Ask a Question forum: What's wrong with my tomatoes?

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Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 10, 2015 12:07 PM CST
Several of my tomato plants are curling up. Mostly on one end of the plot, but a few are interspersed as well. At first I thought that it was that one variety was more sensitive to the crazy hot/ cold weather we've been having (since it was a variety I've never planted before). But now, it seems that the plants affected are interspersed and not affected by kind alone. I use a buried drip irrigation system, and I know that a few of the "drips" give more water than others, but I can't remember which ones. (Curling from over watering?) I wondered about herbicide that might have blown over from other properties, but wouldn't that affect all the plants? Also wondering about viruses which I know nothing about. Anyone have any ideas? I can post more pictures as needed. The plants most affected are chocolate Cherokee and Ox heart. All of my plants are heirloom from seed I've saved myself.
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Heidi
Name: Tom
Southern Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
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tveguy3
May 10, 2015 12:21 PM CST
I would dig one up and check out the roots for some kind of insect damage to the root system. If you find that they have been eaten off, you cam probably still save them with some TLC and extra water for a while. If the roots are OK, then you have some other issue.
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
May 10, 2015 1:28 PM CST
Sure doesn't look like you're overwatering. If you've had crazy leaps of high and low temperatures, that could be causing it, but you would think it would affect all the plants.

The double edged sword of growing heirlooms is that they are not as disease resistant as hybrid varieties. It could be a soil-borne disease of some sort, and that would explain the randomness.

I'd give extra water in the mornings on days predicted to be hot to those affected plants and see if that helps. Tomatoes really are thirsty, hungry plants when they're first growing. You can't overwater, they'll just grow faster once the weather stays warm.

If extra water doesn't help things right away, a douse of a mild Hydrogen peroxide solution might be a next try. It can knock down things like fusarium if caught in the early stages. About a 1% solution or 4oz. peroxide per gallon of water.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
May 10, 2015 8:17 PM CST
The curled-up plants just look to me like they haven't had water in quite a while... I would try giving them a big drink with a watering can, and then checking the drip irrigation system!
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Name: Kent Pfeiffer
Southeast Nebraska (Zone 5b)
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KentPfeiffer
May 10, 2015 8:28 PM CST

Plants Admin

It looks like what is called "physiological leaf roll" caused by inconsistent watering and/or too much fertilizer. It tends to be a seasonal thing, occurring in late spring to early summer. The plants should come out of it over the next couple of weeks. If not, it's like Tom said, something is damaging the roots.
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 10, 2015 9:41 PM CST
Well, I checked the soil arround the worst plant. It seemed like the roots were fine and the soil arround them was moist enough to retain shape when I squeezed it in my hand. I gave them a good watering anyway. I tried a mild hydrogen peroxide solution and watered with a can on three of the ones that had just started curling. I sprayed some neem oil (in case it was mites) on the worst ones. I hope those things don't make it worse. I do suspect our rise and fall in temperatures causing the problem but I wasn't sure. We had day time highs in the upper 80s with dry wind for a week and then highs in the 50s last week and rainy. Now we are back to the 80s with a forecast for another cool wet weekend. Not much I can do about the weather, but it is a shame as the plants were doing so wonderfully before.
Heidi
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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RickCorey
May 14, 2015 12:36 PM CST
Heidi,

Please please let us know how they respond to more water, and what you conclude over time.

When the roots looked OK and the soil seemed moist, I was baffled. Was it moist down deep where the roots are, or only near the surface?

By any chance do the affected plants tend to lie in low spots in the soil, or high spots?

I assume you've grown in that bed before, and other plants did not respond with spots of sickness. Like someone dumped motor oil or persistent herbicide in a few spots.

Could someone like a kid or well-meaning visitor have "helped" by pouring excessive fertilizer or something else on a few plants?

How clean do you think the water you irrigate with, is? MAYBE if it were a little salty, and the salt accumulates non-uniformly, or different plants have different sensitivities, the unhappy plants have too much salinity. Seems unlikely, but if true, watering where the salt is strongest MIGHT spread that salt around to other plants.

One rather unlikely test you could do: in case there is some nutrient uptake problem like wrong pH or excess of some competing nutrient, you could foliar-spray some balanced fertilizer with micronutrients including chelated iron.

In the unlikely case where that helped dramatically, you might have some spotty soil problem that only manifests in a few spots. Then you could sample the soil where the symptoms are worst, and sample separately the soil where plants are doing best, and send both to be analyzed, with pictures of the damaged plants.

Good luck!
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
May 14, 2015 1:57 PM CST
Heidi, just had another couple of thoughts after reading Rick's suggestions.

First, have you (or anybody else like a previous owner) grown tomatoes in that bed before? Soil-borne pathogens can persist in soil from year to year, especially in places like California where you don't get freezing weather to kill stuff off. Crop rotation is a very good practice in that case, i.e. don't grow tomatoes in the same bed two years in a row. Or here we solarize the soil by covering it with clear plastic for about 6 weeks to 'bake' it in the sun. No chemicals involved. Hurray! http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/maintenance_and_...

