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Tomato Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Tomato growing problems include the tomato horn worm.
Tomato growing problems include the tomato horn worm.

Tomato plants are susceptible to several diseases and pests. Preventing problems is the best growing strategy.

  • Keep the garden free of weeds that can harbor pests and diseases.
  • Use floating row covers at planting time to exclude early season pests.
  • Prune and train tomatoes early to provide good air circulation.
  • Pick off any leaves that show sign of disease or insect attack.
  • Later, keep an eye on plants as they blossom and set fruit; water evenly and regularly and mulch to conserve soil moisture.
  • At the end of the season get rid of crop residues and cultivate the soil to expose insect larvae.

Best tips on How to Grow Tomatoes.

Here is a troubleshooting list of possible tomato problems with brief control suggestions. For a full description of pests and diseases and prevention and controls click over to the Pest Problem Solver of the Disease Problem Solver. For tomato growing details click to How to Grow Tomatoes.

Here are 35 tomato plant problems and solutions:

Small holes in leaves of seedlings. Flea beetles eat small holes in the leaves of seedlings and small transplants. In worst case, the entire plant is destroyed. Flea beetles usually concentrate on seedlings. Healthy tomatoes can tolerate beetle damage.

Leaves eaten off plant. Colorado potato beetles or vegetable weevils attack many vegetables. They are small and dark colored and do not fly, so they are slow to spread. Hand-pick adult beetles off of plant. Keep garden clean. Use rotenone in severe cases.

Lower leaves have a bronze, oily color. Tomato russet mite is not visible to the eye but you will see them with a hand lens; they are whitish-yellow and pear-shaped. Avoid growing tomatoes near petunias. Treat with sulfur.

Leaves are yellowish and slightly curled with small shiny specks. Aphids are tiny, oval, yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Use insecticidal soap.

Leaves turn yellow and then brown from the bottom up; plant loses vigor. Root knot nematode is a microscopic eelworm that attacks feeder roots. Plant resistant varieties labeled VFN. Rotate crops. Remove old plant debris from garden.

Leaves appear scorched and wilted. Leafhoppers are green, brown, or yellow bugs to ⅓-inch long with wedge-shaped wings. They jump sideways and suck the juices from plants. Use insecticidal soap. Cover plants with floating row covers to exclude leafhoppers.

Water-soaked spots on leaves; spot become circular with gray centers. Leaf spot or Septoria leaf spot is a fungus disease. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Keep garden free of plant debris. Apply copper dust or liquid copper spray every 7 to 10 days.

Tiny white winged insects around plants. Whiteflies will congregate on the undersides of leaves and fly up when disturbed. Introduce beneficial insects into the garden.

Trails and tunnels in leaves. The leafminer larvae tunnel inside leaves. Destroy infected leaves and cultivate the garden to destroy larvae and keep adult flies from laying eggs. Cover crops with floating row covers.

Young plants are cut off at the ground. Cutworms can be found at the base of plants, they are small curled grayish grubs. Handpick and destroy cutworms and place a cardboard collar around young plants.

Leaf veins turn purple and leaves curl downward. Curly top virus is spread by leafhoppers. The leaves will become thick and leathery or brittle and the plant stops growing. Once the virus hits lift and throw away the plants. Control leafhoppers.

Leaves turn purple. There is a phosphorus deficiency in the soil. The leaves may also be bluish-green, bronzed, or reddish along the veins and margins. Add phosphorus rich bonemeal to the soil.

Leaves have an irregular light and dark green pattern leaves are narrow and wrinkled. Tobacco mosaic virus can be spread by tobacco plants and smoking. There is no cure for the virus. Plant resistant varieties (TMV on label). Infected plants can produce edible fruit but the size and yield is reduced.

Plants produce a lot of lush foliage, but little or no fruit. Several possible causes: (1) too much nitrogen in soil: use a phosphorus rich fertilizer; avoid too much nitrogen; (2) overwatering: allow the soil to dry to a depth of 4 inches before watering again; (3) temperatures are too low: cover plants with plastic covers; (4) inadequate pollination: lightly tap plants at flowering time to increase pollination.

Blossoms fall off. There are several possible reasons: (1) night temperatures are too low, less than 55°F (13°C): use a hormone spray to improve fruit set during low temperatures and keep soil evenly moist; (2) day temperatures are too high, greater than 90°F (32°C): there is no solution, temperatures must drop; (3) smog during blossoming period: tap on blossoms 3 times a week when flowers are open to assist pollination; (4) too much nitrogen in the soil: feed plants properly; (5) too much shade: plant tomatoes in full sun; (6) early blossoming: don’t plant too early, early blossoms will not set fruit; (7) the variety is not adapted to your region: get regional suggestions from a garden center or the cooperative extension.

Lower leaves yellow, tiny brown specks on leaves. Smog or air pollution. Some tomatoes grow poorly where the air to polluted.

Plants turn pale yellow with brown lesions on leaves, brown stripes on stems. Spotted wilt virus is spread by thrips. You may seed circular light areas or bumps on fruit. The plant will eventually die. Remove and destroy infected plants. Keep weeds down; they host thrips.

Plant yellows beginning on one side or branch, yellowing spreads; plant wilts. Fusarium wilt is a soil fungus that infects only tomatoes, usually where the soil is warm. If you cut the plant at the base, the main stem will be dark reddish brown instead of ivory color. Grow resistant varieties (F or VF).

