVE salsa! I’m new to gardening, so any advice with our type of weather conditions/soil would be so welcome and appreciated!

      • Sarah, you need to add to your soil. Till it up and add topsoil, compost, s. peat moss, (I also add sand). Add all of the above and mix it into the existing soil.

        If you are able, the best is to remove the top foot or more of existing material and replace it with the above mentioned mixture. Also add a fertilizer.

        • @Jenni,

          excellent advice. Yes, the soil cannot hold any moisture and your roots are not getting any breathing room. All the compost and peat moss allow the roots to freely move, get oxygen, and absorb water. Mulching will also help to retain moisture during these 100 degree days. I now use raised beds so that my plants can survive the monsoon type weather we get in the Spring with the diluge of water we seem to receive in the Tulsa area . It also helps during the drought season when I get busy (out of sight; out of mind) and forget to turn off the water (I use soaker hoses).

  2. Mine are doing this also, and have for the last few years . Ever since the blight a couple of years ago.What i have done that has helped is to ,with scissors, I cut the dead off and remove it totally from the garden . They are the suckers anyway and will not produce a tomato so if you cut it off the rest of the tomato plat will put forth all of it’s effort into producing fruit. Next year i am moving my tomato plants and treat the soil to get rid of the blight. There is something you can mix up to put with your plants when you plant them that is to help with blight (powered milk,epsoms salt ) but I don’t know how much to use . I am going google it for next year.

  3. Planting tomatoes have been a trial for me too here in GA, but I am a very determined organic gardener who loves homegrown tomatoes (can’t beat the taste!). I have been doing some research myself. Some of the things I have tried this year is; making sure not to plant tomatoes in the same place year to year (rotate), placing plenty of leaves in the fall in the garden spot to compost over winter, placing fish emulsion & crunched -up farm fresh egg shells in the hole before placing plant into the ground, watering w/ a soaker hose in the a.m. for 2 hrs.
    Of course, most of these ideas are not going to help you with your present plants, but try some for a fall garden maybe?
    Feeling your frustrations – Darleen

    • @Darleen, My soil definitely needs some help and I am hoping to add some things to the soil for next year. We do rotate where we plant everything in the garden and our garden is quite large so it has been a few years since the tomatoes were planted in the same spot as they are now. I am thinking it might be blight from what some of my other readers said. Hopefully I will figure it out.

  4. I did hear a garden show on the radio that said if your leaves that are closer to the ground turn yellow and die it is because the leaves on the top are shading them and it is okay. They are not diseased. But if your leaves on the top do that then there is something else going on. Underwatering could also be the problem. Fertilize with an Epsom salt/water mixture once a month. Check out any of Jerry Baker’s books from the library too! He has a Terrific Tomatoes book that would help you. I also agree with a previous commentor. You should move them around every year because some things do live in the soil and will attack your plant year after year. Just my two cents . . .

  5. I had plants do that in years past it can be from wet conditions or a type of blight – early or late types. You need to remove the affected stems as soon as possible don’t use them in compsting though becuase of it is blight it can survive the composting process so either bag and tie or burn in an area well away from the other plants. Blight will overwinter in the soil.
    Check at this page http://gardening.about.com/od/vegetablepatch/a/TomatoProblems.htm There are other sites as well with ideas how to get rid of it.

  6. I’m in ok and mine look like this too. It’s to hot for tomatoes this year so don’t expect much.

  7. I’m in Phoenix and my tomatoes start to look like this once the heat gets over 90 degrees, which for us can be as early as April. This year it was late May. I heard a tv gardener here say that the flowers will not set fruit once the heat is over 95, so it’s pointless to waste water on them after May. Does it get that hot in Oklahoma? The solution for us is to start them earlier and cover them during the colder months, and then I’ll start another set in late August. I also use self-watering containers that I buy at gardeners.com… I’m not affiliated with them, but that’s really the only place I’ve been able to find self-watering containers. They suggested changing out the soil mix in the tomatoes every year since tomatoes are so disease prone and that stuff stays in the soil. So you could try that, too. All I know is that the Romas I grew this spring were almost as big as a soda pop can!

    • Julie Huey says:

      @Krista, Thanks Krista. I’m so glad you found a solution for the heat. We get temps in the 90s and 100s in the summer/fall. I have amended the soil with steer manure, so the soil is fantastic. So, I was wondering why my tomatoes wouldn’t mature and just die off.

