tomato disease, mulching and slugs - Knowledgebase Question

Syracuse, NY
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Question by mmglick
July 23, 1998
Last year my tomato plants did very well, until early-mid August when I began to notice small holes in the fruit. By the end of August half my tomatoes fell victim to slugs. As I've read that slugs like to hide in mulch during the day, in an effort to keep the slug population to a minimum I decided this year to forego mulching my garden. No signs of slug damage this year (yet!) but now my tomato plants have signs of blight or wilt (yellowing/browning leaves at the base, brown spots on the leaves), which I suspect is due to the plants going unmulched. (We've had an exceptionally stormy summer with alot of rainfall, and I think all that water from above splashing back up from the ground below is largely responsible for the blight.) My question is, in your opinion, which is the lesser of two evils: mulching, but having to deal with a host of slugs, or not mulching, and increasing the liklihood of blight?

Answer from NGA
July 23, 1998
The tomato problem you are describing is most likely not a result of mulching or not mulching, but rather in all probability a serious disease. You might wish to take a sample of the leaves (showing both yellowing and spots) to your local County Extension for a positive identification of the problem; their telephone number is 424-9485. That way you will know exactly what problem you are facing.

Unfortunately, in most cases diseased plants should be dug up and removed from the garden and destroyed, along with any plant debris, in order to slow the spread of the disease and reduce the chances of reinfection next year. In addition, you should then follow a rotation of several years between growing tomatoes (and other members of the same family) in that location. From now on you should also look for disease resistant varieties as indicated by capital letters (such as VFFNT) on either the seed packet or plant label.

With regard to slug control, this can be accomplished over time by hand picking and dropping them into soapy water, using traps baited with beer, or commercial slug baits placed according to the label instructions. Some gardeners also report good results from lightly cultivating the soil in early spring to disturb them.

An organic mulch such as straw is almost always a good idea in the vegetable garden as it serves many purposes including weed control, soil temperature moderation, water retention and feeding the soil as it decays over time. It also keeps soil (and certain associated soil-borne nasties) from splashing onto your plants and produce.

In the case of the tomato disease, however, mulch would not have prevented it. I'm sorry about your tomatoes.

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