Older leaves yellow and die; yellowing begins between main veins of leaves. Verticillium wilt is caused by a soil fungus. It favors cool soil and air temperatures. Grow resistant varieties (V or VF) and avoid planting where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumber family plants have been recently growing. This disease is most evident in hot weather when the plant is loaded with fruit and water is short.

Plants are slow growing and wilt; roots look water-soaked or brown and dry. Phytopthora root rot is caused by a soil fungus. This disease is common in heavy, clay soils. Keep the watering short and add organic matter to the planting bed.

Cottony white growth on stem near soil line, plant wilts. Southern blight is caused by a fungus. Southern blight gets its name because it spreads rapidly in humid weather in temperatures greater than 85°F. The fungus feeds on decaying organic matter. Keep the garden clean of plant debris. Lift and destroy infected plants. Rotate crops.

Fruit turns light brown and leathery on side exposed to sun. Sunscald is caused by over exposure to the sun. don’t prune away foliage above fruit clusters.

Leaves and stems look water soaked and a grayish fungus grows on the undersides of leaves. Late blight is caused by a fungus which favors high humidity and temperatures around 68°F (20°F). Keep the garden free of plant debris and avoid overhead irrigation.

Round white powdery spots and coating on leaves. Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores. Spores germinate on dry leaf surfaces when the humidity is high; spores do not germinate on wet leaves. Common in late summer or fall but does not result in loss of plant. Avoid water stress. Pick off infected leaves.

Dark brown to black blotches surrounded by yellowing along edges of leaves. Bacterial speck develops where the weather is wet and cool, less than 70°F (21°C). Delay planting until temperatures warm. Rotate crops and avoid overhead watering.

Worm in immature or ripe tomato fruit. Tomato fruitworm (corn earworm) is a pale caterpillar with a brown head about 1¾ inches (4.5 cm) long; it is the larvae of a night-flying moth with brownish or olive wings. Bacillus thuringiensis can be used to control worms, but control is difficult unless the infestation is severe. This tomato fruitworm is also known as the corn earworm.

Dark, leathery areas appear on the blossom end of fruit. Blossom end rot is caused when there is too little moisture in the soil, particularly when temperatures are greater than 90°F. Sometimes there is a calcium deficiency in the soil which keeps roots from taking up water. Mulch planting beds to keep soil moisture even; water regularly. Test soil for calcium deficiency.

Fruit is cracked radially from top toward the bottom of the fruit. Cracking is caused by uneven soil moisture–the soil is either too wet or too dry. This often occurs when temperatures are greater than 85°F. Allow foliage to shade fruits below. Mulch to keep soil moisture even. Water thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry to a depth of 4 inches and then water again.

Brown dashed scar or zipper streak appears on side of fruit. Zipper-like scars appear after blossoms stick to tiny fruit when the weather is too wet and cool at flowering time. Pull flowers off of fruit when the fruit is very small.

Fruit is misshapen and distorted. This happens when the plant is exposed to temperatures below 55°F at the time of blossoming. Keep tomatoes warm with cloches or row covers early in the season. Plant later after temperatures have warmed. Grow early lower temperature varieties: Early Girl, Rocket, Earliana.

Small worm tunneling in fruit. Potato tuberworm is 3/8 inches (9.5 mm) long caterpillar the larvae of a moth that frequents potatoes. Avoid planting tomatoes where potatoes where planted the year before. Destroy potato plant debris.

Small worms tunnels into fruit. Tomato pinworm is a very small leafmining caterpillar about ¼-inch (6mm) long that tunnels into tomato fruit. It leaves a small entry hole which allows disease to enter the fruit. Remove and destroy tunneled leaves. If fruit is attacked it must be thrown away. Keep garden clean of plant debris and weeds where pinworms overwinter.

Leaves eaten, small to large holes eaten in fruit. The hornworm is a green caterpillar from 3 to 5 inches long with white stripes and a horn on its rear end. It is the larvae of a mottled gray or brown moth with orange spots. Hand pick and destroy hornworms. Use Bacillus thuringiensis and parasitic wasps.

Fruit surface is eaten or fruit is hollowed out. Snails feed on the surface of fruit. Slugs hollow out the fruit. Keep tomatoes off the ground. Set out beer traps for snails and slugs.

Cloudy cream or yellowish colored spots without definite margins on ripe fruit and the tissue underneath is spongy. Stink bugs are gray or green shield-shaped bugs about ¼-inch long; they feed on fruits. Remove garden debris and weeds where bugs can overwinter. Hand-pick egg masses and bugs and destroy.

Sunken water-soaked areas on fruit; fruit shrivels and become watery. Anthracnose and alternaria fruit rot are fungal diseases that causes dark, brown, or black sunken, circular spots on stems, leaves, and fruits. Keep fruit off the ground and destroy rotting fruit. Rotate crops.

Fruits are malformed with ugly scarring. Catfacing is caused by cool and cloudy weather at the time of blossoming. Weather causes blossoms to stick to small fruits and create distortions. Pull blossoms off of fruit when the fruit is still small. Plant varieties that resist catfacing, Big Set and Burpee’s VF.

Best tips on How to Grow Tomatoes.