  8. this may not help you this year, but next year, try strawbalegardening.com. I’m in MN and we had a late start to summer but my tomatoes are as tall as I am and they look like jungle bushes, and it’s been so easy to do – and I do not have a green thumb, but this year it looks like I do! I wish I could show you a picture. Basically, you grow your plants in straw bales and it works great for places where it’s hard to grow things for any number of reasons. Weeds do not like to grow in the bales, so that part is easier too.

    If you have a long growing season, you might be able to try it this year yet…

    • beingjennifer says:

      @Ms. B.,
      I’ve seen pictures of this in a magazine! If I had any land (I’m in an apartment) I would do this! This is a great suggestion and it’s so good at keeping your plants protected from critters and disease.

  9. Do you rotate them and fertilize every year?

    • @Evie, Yes we do, although this year I have not been the best about fertilizing. I am thinking it might be blight since some of my readers have suggested that. I think I am going to check into that for now and see if a few things help.

  10. I could give you my theories, but this will be a much better source of information: http://www.oces.okstate.edu/gardening-insects-pest-management

    Good Luck!

  11. I have a girlfriend who told me if your tomatoes’ get black on the bottom to put a Tums in the soil do to needing more calcium. I’m not sure if this will also fix your problem, but it’s worth a try. I know that it’s frustrating when you put forth the effort to plant a garden and then something unexplainable happens. Well good luck and God bless.

  12. Lynn, I’m so glad you asked this question! I live in Iowa and my tomatos look like this too! And thanks to all your other readers for sharing their insights. I’m going to try some of their ideas. I suspect that in my case, it could be overwatering as we have had a very rainy year so far! But I don’t think it can hurt to try some of the other things.

  13. I read through most of the comments and mine are similar. It could be disease but I would guess the heat and that they need more water. I was reading the other day that over 85 degrees tomatoes stop the maturing process until it consistently gets under that again and then it will take awhile to start up again. That is why sometimes green tomatoes stay on the plant for what seems like forever before ripening. Looking again, are your tomatoes in pots? They need extra watering because the water doesn’t tend to hold in the pot. If they are in the ground, I would try more compost and adding things like peat moss to aerate the soil more. Radishes can do this also, so plant them around your tomatoes.

    I also, would cut ALL those branches off – I just do this with a pair of scissors. You plants are using alot of it’s energy trying to keep this part of the plant alive and then it won’t have as much fuel to grow more tomatoes. I go out a couple times a week and cut all diseased or dead parts off.

    I hope you find the key. We have 38 tomatoes growing and I can’t wait for them to ripen so we can begin canning, canning, canning.

  14. We usually mulch well around our tomatoes to keep the roots a little cooler plus it keps the soil moisture better and more even. Our best tasting tomatoes are in the fall ,September/October.

  15. Karen Osmon says:

    Google “root knot nematodes,” sure sounds like what I experienced with my tomatoes. These little things can exist in clay or sandy soil, which is what I have. There isn’t a cure but there are things you can do to help. The first is rotating your crops. Then make sure you are constantly improving your soil with compost or other healthy amendments. Dried molasses is a good one to add. Then what I did was plant Elbon rye grass in the fall. The roots of this rye traps the nematodes and kills them. The rye wants to grow in the spring when you want to plant so it’s harder to get the garden ready but well worth the effort if you want a healthy garden. A good site to go to ask questions about gardening in OK is “Garden Web.” They have a OK garden forum and a lot of very knowledgeable people on it. They have helped me a lot with this problem. Here is the link for that forum, you do have to join to post but no cost. http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/okgard/ Hope the link works, if not just copy and paste!

  16. Linda P. says:

    More of a suggestion than a cure: have you tried contacting your local university extension? They can usually provide lots of info. Also, how about your local 4-H? They can probably connect you with someone local who has perfected his or her tomato growing techniques in your area, fighting and overcoming the same problems you are now experiencing. It’s worth a shot anyway.

  17. Hi Lynn,

    I love a guy on YouTube, PRAXXUS, he talks about this very problem and an easy solution. He has a TON of videos and I’ve watched them all. It might take me a little while to find it, but I’ll find his video that talks specifically about this problem, cause & solution, and post the link for you. He is a do-it-yourself kind of gardening guy and is very successful; he’s not a pro or anything, but his vids are so popular YouTube pays him.

