The Q&A Archives: Tomatoes Wilting

Question: Calling "Tomato 911" ...Just as a spell of 95-degree weather hit, one of my tomato plants got wilty. It was a "Mr. Stripey" variety that literally went bad almost overnight: one day it was healthy, the next it wilted.

I can live with that, but my biggest concern is my other 12 tomato plants. Two of them -- a Burpee Big Boy and a
Black Brandywine -- are exhibiting upturned curls on a few of their leaves. (The Big Boy has a couple of "branches"
near the bottom that are full of curled leaves.) I'm worried that the disease is spreading, but I can't prove it. The
Mr. Stripey didn't exhibit such gradual change -- it collapsed immediately. So I wonder if it's something

The wilted plant had few symptoms -- no spots on the leaves or anything. Some leaves were yellow (with brown
tips) around the edges, but that's about it.

So, I have one question with several parts: (1) What killed Mr. Stripey? (2) Is the same thing afflicting my other
tomatoes? (3) If so, can I do anything about it? I take it there's no point in cutting off the afflicted leaves or
branches, but should I remove the diseased plants immediately? (4) Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of
moving the garden from year to year. If I spread clear plastic over it before next year, might that kill the spores
or whatever causes wilt? (5) Three snapdragon plants that overwintered have also wilted. Same disease?

Sorry to be so long-winded, but last year, I consulted several "expert" sources about my tomatoes with yellowing
leaves. You were the only one who diagnosed it correctly -- a simple lack of water. So I really trust your judgment, and hope you can solve this one before I lose my beloved tomato garden.

Answer: Wow...the pressure's on! I'm a little concerned, because none of the 3 tomato varieties you list is particularly disease-resistant. I'm also concerned that whatever killed Mr. Stripey might spread to your others. (Next year, you might choose to grow at least some varieties that are highly disease-resistant, just for insurance.)

It sounds like you are diligent about watering, but I have to ask: are you sure your plant hasn't suffered from lack of water? Or too much water--saturated soil for prolonged periods can lead to root rot, which leads to wilting. Since the snapdragons have suffered the same fate, a watering problem is still my first guess.

If the plant wilted overnight, and water (too much or too little) is not involved, then I begin to suspect something like a bacterial wilt. A plant infected with bacterial wilt will wilt and die rapidly, with no leaf spotting or yellowing. (This is a key in diagnosis--rapid wilting of a green plant.) Usually, symptoms caused by fungi (ex. fusarium or verticillium) or root problems develop slowly--whereas bacterial wilt symptoms can progress rapidly--even overnight. Bacterial wilt is more common in the south, however.

Bacterial wilt cannot be cured. You should pull the plant and remove it from the garden. Wash anything that came into contact with the plant (gloves, tools) with a 20 percent bleach solution to disinfect them. Practice good garden sanitation practices, especially cleaning up debris at the end of the season.

Now, to your current situation. I really can't say for sure what will happen to your other 12 plants. Curled leaves are not unusual on tomato plants--especially on the lower leaves, and especially in hot weather. (Check the curled leaves to be sure they aren't full of aphids or whiteflies.) Other than that, I think you'll have to wait and see. Try to add compost to your garden plot every year--compost contains lots of beneficial microbes that can minimize pathogen populations. Solarizing your soil by spreading plastic over it can work to reduce microbe populations, but it is usually most effective in the southern part of the country. I would try to build up your soil with compost, try to maintain your tomato plants in optimum health with good nutrition and watering practices, and choose disease-resistant varieties. By planting the same crop year after year, you do invite various diseases to "take hold". Good luck with your crop!

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