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123 Comments

  1. Tomato blossom drop has several possible causes. The weather may be to blame; if night temperatures drop below 60F, blossoms will drop; if day temperatures rise higher than 85F, blossoms may drop. Protect tomatoes from cool temperatures with floating row covers or plant blankets; protect tomatoes from too warm temperatures with shade cloth. Air pollution or smog can cause tomato blossoms to drop; support pollution reduction if you suspect that is the problem. Too much nitrogen can cause blossoms to drop; feed your plants with aged compost, not nitrogen-rich fertilizers. Water stress can cause blossom drop; keep the soil evenly moist; do not allow the soil to dry out. Watering in fits-and-starts will stress tomato plants and blossoms will be the first casualty. Tarnished plant bugs can cause blossoms to drop; these very, very small bugs feed on plant growing tips; you may need a hand lens to see them; use a garlic spray to ward off these bugs or spray with insecticidal soap.

    • Hey Stephen, I have better boy tomatoes. They started out fantastic! Now they have thinned out, have tiny brown spots on some lower leaves and the few tomatoes that I’m getting seem to stay green really long. Some of the tomatoes have little spots on them but not all. I have kept sevin on them and got them going with fruit miracle grow. I am frustrated because I have grown awesome tomatoes here before. Please help! Thank you!

      • Sounds like the weather has been cool–or perhaps very, very hot–where you are. Optimal temperatures are in the 80sF. The brown spots on the lower–older leaves is likely blight which will appear this time of year. Keep the soil just moist; perhaps let it just dry out between waterings. Do not overwater–the roots should be deep now and should be finding the deep water. Spread aged compost around the base of the plants. Blights are fungal–spray the plants with compost tea very early in the day–this should slow fungal spread.

        • hi,
          I am 20 from nepal. I planted 80 tomatoes of local determinant veriety for first time experience. I transplanted them in growbag filled with old cowdung which have been decayed and have become soil. Before transplanting seedlings were healthier and there was no problem. But now the plants are not growing and buttom leaves are drying. What may be the problem and how to solve that???

  2. My tomatoes are plentiful and beautiful but I have only had 2 start to ripen and before they could fully ripen they developed flattened, black spoiled bottoms with some white around the edges of black. Is this a fungus or disease? Can I spray my plants with something? I do not want to lose my whole crop. I have about 75 huge green tomatoes right now.

  3. You have described blossom end rot–dark watery spots at the blossom end of the fruit–which can plague not only tomatoes but also squash, peppers, and watermelon. Sometimes small fruits will drop from the plant when hit by blossom end rot, but often larger fruits simply stay on the plant. Blossom end rot is the result of too little calcium in the soil and often wet weather followed by dry weather. Calcium is important for plant cell wall building; when calcium is absent the cell walls collapse and water can not get to the fruit. Add calcium to your soil–ground-up eggshells will work, or a fertilizer with calcium added; also mulch to maintain even moisture in your soil. You can spray the plants with a commercial stop-rot spray, as well. Remove the rotting fruits from your plant and dispose; this will allow the plant to put energy into new, healthy fruit, Keep the soil evenly moist.

  4. My tomatos ripen red but stay green at the tops and bottom of the fruit. This happened with all of my tomatos last year. The plants produced lots of fruit, but never any good. Any ideas? My garden is in Southwest Florida.

    • Uneven ripening of tomatoes–green shoulders–can be caused by high temperatures–temperatures consistently greater than 85F. Avoid pruning away leaves that shade fruits from the sun. If you have a prolonged heat spell, you can cover your plants with a light-weight poly plant blanket or erect a frame over your plants and cover it with shade cloth; this may reduce the temperature a few degrees. The ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is between 65F and 70F; when the heat sets in you can pick tomatoes while they are still pink and let them finish ripening indoors–tomatoes ripen from the inside out and continue to ripen off the vine.

  5. Looking back my tomotes were experiencing these problems during our summer months with extremely high temps. I appreciate your helpful tips. I love the idea of a shade canopy!

    • There may be a few reasons the leaves on your tomato plant appear transparent. Young leaves are not fully developed; in time with good nutrition the cell structure will mature. The best food for tomato plants is aged compost. Add plenty of compost to your planting beds before planting and sidedress plants with compost throughout the growing season. Rasping insects–such as caterpillars–can strip plant leaves of their top cell layer leaving leaves looking papery and see-through. If you suspect insect at work; give your plants a very good hose down with clear water; handpick any caterpillars; spray the plants with soapy water to slow or stop pest outbreaks.

      Puede haber algunas razones que las hojas de la planta de tomate aparecen transparentes. Hojas jóvenes no están plenamente desarrollados; en el tiempo con buena nutrición madurará la estructura celular. El mejor alimento para las plantas de tomate es de compost. Añadir un montón de compost a sus camas de siembra antes de plantar y sidedress plantas con compost durante la temporada de cultivo. Raspado de insectos–como orugas–pueden pelar vegetales hojas de su capa de celda superior dejando hojas buscando papel y transparente. Si usted sospecha de insectos en el trabajo; dé a sus plantas una muy buena manguera hacia abajo con agua limpia; dedazo cualquier orugas; rocíe las plantas con agua jabonosa para desacelerar o detener los brotes de plagas.

  6. tomato plant leaves look like they have light brown dirt on them. What is this and how do I treat it, if at all. My plants are in the sun most of the day but it is not hot here yet. Temperature is around 80 degrees. I have them planted in a very large container and not in the ground.

    • Your tomato plants may have a light sun burn. If the “dirt” is more of a coating and not a burn then your tomatoes may have powdery mildew, a fungal disease that coats and covers leaves and stems. If that is the case you will want to pick any fruit you have and then spray the leaves with 1 part milk mixed with 9 parts water. This will kill the fungal spores. Make sure there is sufficient air circulation between your tomato plants.

