The Q&A Archives: Wilting Tomatos

Question: I always start my tomatos from seed in jiffy 7's. Sometime around the first week of May I put them in a cold frame on my deck with full sun all day and take them in at night for the first week and then leave them out all the time. They are fine for a couple of weeks and then become scrawny, wilty and the leave begin to turn yellow. When transplanted in the garden they will survive although it takes about two weeks to start the survival process. What am I doing wrong? I keep them moist, beging careful not to over water. Could it be the heat buildup inside the cold frame? Unless it's very hot I do not open it allowing fresh air to enter. When I see plants in the stores they are also in jiffy 7's and are tall, thick, green and healthy looking but mine are not.

Answer: Since you are careful about the watering, I would definitely suspect heat stress (cold frames can get very hot very fast on a sunny day, just the way a parked car heats up) and/or possibly a need for more nutrients and/or larger pots. The little plants can handle temperatures above say 45 degrees easily without protection, so the cold frame would be used as much for protection from wind and night time cold. It is also possible that they are suffering from sun burn -- you might want to shade them at first and gradually acclimate them to the sun.

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