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

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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
May 29, 2015 1:33 PM CST
Heidlberg said: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 would normally till in manure (which I thought was in the compost mixture I amended with, but apparently not) in the spring.


I guess spot-treating each deficient spot is best for now.

Super-phosphate is all phosphate, so that's an easy spot treatment. The "sick spots" sound like they would benefit from almost any fertilizer, but if they DON'T need phosphorus, maybe a fertilizer with a low middle number would be best.

Since you always add compost, your soil probably has plenty of organic matter. So you can afford to add moderate amounts of some concentrated mineral nutrients (bagged "chemical" fertilizer). If you have so many nutrient deficiencies, a "one-time-fix" seems appropriate. If the soil is rich in organic matter, it may be able to hold on to minerals. That's one thing clayey soils are good at: holding minerals tightly.

It does sound like the whole yard is far too alkaline, so you can start treating that everywhere (it's supposed to be slow and difficult to fix). . How about raking in a little agricultural sulfur once or twice a year? Over time, that will counteract some of the alkalinity. (Or whatever your local ag extension agent advises for your soil type.

One thing that I would do, this fall and next spring, is to till the plots, moving soil around horizontally, so that the spots that have one thing and lack another will all have some of what they need. You might even wheelbarrow a few loads of soil from one bed to another, to dilute the problems and share the wealth around. Then (or maybe after a year of "mellowing") you could re-sample a few spots and get another test done to see what the soil looks like after "averaging" it.

I think my yard has the same issue: each raised bed was filled with soil I made that year, and each bed probably has very different strengths and weaknesses (except that they all have too much clay, and not enough compost, silt, sand and grit).

Name: Lori Bright
San Luis Obispo, California (Zone 7a)
Vegetable Grower Roses Cottage Gardener Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Keeps Goats
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LlamaLlori
Jun 12, 2015 12:49 PM CST
Take Chelle's advise. The purple color that is so dominant on the back side of the leaves is showing you a phosphorus deficiency. Other nutrient deficiencies are probable. Even if you have enough phosphorus in your soil, cold or alkaline soils disallow the uptake. If you do the compost/manure or for that matter any other solid-matter-type fertilizer you will be waiting so long that we'll be harvesting pumpkins before you have any effect. Go with the water soluble. I really like the Dr Earth liquid fertilizers. (like the Organic All Purpose has fish, kelp and molasses) Nice quick response. Later you can go back and fix the soil for future plantings.
(Cottonseed meal is a nice slow pH reducing fertilizer) For now you need something quick.
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 1:25 PM CST
I finally dug up the "affected plants. They were all but dead. They had showed no new growth at all and the few tomatoes that were on them started turning red. Not from ripening but because the plant was dead. I did have one "recover" by sending out a sucker that has now become the plant as the original plant is still sick looking. I believe that the whole problem was a potassium deficiancy because the one plant that "recovered" had a banana peel buried next to it when I originally planted it. It probably started to decompose at just the right time for the plant to benefit from. The rest of my efforts seemed to be too late for thse plants but I hope will stave off problems for the rest.
I am concerned though because one of my plants (that is as tall as I am and was setting fruit nicely) is showing symptoms. The fruit is not growing and the top foliage is small and yellowish with a tinge of purple. I fertilized it along with the rest weeks ago and it seemed healthy then. I'm suspecting that some sort of virus took advantage of the weakened plants although I was careful to sanitize my tools and wash hands when working with them.
While the rest of my plants look healthy, the yeild looks like it will be small. It seems that the plants that put the effort into making fruit, were the ones that died. (Although, it may just be that the plants aren't setting fruit now because it is getting so hot.)
Heidi
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 1:34 PM CST

Thumb of 2015-06-12/Heidlberg/e08422
Thumb of 2015-06-12/Heidlberg/442b35

The new plant showing symptoms. The fruit has stayed that size for at least a week.
Heidi
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 1:37 PM CST
The plant that "revived" the tomatoes on the bottom were set before the plant was affected, stayed dormant until the sucker started to grow, and then they started growing again too. I tried transplanting a new sucker next to it, but it is wilted from the heat.
Thumb of 2015-06-12/Heidlberg/c4d436

Heidi
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 1:40 PM CST
Thought I would include an image of the whole plot to show how the rest grew. You can see the new one affected on the end on the right.
Also including a picture of the new growth since I added fertilizer. While green and setting blossoms, it seems "bumpy" to me. Anyone know if this is a problem?
Thumb of 2015-06-12/Heidlberg/e52c9c
Thumb of 2015-06-12/Heidlberg/bb9574

Heidi
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
Jun 12, 2015 2:22 PM CST
Mulching might keep the soil and roots cooler and less dry.