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  8. Tomatoe plants in large container were doing well,
    watered daily in full sun. Just noticed wilted leaves at top of both plants, about 5 stems. Cut them off but am worried about the rest of the growth. Can’t find solutions in any articles. Help!

  9. I have a yellow pear tomato plant which looks extremely healthy. Tons of fruit, but the fruit is tough and all the tomatoes have dimples or ridges in them they are all identical having sunken ridges.

    • Tough and uneven tomato fruit: I would suspect uneven moisture uptake or too little water. Make sure the soil stays moist throughout fruit formation–this will ensure the even development of cell walls. Add plenty of aged compost to your planting beds; compost will hold moisture for roots over a long period.

  10. I have lot of tomato plant and small tomato appers but hardly growing big. When tomato reaches to 2Inches diameter, the black bottom end appears and some start showing water socked in like sponge. I grow it from the healthy tomato and seed removed from it for sowing. I lived in Karachi and here temprature are now 19 to 32 Celcius

    • What you describe is called blossom-end rot. Early fruits on the tomato plant can suffer from blossom-end rot. Use a tomato food that includes calcium and magnesium — to build strong cell walls; also make sure the soil stays evenly moist, not too wet, not too dry.

      • Steve, I have a number of varieties of tomatos (full size type, not cherry’s or romas), The foliage is lush for most of them and they’ve set many tomatoes but they never grow larger than 2 or 3 inches before ripening. They are fine, just quite small. I am growing in a new garden plot so I have not history to compare. Everything was fertilized with composted cow and chicken manure at the start. I water with a miracle grow solution every 2 weeks and I’ve dusted the ground with tomato fertilizer. 8-10 hours of sun a day. Raised beds. They get around 1.5 inches of water a week. There aren’t any other problems per se. The bottom leaves on one variety are turning yellow, but my experience is that the older leaves often start looking bad during the heat of the summer. Average day heat in NC is around 92F. Any help would be appreciated.

        • Your temps–in the 90sF–may slow growth this time of year. Otherwise, it sounds like you have a nearly ideal growing situation. Thinning fruit from the plant can increase the size of the fruit that remains; however, if the flavor of your fruit is good, then you may simply want to enjoy smaller, tasty fruit.

  11. I have a number of tomato plants and was having two only (yellow pear variety) where the leaves were looking curled most of the time. Now one seems to have recovered, while the other is having leaves yellow and die. No other plants seem to be affected and I haven’t seen any bugs on the plants. I’m in Durham, NC. Can you suggest a culprit and solution? (I read through the above and didn’t quite identify a problem that seemed like mine.) Thanks.

    • Yellowing leaves could be caused by: (1) too much or too little water; check the soil moisture; (2) lack of nutrition; give your plants a light feeding of compost tea, and add aged compost to the garden beds; (3) bacterial wilt–cut into a lower stem, if you find brown discoloration uproot the infected plants and dispose of them; (4) Fusarium or Verticillium fungal diseases–this would likely affect several plants in the planting bed.

  12. I have some beautiful tomatoes in a greenhouse and the yield is quite impressive. However, within three days, the fruit becomes soft and starts to rot. Any thoughts on my deficiency?

    • There are several possible causes for early rot of tomato fruits: (1) calcium deficiency in the soil–add an organic fertilizer that contains calcium and magnesium; (2) too much nitrogen in the soil–use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen such as 5-10-10; (3) the soil is either too wet or too dry–keep the soil just moist; (4) rough cultivation that has damaged roots inhibiting the uptake of moisture and nutrients; (5) soil to chilly; (5) soil pH is high or low–adjust the pH to 6.5 to 6.8.

  13. Hi! My first year for tomato plants and growing in containers my question is my plants started off great have some big ones but some of my new flowers don’t open stay small then turn an orange ish color and fall off starting to do this on most of my plants. Thanks for your time and input 🙂

    • Blossom drop can be caused by temperatures too cool (below 50F)–you may have had some chilly nights, or temperatures too warm–greater than 87F. If temperature is the cause of flowers dropping, simply wait until temperatures moderate. Blossom drop can also be caused by too much nitrogen in the soil–avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Other stresses can cause blossom drop–too little water, too much water, wind.

  14. The main stem grows tall as expected but the leaves are all very small and have a bit of a withered look but no sign of discoloration, insect ot disease. As if the plant is getting too much ot to little of something. All 5 plants though different varities all exhibit same abnormality

    • It sounds as if your tomatoes are growing leggy–this can be caused by insufficient sun, but sure the plants get at least 6 hours of direct such each day. Too much nitrogen in the soil can cause plants to grow leggy as well.

  15. Hi, my name is Danielle. I’m in South Carolina and we set out about 12 tomato plants this year. the plants are doing well and have lots of fruit however the fruits do not appear to be getting any larger. The are the beef steak variety. I was wondering if you had any suggestions. Is there something that can be done? It has been a week and a half to two weeks with no change in size. Or am i just impatient?

    • Most beefsteak tomatoes will take 80 or more days to reach harvest from transplanting. Simply keep the soil evenly moist and the tomatoes will mature to harvest.

  16. I started tomatoes from seed for the first time. They look great & are about 10″ tall now. BUT they have silvery marks on both sides of the leaves. Any clue what it is before it starts destroying my plants?

