Along with “how do I prune my hydrangea,” the “what’s wrong with my tomato” survey should take first place in the Universal Garden Question Hall of Fame.
Indeed, a quick online search for tomato growing challenges will bring up a list of some three billion internet sites that will make you want to throw in the towel, give up gardening and start playing competitive checkers or joining. of the World Cornhole Organization instead of gardening.
But the truth is that while there are lists upon lists of insects, diseases and other conditions that can make tomato growing a challenge, there is a suitable solution to deal with most of those problems.
Here are the top five things wrong with your tomato plant and how to fix them.
How often should I water my tomato plant?
This may come as a surprise to some people, but water—too much or too little—can do more to reduce yield or quality than anything else. However, the problems arising from water challenges are not always easy to link directly to a reduction in premium.
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While I’m sure you’re all just like me and irrigate your tomato plants perfectly through every hot, dry day week after week after hot, mosquito-filled week, there are those who don’t time it just right. And while it’s easy to see when plants begin to wilt from lack of water, drought-induced plant productivity begins to suffer long before visible wilting occurs. And when drought stress develops in a young tomato plant, it can take days for the internal tomato to work normally again, no matter how much you water or sing to your plants.
Watering once a week, repeated week after week, can mean your plants are never at peak performance, even though plants look happy and normal.
On the other hand, the occasional over-watering can be just as problematic, especially when combined with a wave of under-watering. Here’s a perfect example: You go on vacation for a week or two and hire the boy next door to come over every day to water your precious tomato plants. He comes once for the whole week. You come home from vacation, feel sorry for the semi-mature fruits on your slightly wilting plants. So you make up for your absence by drowning the plants in the guilt-induced irrigation of an Olympic swimming pool.
And a few days later, you’ll have a crop of split-skinned tomatoes from the rapid growth.
There is no substitute for consistent watering.
What are tomato hornworms and how do I treat them?
While it may seem completely inconceivable that a 4-inch-long caterpillar with a railroad-sized horn at the end could hide on any plant, that’s exactly what tomato hornworms do. These monsters from the caterpillar world fit in so perfectly with their environment that sometimes the first sign of them is when one day you go into the water and realize you have nothing but a very large pile of leafless tomato stems. Add to that the fact that adult hornworms can lay eggs every night and in perfect conditions can lay up to 2000 eggs per season and I think you get the picture.
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You can pick them off the plants and drop them in a bucket of soapy water if you don’t mind the wrestling match (they don’t sting with the big “horn”, by the way). You can also treat them with a natural enemy of the caterpillars – Bacillus thuringiensis (BT for short) a naturally occurring bacterial disease that is quite effective.
And if you see what looks like little grains of white rice on your hornworms, let them. They are usually parasitic wasp cocoons that are very effective in killing hornworms.
How do I treat yellow, diseased leaves on my tomato plant?
By my count, there are about 64 billion viral disease organisms that can attack tomato plants. They all generally result in some sort of yellowing of leaves. The first piece of advice is don’t even bother trying to figure out who out of those 64 billion is to blame. There isn’t much to do anyway. The most effective thing you can do is plant disease resistant varieties.
And this is a good point to clarify a major tomato plant cultivation problem. If you’re growing modern hybrids, you’re in the right place. You have plants that have grown excellent disease resistance in it. As long as you don’t grow tomatoes in the same spot year after year, you should be able to have a fairly long productive season.
If, on the other hand, you grow the so-called heirloom varieties, you are on your own.
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Some of the older strains are among the tastiest in the world and I can’t imagine a summer without Mr. Stripey, Ox Heart or Japanese Black Pear. But for all they offer in terms of taste and aroma, they are miserable to grow. They are susceptible to just about every foliar disease on the planet and generally struggle to make it to the end of the season.
But is that a reason not to breed them? Not at all. Be realistic about expectations and don’t waste time controlling foliar diseases.
Why Are My Tomato Plants Dropping Blossoms?
While tomato plants love the heat of summer, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If nighttime temperatures don’t drop below 80 degrees and daytime temperatures reach the mid to high 90s day after day, plants can stop producing flowers or even destroy existing flowers. There’s not much you can do about this, except maybe a few extra church services a week.
How much fertilizer should I use for my tomato plants?
Yes, it is possible to love your tomato plants too much. We love to fertilize our tomato plants, and when done right, the plants love it too. But again, too much of a good thing can spell disaster.
If you are one of those people who likes to dip your plants in the blue manure juice of the garden, be careful. Too much nitrogen can make plants grow into beanstalks, but all that nitrogen favors stems and leaves over fruit. The great thing is that nitrogen does not linger in the soil for very long. If you overdo it for the first part of the season, just cut back — or stop altogether — and plants will gradually begin to bear fruit.
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So the moral of the story is: hang in there. While tomato plants are not the easiest for the aspiring gardener, with a little attention to detail you can fill your dining table with one of the most rewarding pieces the garden has to offer.
Paul Cappiello is the Executive Director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Gardneres should try these tomato growing tips, tomato care tips