    Carol

  18. I have had the same problem with blight before. I have a couple of Jerry Baker’s gardening books and often go to it for info and homemade tonics. Here is what he says in “Backyard Problem Solver” about blight: Once you’ve seen blight in your garden, you’ll probably see it again. The spores can exist for a long time in weeds, tree crevices and dirt. If blight gets a foothold, remove the speckled, dying leaves and then drench your plants with my Fungus Fighter Tonic. It’ll go to work right away.
    Tonic recipe: 1/2 cup molasses, 1/2 cup powdered milk, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 gallon of warm water. Mix the molasses, powd. milk and baking soda into a paste. Put the mixture into the toe of an old nylon stocking and let it steep in a gallon of warm water for several hours. Then strain and use the liquid as a fungus-fighting spray for your plants.

    I saw results from using this in the past, hopefully it will help you too.

    • @LoriMc, Thank you! I used some of Jerry Bakers tips a while ago and need to go back and read him again. I might try that tonic since I have everything for it.

  19. If you really want an easy way to grow foolproof tomatoes – use Earthboxes. All you do is plant and keep the box tube full of water…. So easy and delicious!!!

  20. Margie Orr says:

    Mine don’t look very good, and they’ve almost stopped producing. It’s been so hot in NE Louisiana and so dry. Think I can sympathize with the tomatoes. However, there were beautiful tomatoes at the Shreveport Farmers’ Market on Saturday. Some came out of Arkansas and some out of Texas, but most were from Louisiana.
    We can hope for better weather next year.

  21. I live in NW AR and mine have done the same thing! I got so aggravated I just went ahead and pulled them up!

  22. Brenda Tanner says:

    I live in Tennessee and my tomatoes do the same thing. It looks like Blyte and you can get some spray for tomatoe blyte or blight. Anyway you need to spray every 7 to 10 days. Read direction on the bottle. It has really helped my tomatoes. If you don it will kill the entire plant. Next year start spraying as soon as you see spots on your tomatoe leaves and you will be able to controll it. Enjoy all your post. Thanks

  23. I would check the acidity of your soil, plus, they might just be getting sunburnt. Tomatoes do like sun, but mine do best when they have some shade. Mine however, are in boxes and we do not have soil in them at all, just a mixture of vermiculite, manure and peat moss. Works beautifully!

  24. Francine says:

    It got too hot , tomatoes don’t produce fruit when the temperature goes over , I think 80- degrees. My tomatoe plants did the same thing here in TX.

  25. You’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions! Here’s something I haven’t read in the comments yet that I know helps- how do you water? Tomatoes don’t like to be watered overhead (like a sprinkler—or rain, which is why they don’t do well in rainy spring!) and it will help spread blight (if that is what it is). Use soaker hoses instead and give them a good soaking every 4 to 5 days.

    Also, using a plastic mulch (red or black) really helps regulate the ground temperature and moisture. Straw would work, too, if you don’t like the look of plastic- the plastic helps with the weeds, though, too. :-)

    I would cut off all those leaves (I usually have some every year to cut off…) and lay soakers and mulch and see what happens. Good luck- but don’t give up! They might just take a break and produce later in the season, but late tomatoes are better than no tomatoes. :-)

  26. I have been planting my tomatoes in an earth box the past couple of years. The watering is easy – you can’t overwater. From the two plants that the box holds, I get about 200 tomatoes – well worth the cost of the box. And by the end of the season, I can’t reach the top of the plants.

  27. I haven’t read all the posts, but my husband and I own a greenhouse (retail and wholesale business) and I can say that this sounds like blight. I know of some good products that will work on the blight, but it is best to rotate treatments between a couple of different products (Ortho makes a good one as does Bonide’s “Mancozeb” and Bonide’s “Liquid Copper Fungicide”). Another possible treatment (not always doable depending on garden size) is to move your tomatoes next year. Hope this helps.

    Also, the post above suggesting soaker hoses is good.

  28. You have gotten a lot of good suggestions but I thought I would add something else for you to think about:) I asked my dad (he’s like a walking farmers almanac!) and he said there are nematodes (not sure of the spelling) that get on tomatoes and there isn’t much you can do about it except move them. I would try making a raised bed or some kind of container garden so that you put all of the soil in it. Hope that helps:)

  29. Since the topic is tomatoes. I planted tomatoes for the first time this year . I planted them in mid may and it is now near the end of july. And so far I have 2 tomatoes growing and the plants are taller than me. I’m 5’3 . What am I doing wrong. I conditioned the soil with compost and top soil. Organic . I just don’t understand. Or am I being impaitient?

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