    • The silvery marks could be a sign of insects–whiteflies or flea beetles– feeding on the leaves; knock away insects with a stream of water from the hose. You may also want to spray both sides of the leaves with insecticidal soap which will kill insect pests on contact.

      • Hello Steve,
        Thanks a lot for this site and your effort to help others. It’s really appreciated.
        I stumbled on a weird tomato problem of my own with several varieties of plum tomatoes I planted for the first time this year; do you perchance have any ideas about why tomato leaves would deform, with leaflets curled a bit and petiolules pointing back to the stem? It looks like this: http://imgur.com/a/7Pk1T
        Thanks!

        • Some heirloom tomato varieties simply grow the way you describe–as seen in your photo. Not all tomato plants and their leaves look the same; your plants have potato leaf-shaped leaves seen in many heirlooms. The plants appear healthy, but competition for sunlight, moisture and nutrients can cause leaves to deform or grow oddly.

    • Researchers at Michigan State University found that tomatoes that tomato blossoms pollinated with just a single grain of pollen did not develop pulp. When your tomatoes are in blossom give them a gentle shake to make sure the pollen drops from the male to female part of the flower and pollination is complete.

  17. My tomato plants are in large containers & planted in top soil ,bagged manure compost & a mixture of stay green with 9 month fertilizer. Started off great but a week ago the bottoms started turning brown & all the leaves curl up in evening it’s getting worse any suggestions I water every evening when sun goes down ?

    • Root rot from overwatering can cause plants to wilt and die. Make sure your container is well draining. You may want to invest in a moisture meter to check on the moisture at the bottom of your container. Unless the temperatures are very warm, you should likely need to water every third or fourth day, not every day.

    • From the top down–meaning from the top of the plant down or from the tip of the leaves to the stem? If the top of the plant is drying then you may simply need to water a bit more; the plant is likely not taking up enough moisture. Be sure the soil stays evenly moist; by mid-season the roots should be established to 12 to 18 inches deep so water deeply. If individual leaves are drying from the tip down, then the plant may be suffering from a fungal disease such as early or late blight, leaf-spot fungus, or fusarium or verticillium wilt. Fungal diseases can be prevented by ensuring that the soil is well drained–add aged compost to the planting beds, and that here is air circulation throughout the garden. Water only at the base of plants. You slow fungal diseases by spraying the leaves with an organic fungicide; one spray formula is 1 part baking soda to 9 parts water.

  18. Hello I have one tomatoe plant and it has a lot of tomatoes on each branch and they started turning red last week. M plant. Was nice and green and so healthy looking I was so proud of it but now it looks all dried up, the leaves are turning brown with black spots all over the leaves. Now the tomatoes that are turning red have , like, big slashes across the top and the tomatoes are rotten inside what do I do?????

    • If the fruit is rotten and the leaves have turned black, it is time to remove the plant from the garden. The plant was likely attacked by a bacterial disease–the disease may have entered the plant via water uptake from the soil. Bacterial rots can not be undone, but you can protect other plants in the garden from infection by removing the diseased plant. Adding plenty of aged compost to the planting beds on a regular basis can ensure that the soil is well drained and may prevent disease in the future.

  19. My tomatoes plants were looking good and within a day or two the leaves curled up and the whole plant died. I had changed the soil and washed the pots. The same thing still happen to me time and again. Can anybody help me? Water is enough.

    • How mature were the plants when the leaves curled? If just seedling then transplant shock might be the problem. If plants are mature then heat or water stress may be to blame. Keep the soil just moist, not too wet, never dry. Keep the plant out of the wind. If the weather gets very hot–place a shade cover over the plant in the afternoons. Do not use fertilizers high in nitrogen. If you are using commercial potting soil, it is unlikely that the problem is a soil borne disease.

  20. I am in South Carolina and I tried to grow tomatoes in large pots. But lately the tomatoes plants wilted overnight when they reaches 1-3 feet. I had washed the pots and changed soil and started with new plants. The same thing happened again. Any advice?

    • Growing tomatoes in pots can be a bit tricky when it comes to watering. You want to keep the soil just moist, but do not over or under water the plants. Sometimes it is difficult to know if the roots are getting moisture. You may want to invest in a moisture meter to gauge moisture at the roots. Wilting in the morning is commonly a sign that plants are under-watered. However, over watering can cause plants to wilt or droop as well.

    • Tomato blossom drop is commonly linked to environmental stress: too much or too little water, weather too hot or too cold, too little sun, too much nitrogen in the soil. Monitor these and you should determine the cause. Blossom drop also can happen if the flowers fail to pollinate–the tomato flower is complete meaning it has both male and female part. Give the yellow flowers a little shake and they should pollinate.

  21. Michigan tomatoes are the best. Nice and red and juicy! We picked several with completely red and round on one side and flat silver film on the other side. What is this?

    • What you describe sounds like fruit spot caused by the fungus anthracnose; fruit develops a wet looking film or circular depression–sometimes the depression is filled with salmon colored masses of spores. The spots commonly turn black. Spraying with horticultural sulfur will stop the infection from spreading. Infected plants should be removed from the garden. Harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe; don’t let it stay on the plant past ripe.

  22. I have a good harvest of tomatoes this year, early girl and better boy, but within 1 to 2 days after picking they develop brown rotting spots all over. I’ve thrown away at least a dozen tomatoes so far. What is causing this and how do I prevent it? I’m scared to pick any more tomatoes!

