The Q&A Archives: Leaves On Tomato Plants Turn White

Question: I live in Boston and just started container gardening, and four days ago transplanted my tomato plants outside. In that time I have watered them once. We have had light rain and extremely windy days with little to no sunshine and my plants are starting to turn a white/yellow on the leaves. Is this a serious problem? And should I be watering them more often?

Answer: I suspect the seedlings are suffering sunburn and windburn or transplant shock. Prior to being planted in the garden or in outside containers, they need to be gradually acclimated or conditioned to life in the elements. This is done over about a week's time. Start by placing them in a sheltered spot with a little early morning sun, then move them to a slighltly sunnier spot each day until they are in sun all morning. At the same time, back off on the watering a little bit so they dry slightly between waterings. When you plant, try to do it on a cloudy day right before a rain. Water them well at planting, and as needed to keep the soil moist -- not soggy -- until they have rooted. Container plants may need watering on a daily basis, since the small volume of soil dries out quickly in the sun and wind. You can mulch the soil surface to reduce moisture loss. If it is hot or windy you may need to water more often.

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