The Q&A Archives: Tomato Diseases

Question: We have a large garden and grow approximately 30 to 35 tomatoes plants. My question is that we lose or pull up some plants yearly due to wilting. We think they are diseased so we carefully pull them up and put the plant and as much of the soil as we get with the root system in a bag and put it in a dumpster. These plants can be next to a very healthy productive plant. If we had a problem with nematodes or bacterial wilt would it not affect all the plants around the sickest one? And how does the garden acquire such problems? We buy our plants from a private nursery.

Answer: Because there are a host of pests and diseases that can attack tomatoes, if you are losing only an occasional plant, I would say you are doing very well. Still, growing that many plants, you are smart to try and determine what your problem is. Unfortunately diagnosis can be tricky. Nutritional disorders resemble certain diseases, and the disease themselves are difficult to label unless you have a scientific photo guide in front of you.

"Wilting" can be caused not only by drought and heat conditions, but also by bacterial and fungal diseases and viruses, in addition to nutritional disorders and insect pests. A great inexpensive, easy to read book for the home gardener is "The Tomato Handbook" by Jennifer Bennett (Firefly Books, Publisher). It discusses the many possibilities. Your county extension agency (405-338-7300) is another resource for answers.

Of course gardeners should expect a small loss each year. This is normal. With the large number of plants you are growing, you could expect of loss of 3 or 4 plants. You are wise in your careful disposal of potentially disease-spreading plants. Although often difficult in small back yard gardens, crop rotation is extremely helpful in keeping down disease problems, and should be considered. And of course, many tomato varieties are grown for their resistance to specific disease, and are marked as such after the variety name: A, Alternaria (early blight); C, Clodisporium (leaf mold); F, Fusarium wilt, race 1; FF, Fusarium wilt, races 1 and 2; N, Nematodes; S, Stemphylium (gray leaf spot); T, Tobacco Mosaic Virus; V, Verticillium wilt.

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