    • Perhaps you are waiting a bit too long to harvest the tomatoes and they are past ripe at harvest; this would lead to quicker spoliage after harvest. There are several causes of tomato fruit rot, fungal and viral diseases and also pest attacks; but disease and insect attacks commonly cause rot to start before the fruit is ready for picking. If the tomatoes look good at harvest, you may want to immediately freeze or juice the fruits you can not use right away.

    • We had the exact same problem this year. It has never been the case in years past, but it is very frustrating. We are in NW Tennessee. Wondered if it could be a regional problem.

    • Fruit flies and winged aphids will attack ripe fruit. There are several insects that puncture tomato fruits–stink bugs, cucumber beetles, are two; these insects suck juices from the fruit and leave behind holes which can be susceptible to fungal diseases and rots–which will in turn attract other pest insects like flies. You may be able to salvage the fruit by cutting away the holes, but if the infestation of flies is serious, it might be best to put the fruit into the compost pile or trash.

  23. Hello, I have several tomato plants of different varieties. We had a dry summer so I was watering them every day. I noticed one plant had a few branches drooping, not the whole plant but just part of it. So I gave it more water and the drooping got worse. after a while it partially recovered then another week or so later the same parts of the plant plus a little more of it was drooping. This cycle continued to where now it is pretty much the whole plant. Meanwhile a couple other plants are starting to go through this problem too. My dad suggested it could be grubs in the soil eating the roots. Would grubs cause what I have described?
    Thanks!

    • Yes, root feeding insects can nibble on roots and cause plants to wilt and die. Blight–a soilborne fungal disease–can also cause partial and eventually full plant failure. Late blight is a common disease that visits tomato plants late in the season. It would be best to remove the failing plants–at least when death seems imminent. When you remove the plant look for grubs or other larvae that might be feeding on the roots; if you don’t see grubs, it is likely late blight or another soilborne fungal disease. Be sure to add plenty of aged compost to your planting beds in the offseason. Many fungal diseases occur where the soil is not well drained; compost will increase drainage–and also retain moisture for roots.

  24. I have what looks like aphid damage on my plants. The insects I see look like green aphids except that they are winged, and I have seen some flying away when I sprayed them. I also see leaves eaten that I have normally seen with hornworms, but I can’t find any caterpillars

    • Some species of aphids are winged. Caterpillars are very good at hiding on the undersides of leaves; check thoroughly. Spread diatomaceous earth on the soil at the base of plants just in case snails, slugs, or other night-eating pests are feeding after dark.

    • The furry growth could be powdery mildew or another fungus or mealybugs; either way spray the plant with a light horticultural oil. The oil will smother both fungi and insects.

      • Gday Steve . My tomatoes have a problem . Plants are mature with fruit and have been picking . Yum . But the tips or tops of the plant ate stunted and purplish , almost like its been hit with Round Up but theres no chance of that . Is spreading through my crop . Any idea ? Cheers mate.

        • Tomato leaves that are turning a shade of purple–and sometimes the fruit–may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Feed the plants with a complete organic fertilizer–about 5-10-10; water the fertilizer in or apply as a foliar spray. This will give the plants a dose of each of the major nutrients and can only help not hurt the plants. If it is a nutrient deficiency you should see results in as little as a week. Other stresses can cause tomato leaves to turn purple–cold weather, cold nights (protect the plants if you suspect this). Some varieties of tomatoes–some heirlooms–have a natural purplish tint to the leaves; this also may be the case, but probably not likely given your description.

  25. I have been growing better boys for several years with relatively good success, particularly in the spring months in South West Florida. I use store bought soil in 20 and 30 gallon totes. Some of my soil is a few seasons old. Our AVG Daily Temp in Naples has been 76F in the month of Jan.
    My issue is that all of my better boys are growing in an oblong shape resembling an Heirloom tomato. Any suggestions? The plants that are growing in new soil are having the same issue.

    • The shape of the tomato fruit is not likely effected by the soil. Misshapen fruit is likely to be related to light, water or other environmental issues or to pests. Better Boy is commonly round; if the fruit is oblate, as you describe, first check to make sure that the seed or seedlings you planted were indeed Better Boy and not an oblate variety. Better Boy should be supported by a cage or stake and the fruit should hang free of impediment and should get 8 hours of sunlight each day. Water should be even throughout fruit development and not sporadic. Uneven watering and light can affect fruit development and shape. Sucking pests can affect fruit shape, but you would likely also see injury. The soil in your containers should be at a minimum refreshed by half each year; that way the plants will get the nutrients they need for fruit development. Reused soil–unless you are adding fertilizers–will be ever depleted of nutrients.

  26. My tomato plant leaves are shriveling up and curled. They also have tiny holes all over the leaves. Could this be caused by over fertilizing?

    • Too much fertilizer can cause lush leafy growth which might attract some insects (and can slow or inhibit fruit growth). Tiny holes on leaves may be a sign of flea beetles feeding on the leaves. Flea beetles leave tiny round holes. Flea beetles are very small, shiny, and black–and they hop. Sticky traps are a good way to control flea beetles. If the holes follow leaf spotting–black or tan small spots on leaves–this could be a sign of the fungal diseases called Septoria Leaf Spot or Early Blight. These diseases start as specks on leaves and as the tissue disintegrates can become small holes. These diseases are most common when the weather is wet and temps are between 60-80F. Use a fungicide on the leaves.

