The Q&A Archives: Disease on Tomatoes

Question: I am about to give up on growing tomatoes because mine have 3 major problems every year: early blight, spider mites, and Texas heat. How can I combat these problems?

Answer: It sounds like it is time to go on the offensive against early blight. There are several things you can do to minimize its spread. The disease affects both potatoes and tomatoes, so keeping these plantings far apart can help control the spread. Plant your tomatoes in a new location every year, and avoid planting them where potatoes have grown. Choose tomato varieties that have flat leaves as opposed to curly leaves, which take longer to dry off after rain and are thus more susceptible to fungal infection. When spots first appear in early summer, cut off the leaves and destroy them. Then spray the plants with compost tea. You can make the tea from aged compost that contains some manure. Add one part compost to five parts water in a bucket and let it sit in the shade for 2 weeks. Then filter and spray on a cloudy day or in early evening. Wet both sides of the leaves. Repeat every 2-3 weeks. Another strategy for managing early blight is to set out some plants in the spring while leaving space for more plants to be set out in early and midsummer. The older leaves are the most susceptible to the fungus, so if you have plants at different stages of growth, you are more likely to have some relatively free of the disease. Since plants under stress are more likely to be attacked by disease, be sure to keep your plants well watered (preferably avoiding overhead watering) and use mulch to conserve soil moisture. Try heat-tolerant varieties such as Heatwave II, available from Burpee. As far as spider mites are concerned, you can use insecticidal soap sprays or hot pepper sprays, but since wetting the foliage can increase spread of early blight, you will have to make a decision as to which problem is plaguing your plants the most. I hope your garden next year convinces you not to give up on tomatoes!

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