It is impressively weed-free. How do you manage that?
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 3:20 PM CST
The beauty of drip lines in an arid climate means no weeds except the few that grow right around the plants, so they are easily managed. I wanted to experiment with pine needle mulch, but my husband thought they would just blow around the yard when our strong winds pick up. In years past we have used plastic mulch, but last year had a broken drip line which flooded our plants while we had no idea. They suffered much before we realized it, and were only able to get a fall harvest after removing all the plastic so that the plants could dry out. I didn't want to deal with that this year, but you are right, some sort of mulching would be helpful. We tried woodchips on our strawberry rows, and that looks very nice, but it is hard to keep them where they belong with 4 young children!
Heidi
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
Jun 12, 2015 3:26 PM CST
I understand! If you put the water right into the root zones, you don't need to worry much about evaporation from the soil surface.

One thing I like about mini-sprayers is that I can see and hear them. If a coupling blows apart, I would see the fountain from anywhere in my yard. And the "hiss" reminds me to turn it off, if I'm not using my wind-up one-shot timer.

But sprayers waste water in windy or hot, dry climates.

>> We tried woodchips on our strawberry rows, and that looks very nice, but it is hard to keep them where they belong with 4 young children!

I never thought about children in the garden!
Name: Lori Bright
San Luis Obispo, California (Zone 7a)
Vegetable Grower Roses Cottage Gardener Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Keeps Goats
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LlamaLlori
Jun 12, 2015 6:06 PM CST
I agree that mulch would help. The soil looks parched.
I use T-tape. You can leave it atop the mulch and it drips
at 9 inch intervals. Placed in rows 9 inches apart.
(Works for all veggies once they are up and growing good,
ie for carrots as well as tomatoes) Only draw back to T-tape
would be that gophers and Squirrels chew on it. It's easy
to replace if it's damaged and not very expensive.
Good luck with those.
Name: Heidi
Mentone ca
Region: California
Heidlberg
Jun 12, 2015 9:45 PM CST
I forget the name of the stuff we use, but gophers were a problem with other varieties. This one is a brown plastic that is not easily chewed through with a built in emitter every 18 inches. I simply plant a plant at every hole or every other hole (depending on the size of the plant). This year I put parsley or peppers between my tomato plants and they seem to be doing much better than usual because the tomatoes help to shade them from the intense sun. The line is buried to decrease water loss. The soil immediately under the plants seems moist and rich, but I would agree, the soil in the isles is only one step away from being a sun baked brick! Guess that also helps deter the weeds Sticking tongue out
Heidi
Greencastle IN (Zone 5b)
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Claudia
Jun 13, 2015 9:20 AM CST
After seeing several other people here on ATP talk about using straw as a mulch in their gardens, I decided to give it a try. Still early in the season for me but my tomato plants have never looked so good. We have had several hard rains and with the straw mulch I am getting no soil splash on the plants. I will never not mulch again!
“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”
- Alan Keightley
[Last edited by Claudia - Jun 13, 2015 2:50 PM (+)]
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Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Forum moderator Garden Sages Garden Ideas: Master Level Dog Lover Cottage Gardener
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chelle
Jun 13, 2015 12:29 PM CST
Hurray!

I agree I will always mulch as well, and straw seems to be the best thing for tomatoes...after applying lots of compost.

Straw under plastic netting might work for sub-irrigated, otherwise dry and windy conditions. Netting over a thick layer of loose straw on each side of the row, or at least on the sunniest, hottest side would probably help lessen stress quite a bit.
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