    • Celebrity tomato is 70 days to harvest from setting out the transplant at about 6 weeks after germination–so that is a total of about 112 days from sowing seed. Those numbers are with optimal growing conditions of an average temperatrue 70F each day and warmer than 60F at night, 8 hours of sunlight, consistent water and nutrients. If your growing conditions vary from optimal, add 10 days to 2 or 3 weeks to maturity. Thick skin would indicate that soil moisture may not have been consistent–that the plant went through some dry periods. Thick skin should not affect flavor once the fruit ripens.

  27. Our tomatoes are producing quite a bit of fruit but before they even ripen they start getting spongy spots on them does not appear to have any entry marks my husband says there are “orange” flies around .

    • Your tomatoes may have been attacked by stinkbugs. Stinkbugs pierce tomato fruits and suck the juice. The fruit tissue then dries or forms a callous in an effort to heal. Check around your plants for stinkbugs; they have a five-sided shield like back. Spray them with insecticidal soap. The flies are attracted to the rot that sets in to the fruit. If stinkbugs are not found your plant may have a blight–a fungal disease. Usually blight shows up first on leaves as yellow or dark spots.

  28. I have a tomato plant in which a few branches have started to turn yellow. At first I thought there were aphids, but then I noticed there were done brown doors on the leaves as well. I looked up images of vertically and fusarium wilt, butt neither of them look remotely similar to mine. Any idea what it could be?

    • There are several diseases which can infect tomato plants and start with leaf yellowing and brown spots. Verticillium and fusarium wilt are two. Other possible fungal infections are Early Blight and Late Blight and Septoria leaf spot. More serious are bacterial diseases. Remove the infected leaves as soon as you spot them; place them in a paper bag and put them in the trash. Spray the plants with compost tea which will act as a fungicide and may slow the disease. Water only at the base of the plant; no overhead watering. If the infection spreads and stems or branches start to turn brown or black or soggy, remove the infected plants from the garden right away.

    • Tomato fruits that fail to enlarge may be a sign that the flowers were not fully pollinated. The tomato is self-pollinating but it still can use some help to get the pollen to drop–usually a light shake at flowering time. Apart from poor pollination, lack of sunlight, lack of water can slow fruit development. Overcast weather can also slow development of fruit.

  29. My Jet Star tomato plants look healthy but I have noticed the top leaves are small & curled. Is this new growth or do they have a disease? I have not ever tried this variety so do not know if this is a normal thing. They are not bearing yet. The info that came with them ways 72 days. Please advise on the leaf issue. Thank you.

    • Jet Start tomatoes may have a slight leaf curl. If the curl is pronounced make sure the soil is staying just moist; this will ensure leaves get the moisture and nutrients needed for development. If day are very hot, you can place a light row cover over the young plants to protect the leaves of drying sun; do this as well if there is a prevailing breeze in your garden–which can suck moisture out of leaves causing curl. Check the undersides of leaves to be sure that no insects are feeding on the leaves–aphids and whiteflies suck plant juices which can result in leaf curl.

  30. For some reason two of my four tomato plants do not seem to be setting fruit. None of your descriptions seem to fit as a possible reason. They are producing plenty of blossoms, so it shouldn’t be too much nitrogen. The blossoms are not being dropped, just shriveling up without seeing any fruit. I frequently tap them trying to increase pollination, but to no avail. Currently my cherry tomato plants seem to be starting to have the same problem, although they are also just starting to drop blossoms, probably because the temperature has started to increase lately.

    • Temperatures greater than 85F can inhibit pollination so can foggy or wet weather; these factors can cause flowers to wither and die. Check to be sure pest there are no pest insects about. With plenty of blossoms pollination is likely to occur sooner or later–as will the weather.

  31. I have lush healthy plants full of blooms and quarter size and smaller beefsteak tomatoes. My issue is the tomatoes on the vines are not continuing to grow. I live in Ohio. They have remained the same size for about two weeks. My vines continue to grow and are producing new tomatoes, however the older tomatoes although looking healthy just not growing in size.

    • If the weather has been consistently near or warmer than 90F, the tomato plant may be waiting for temperatures closer to 85F. Plants will go into a near dormant holding stage when temperatures spike; growth will resume when temperatures moderate. Make sure the soil stays consistently moist during from bloom time through fruit development; cut back on water about 10 days before harvest. If temps have been moderate, you can remove some of the older and under-developing fruits allowing the plants to put energy into the new fruit development (but don’t remove all of the old fruits–they may jump back to growing when temperatures are right).

    • If the soil and watering have been consistent for both plants, it may be that the wilting plant has contracted a fungal or bacterial or viral disease. If the plant deteriorates–continues to wilt or develops brown or black leaves or stems–remove it from the garden to avoid infection of other plants. That said, garden soil is not always consistent from one spot to the next. Amend the soil with aged compost or organic commercial planting mix before planting in that spot next year.

  32. I am growing tomatoes in New Jersey in a raised bed. The tomatoes started out big and now are ripening small. They also have cracks on the tops of them. What could be the problem?

    • Both the cracks and the size likely indicate insufficient soil moisture or sporadic watering. From bloom time to harvest, try to keep the soil just moist; avoid letting the soil go dry then watering heavily. Keep the soil just moist.

  33. I’m growing 6 plants of Chadwick cherries. all are growing well and covered in fruit, however on one plant all the fruit are hemispherical like peaches (looks like a butt). any ideas whats causing this?

