Growing tomatoes is a popular summer time experience, but things don’t always go as expected! It’s time to troubleshoot some tomato plant problems.
Today, we’ll have a look at the most common problems with tomato plants that you might face. From black spots on leaves to wilting or cracked fruits, we’ll cover it all.
This list of common tomato problems and their solutions will help you identify an issue and show you how to correct it, so you can get that fruitful harvest that all gardeners long for.
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Identifying problems on tomato plants
Before you have a look at the list, and find a solution to the problem, it is important to correctly identify what is wrong with your tomato plant.
- Take note of the symptoms. Regularly inspect your plants and see whether the problems are affecting the leaves, stems, fruit or roots. Compare the symptoms you find to a healthy plant.
- Check for pests, since many problems with tomato plants are caused by them. Inspect the undersides of leaves and the soil around the plants for signs of pests. Look, not only for visible insects, but also eggs, or sticky residues like honeydew that could indicate the presence of pests.
- If you suspect a disease, look for disease patterns. Some common tomato plant diseases, like early blight, typically start on lower leaves and progress upwards, while others, like late blight, may affect the whole plant rapidly.
- If there are issues with the fruit, consider whether the problems are developing on the vine or after you harvest. For example, blossom end rot appears on the bottom of the fruit while it’s still on the plant, while fruit rot may occur after harvesting.
- Keep a garden journal. This will help you track changes and identify recurring issues in future seasons.
Once you have identified the problem or narrowed it down to a few possibilities, test some solutions or remedies. Take note of how the plants respond, and adjust your approach if needed.
Problems with tomato plant leaves
The leaves of tomato plants can experience various issues that may affect their appearance and overall health. Here are some common problems you might encounter with tomato plant leaves:
Yellowing of leaves
Yellow leaves on tomato plants are a common symptom and can be caused by various factors, including nutrient deficiencies, overwatering, underwatering, or improper soil pH level.
Damage to the root system, extreme temperatures and many pest infestations can also lead to yellowing leaves.
Transplant shock can temporarily lead to yellow leaves, and exposure to chemical or herbicides is also a factor.
Finally, many fungal, bacterial, or viral diseases can cause yellowing leaves since they affect the plant’s ability to transport nutrients.
Check out this post to learn more about yellow leaves on tomato plants and get some specific solutions to this problem.
Black spots on tomato plant leaves
Brown or black spots on tomato leaves can be signs of fungal or bacterial diseases like early blight, late blight, or septoria leaf spot.
Insect damage, exposure to chemicals and environmental stresses can also cause black spots on tomato plant leaves.
Since these spots can have various causes, note that it’s important to identify the specific reason to be able to address the issue effectively.
This post about black spots on tomato leaves addresses each cause and offers solutions the problems.
Curling tomato plant leaves
Leaves that curl or twist may indicate pest infestations, such as aphids or whiteflies, which can cause distortion by feeding on the plant’s sap.
Other causes of curling tomato plant leaves are heat stress, and watering issues (both under-watering and over-watering).
A tomato nitrogen deficiency and transplant shock at planting time can also lead to this problem. Note that curling of leaves downward can be caused by exposure to herbicides or chemicals.
Identify the cause of curling leaves first, and take appropriate action to address the issue.
Learn more about tomato leaf curl and how to prevent it.
Brown or yellow leaf edges
Brown or yellow edges on leaves is often due to inconsistent watering, especially when the plants experience alternating periods of dryness and moisture.
Be sure to also provide adequate shade during extreme heat, and ensure proper nutrient balance. If the problem persists, consult a local gardening expert or horticulturist for further diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Leaves with a powdery coating
The most common reason for tomato plant leaves exhibiting a powdery coating on the leaves is a disease called powdery mildew. (see explanation for this disease at the bottom of the post in the diseases section.)
Apart from powdery mildew, there are a few other other reason that a powdery coating develops on tomato leaves.
Whiteflies, aphids, or other insects on tomato plants can result in sticky secretions called honeydew. Honeydew can promote the growth of sooty mold, which appears as a black, powdery coating on the leaves.
Floury leafhoppers are small insects that feed on tomato plants and can cause a white, powdery appearance on the leaves due to their feeding activity.
Certain weather conditions, such as high humidity and low light levels, can create an environment conducive to the growth of a powdery coating on leaves.