Second, you could test your soil's pH levels and soluble salts with a simple kit available at the big box stores or nursery. It's about $10 for ten tests, or you can get a single use one for under $4. As Rick said, test the soil where the plants are ok, and also where the plants are in trouble to see if there's a difference.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Lori Bright
San Luis Obispo, California (Zone 7a)
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LlamaLlori
May 15, 2015 7:30 PM CST
My knee-jerk reaction to your tomatoes was also that they were suffering an environmental stressor. Here in California, however we are hearing about a new viral disease. Simply "Curly leaf Virus"
I hope it's just an environmental thing. Smiling Check out this site.
http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r783103311.html

Good Luck
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
May 15, 2015 8:05 PM CST
Welcome to All Things Plants, LlamaLlori ! Yikes, one more thing to worry about... thank you for sharing that link Thumbs up
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Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 17, 2015 11:46 AM CST
The affected plants are not growing like the others. They have stayed the same size and haven't sent out any suckers. I uprooted one, and the roots look fine. I have grown tomatoes in this spot before and they grew wonderfully- 4 years ago. We put the kids playset on it for the last two years and I think it was Lima beans I planted there the year before that. My next step is to do the soil test, but I haven't been able to go get it yet. I have noticed that the affected plants are either turning the slightest bit yellow, or in other cases, the newer foliage is quite purple. I have noticed that the plants that are affected seem to have set the most fruit beforehand. I don't know if this was a survival mechanism or caused the stress. Between irrigation (unfortunately we have to use city water) and quite a bit of rain (for here) in the last two weeks, I know lack of water isn't the problem. Cool temps would be the only environmental stressor.
Heidi
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 17, 2015 11:50 AM CST

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Heidi
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
May 17, 2015 1:44 PM CST
If it was the cool weather, all the plants would be stressed at least somewhat.

Have any more plants come down with this affliction or is it the same ones? It's been a week since you first posted, and if it were a blight or viral infection it would be spreading to other plants. Take a close look at the plants nearest the sick ones.

If not, I'd think you do need to look at it as a soil problem. Btw, your County Extension service will do soil testing for you, but if it's the same as here, they charge more for it than to do it yourself. But they also might have an insight into the problem if it might be a local thing.

One more thing you could try related to the purple color you're seeing on new leaves is some Epsom Salts. It's magnesium in a soluble form, and tomatoes love it. About a tablespoon per gallon of water, dissolve it well and give each plant a gallon.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Toni Melvin
Sherwood Oregon (Zone 8a)
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Toni
May 19, 2015 10:22 PM CST
Oh Elaine *Blush* I might have given my tomatoes WAY too much epsom salt *Blush* I have been following this thread to see what is going on with Heidi’s toms. and found your epsom salt Rx. Thank you Thumbs up
Toni
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
May 20, 2015 8:34 AM CST
Probably won't damage them, Toni. Depends upon the size of the plants of course.

Some people do just sprinkle the undissolved crystals randomly on the ground around the plant, but my tomatoes are all in containers so I don't like to do that. But if you think you overdid it, just hose them down really well, because the Epsom Salts is so soluble it will wash through very quickly.

With tomatoes, it's pretty hard to give them too much of anything when they're on their big growth spurt in late spring. I have a plant in an Earth Box right now that has to be 8ft. wide and 6ft. tall, sprawling all over the place. Another month it will be finished for the summer as our hot nights prevent them setting fruit, but right now, it's a MONster. Green Grin!
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 24, 2015 6:32 PM CST
I finally got the soil test done. Not really sure what to do with the info though. I tested two spots. One where the plants seem healthy, and one where they are "sick". It seems that I have highly alkaline soil in both places. The variants being that where the plants are "sick" I need to add nitrogen but where they are "well" I need to add phosphorus? It seems I'm also low in potash, but I don't even know what that does for the garden. I know that nitrogen is needed for green leaves, and so that makes since that I'm low in it, but I don't know how to add it at this point, since I would normally till in manure (which I thought was in the compost mixture I amended with, but apparently not) in the spring.
For a quick fix, I watered the "sick" plants with miracle grow that I had for my flower garden, but would rather some other idea as I have always tried to keep my vegetable garden organic.
Here is a picture of my soil tests. The "sick" sample is in the back and the "good" sample is in the front.
Thumb of 2015-05-25/Heidlberg/695b3b

Heidi
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
May 24, 2015 10:00 PM CST
Fertilize, Heidi. Get yourself some good, guaranteed analysis organic fert. The miracle gro will only help for a couple of weeks, if that. Those plants should be growing like crazy now, but they're starving.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
May 24, 2015 10:18 PM CST
Yes, I know I need to fertilize but since I water from the roots I'm not sure how to go about it. Will side dressing still work? Or do I need a kind that I can mix up with the water and water by hand from the top?
I had no idea the dirt was that poor in this particular plot. I have a feeling that the load of compost my husband got this year, wasn't as good as past years and all the watering must have totally depleted the nutrients. We've been gardening this ground and faithfully rotating crops for 6 years and have never seen this. I feel like apologizing to the plants since I had never done a soil test before as things seemed fine. I fear that all my other crops might be in the same boat but not showing symptoms yet. (We have a half acre worth of garden- the tomatoes are just one small piece) Sighing!
Heidi
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
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chelle
May 25, 2015 2:38 PM CST
Side dressing with compost should certainly help. As a boost until that starts working you might consider a foliar spray of kelp extract, or kelp and fish extract... if you don't have problems with pesky critters. I just use the kelp here in pesky-critter-land, but I also plant in homemade (+ horse and poultry manure) compost, so I think that there's probably some help there.
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Name: Sue
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sooby
May 25, 2015 2:59 PM CST
Heidlberg said:
I had no idea the dirt was that poor in this particular plot. I have a feeling that the load of compost my husband got this year, wasn't as good as past years and all the watering


A long shot but do you know the history of the compost? Just wondering if it could possibly contain clopyralid or a similar herbicide with a long residual effect to which tomatoes are sensitive.

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