I have been hearing about many tomato problems this past month. A lot of growth but no fruit, stunted growth, wilting, curling leaves, bugs and beetles eating foliage, tomato hornworms, cracks, and blossom end rot. Last year was an epic tomato year for many, but not every year will be an epic tomato year.
A lot of growth but no fruit? It’s too hot or you have over-fertilized with nitrogen. When weather is too hot, typically over 90 degrees, the pollen in the tomato flower binds up and no pollination occurs. Once the monsoon sets in, the temperatures reduce enough to allow decent pollination. With climate change this could become more and more of a problem for the Patagonia area unfortunately. If you have over-applied nitrogen, fast and full vegetative growth occurs at the expense of fruit. Within a month the nitrogen levels will even out and fruit should follow. Amend your soil with a good compost before planting next year and you will need less fertilizer.
Stunted growth? It could be they are planted in poor soil. Poor soil is usually under-fertilized or compacted. Add compost and your favorite fertilizer to help this. Don’t plant your tomatoes or other nightshade crops in the same place every year. Maybe they are stunted because they don’t have enough hours of full sun. Do you have them planted on your porch in pots or under the shade of a large tree? I think the best placement is on the east side of a structure where they will get great sun in the morning and nice shade from the hottest rays in the afternoon.
Did your tomatoes suddenly wilt? It’s probably one of the wilt diseases fusarium wilt or verticillium wilt. Both are soil borne bacterial diseases. There is no treatment that I know of once your plant has it. You should pull the affected plants and throw them in the trash. You can prevent it by planting hybrid tomatoes and avoiding heirloom varieties. If you had wilt disease this year, avoid planting any tomatoes, eggplants or potatoes in that spot for 3-4 years.
Did your tomato leaves start to curl and become stunted? Sometimes it’s caused by high temperatures, or you over-pruned your plants. The plants will recover with time. On the other hand, it could be curly top virus. This virus is transmitted by insects, usually the leafhopper. To prevent this, make sure to remove weeds around your garden and yard as the leafhoppers pick this virus up from many of the common weeds in our area. You can also cover the tomatoes with a sheer row cover to keep them out. Not very practical, but if you are desperate and had this disease over and over it’s worth a shot.
Are there bugs, beetles and tomato hornworms chewing on your plants? Try simply going out every morning and evening to pick them off. Chickens love tomato hornworms! Also try spraying insecticidal soap, pyrethrin sprays, neem oil or BT. Bacillus thuringiensis, or BT, is a naturally occurring bacteria used as a pesticide for various pests that attack gardens. It is safe to use around people or pets. Alternately, a pesticide containing Spinosad, which is also a bacterial spray, effectively controls many of these pests. Its toxicity level is considered low.
Cracked tomatoes happen from heavy rains or inconsistent watering regimes. Heavy rains cause the tomato to grow faster than the skin can grow, with the resulting crack. Not much can be done to stop this when we have heavy monsoon downpours except to plant crack resistant tomato varieties.
Blossom end rot occurs as a result of uneven watering cycles. Calcium must be evenly transported through the plant tissues and low calcium often is the culprit of blossom end rot. We have PLENTY of calcium in our soils, it’s just the calcium is not being evenly transported because of periods of high water followed by periods of dryness. Maybe you diligently watered your tomatoes until the rains started, then stopped watering. The rains took a week-long break but you didn’t pick up watering again. After a few weeks of this type of cycle the tomatoes start getting blossom end rot. Keep up with watering when the monsoon takes a break! Tomatoes need evenly moist soil.
Come by and talk to me about your tomato troubles at the nursery. We are open Thursdays through Saturdays 9a.m. to 3p.m. 308 Naugle Ave in Patagonia.