    • The wrinkle in the skin of your cherry tomatoes is likely a form of what tomato growers call catfacing. Catfacing is caused by low temperatures at the time of flowering and fruit set. Think back to the days when your tomato plants were flowering, was there a cold spell, temperatures below 55F. The fruit is edible.

  34. Hello Steve! I have two lemon boy tomatoes and one is doing great, but the other has not grown an inch. What should I do? Thank you in advance!

    • Move the slow grower to another location; prepare a new planting spot in full sun. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep at the root ball of the plant; fill the hole with a commercial organic planting mix; before you set the plant in the new hole sprinkle a 5-10-10 organic fertilizer at the bottom of the hole.

  35. I have been given a Jersey Devil plant which has dried off at the top of the leaves an inch above them. I have cut off the dried bit and now wonder what else I should do?

    • Keep the soil just moist, do not let it dry out. Feed the plants with a 5-10-10 fertilizer every 3 to 4 weeks. Shield the plant from hot midday sun and temperatures.

  36. I’m really stumped. I have a big boy tomato plant that was doing great. Then it starts growing thin long stems where the leaves are all in tiny balls. I have a photo of it. But not sure how to post it. I’m bag gardening and it’s in a 40qt moisture control potting mix. I’ve never experienced anything like this. My cherry tomato is doing well lots of blooms and fruits. Same type of soil maybe 4-5 feet apart. Thank you

    • Check the plant carefully for sucking insects such as mites or aphids; use a hose to gently wash the leaves. If the plant is full and otherwise healthy remove the affected stems and leaves and place them in the trash; the plant may recover and continue on to harvest. If the stems and leaves start to turn brownish or black, that would be an indication of a bacterial disease; if large parts of the plant should become involved remove the plant and put it in the trash.

  37. My tomato’s are so big and heavy and are starting to split from the main stem! They are still green but so big and heavy, called Red Butcher

    • Try placing sturdy stakes on either side of the main stem; use elastic horticultural tape to tie the stem loosely to the stakes. If there is heavy green growth beyond the fruits on each branch you can trim that foliage back by one-fourth.

  38. Hi Steve,
    I live in Illinois and this year have been an 87-90 degree temp average summer. I planted 6 Burpee Tomato Plants. The Tomatos look great until they turn red. Then they are all getting a black ring around the bottom of each red tomato. Can you tell me what is causing this and the fix? Thank you again.
    Gary

    • Your description sounds like blossom-end rot. It is usually caused by erratic uptake of magnesium and calcium from the soil; the cell walls are not getting the nutrients they need. Give the plants a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salt in 1 gallon of water–this deliver magnesium. You can also fertile with Lily Miller Mor-Crop which contains magnesium and calcium. Keep the soil just moist; do not overwater and do not let the soil go dry. The fruit that follows should be ok; the damaged fruit will likely rot.

  39. Hi there- I’m a first time tomato grower. My tomato plant that I bought from a store has plenty of tomatoes growing on it, but when I picked the first one it tasted terrible- there was practically no taste and there was something wrong with it inside- it was like the innards/guts weren’t connected to the skin. The insides of the tomato just kind of oozed out. Any advice?

  40. Planted a LARGE garden for the first time this year, we brought in commercial compost/soil mixture and built raised rows. I have probably 50 tomato plants in different rows (all of the same soil). One row of soil has all of the tomatoes growing with deformed stems and curled leaves. The other rows are all fine, any suggestions? I just recently installed drip irrigation and mulched all the rows heavily hoping that will help.

    • If all of the plants in one row or bed are failing there is likely a soil-related problem: too much nitrogen in the soil or soil that has been tainted by a chemical are possibilities. Has that row been fertilized or treated in a manner different from the other rows? Has that row missed watering? There is likely a specific reason–you will have to be a detective for a day or two to figure it out.

  41. Why are the blooms breaking at the elbow? I have all plants on differing soil, yet all the blooms break. Is this just a watering problem?

    • Blossoms can fail if the weather is too chilly (below 50F) or too hot (greater than 95F); they can also fail due to lack of moisture or too much moisture–keep the soil just moist; blossoms will also fail if they are not pollinating–tomatoes are self-pollinating, give the blossom trusses a gentle shake once flowers open; this will help the pollen fall.

  42. Hi, One particular tomato plant produced a good set of tomatoes on the lower truss. Then, all was going well with the 2nd truss flowering fine. THen t my dismay the center of the flowers, actually the bottom end of the petals where they join the tiny (looks fertilised fruit) but can’t tell, are turning brown and then the fruit gives up.without reaching a size of more than 1-2 mm. Help/

    • Flowers will die if pollination is incomplete; be sure to give each truss a gentle shake to help pollen drop. Hight temperatures and too much nitrogen in the soil can also cause flowers to abort.

  43. my cherry tomatoes start to ripen, turn orange and then drop off. They are soft and mushy inside. I pulled a few orange ones off the vine to ripen on window sill, but they cracked open and were mushy. No black spots on leaves or fruit, but some leaves are turning yellow and brown

    • The tomatoes are likely over-ripe. Set the tomatoes on the counter away from the window and they will ripen. Tomatoes that are mushy off the vine are over-ripe.

    • What you describe sounds like the appearance of adventitious roots that erupt from the main stems of tomato plants infected with tomato pith necrosis which is a bacterial infection. There is no treatment, only prevention. Pith necrosis is caused by too much nitrogen in the soil. Other causes include cool nighttime temperatures and low humidity. Avoid excessive use of nitrogen.

Curled tomato leaves

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