A buildup of dust and dirt on tomato leaves can sometimes give the appearance of a powdery coating. This can be more noticeable in dry and dusty environments.
If you notice a powdery coating on your tomato leaves, it’s essential to closely examine the leaves and consider which factors are present to help identify the specific cause.
If you suspect powdery mildew or any other fungal disease, improving air circulation, and maintaining good garden hygiene (keeping tools clean to reduce the spread of the disease.)
Pale green leaves on tomato plants
Leaves that are a pale green color could be a sign of insufficient sunlight conditions or watering issues. Both overwatering and underwatering can cause pale green leaves.
Often the cause is environmental – extreme temperatures, particularly heat stress, can cause tomato leaves to turn pale green.
Any issue affecting the root system, such as damage, disease, or poor development, can hinder nutrient uptake, leading to pale green leaves.
Finally, an incorrect soil pH can cause nutrient deficiencies, resulting in pale green leaves. Often nitrogen or iron is lacking in the soil.
Solutions to the problem of pale green leaves usually involve proper plant maintenance.
Ensure proper watering practices, providing enough water so that the soil is neither too wet or too dry.
Problems with tomato plant fruits
It is not just the leaves of tomato plants that will alert you to problems. The fruit itself will also show that the plant is having issues.
Tomato plant fruits can encounter various problems that affect their development and quality. Here are some common issues you might face with tomato plant fruits:
Blossom end rot
If you notice dark, sunken areas on the bottom of the fruit, it is likely that blossom end rot is affecting your plants.
This is caused by calcium deficiency, often resulting from inconsistent watering.
Ensuring that you water well and mulching to retain soil moisture will help. Testing your soil to find out if you have enough calcium in it also helps.
This post talks about blossom end rot and how to deal with it.
If your method of watering is irregular, or you have periods of heavy rain and long dry periods, your tomatoes may split or crack.
The solution to this tomato plant problem is to ensure that the plants receive consistent moisture.
Some tomato varieties are more prone to cracking than others. Certain heirloom or large-fruited tomatoes are more susceptible to cracking due to their genetic characteristics.
Overripe tomatoes are also more prone to cracking, since their skin becomes less elastic and more susceptible to splitting. The answer to this problem is to harvest when the fruit is mature but not too ripe.
This post talks about the causes of fruit cracking in tomatoes and what to do about thisproblem.
Catfacing in tomatoes
Catfacing results in irregular, distorted, and puckered fruit surfaces. It happens because of exposure to low temperatures during the fruit development stage.
If the temperatures are relatively low (below 60°F or 15°C) during flowering and fruit set, the flowers of tomato plants might not develop and open properly, leading to improper pollination.
This results in the characteristic misshapen appearance. Catfaced tomatoes have irregular, deep indentations and folds, often concentrated around the blossom end of the fruit. The affected areas are usually tough and not suitable for consumption.
You can take some measures to minimize catfacing:
- Select tomato varieties that are less susceptible to catfacing. Some modern cultivars have been bred to reduce this problem. ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ and ‘Galahad,’ are considered resistant to catfacing.
- Plant tomatoes after the risk of frost and when temperatures are consistently warm to promote proper flower development and pollination.
- Use row covers or other protective measures during cool spring nights to shield young tomato plants from cold temperatures.
It’s important to note that catfacing doesn’t affect the taste or nutritional value of the tomatoes. The deformed areas can be cut away, and the rest of the fruit is safe to eat.
Find out more about catfaced tomatoes here.
Other appearance problems with tomatoes
In addition to the three issues above, other appearance problems with tomato fruits can occur. Here are some common tomato plant problems affecting appearance that you might encounter with tomato fruits and their potential causes:
- Green shoulders – The top of the fruit remains green and hard, while the rest of the fruit ripens normally. This is caused by exposure to high sunlight and high temperatures.
- Sunscald – Pale, sunken areas on the skin occur when the fruit is exposed to too much direct sunlight.
- Misshapen or deformed fruits – Oddly shaped fruits may result from uneven pollination or environmental stress during fruit development.
- Small or no fruits – Lack of fruit development or small-sized fruits may be due to poor pollination, inadequate nutrients, or stress on the plant.
- Tomato blossom drop – This happens when tomato plants shed their flowers before they can develop into fruits. Several environment issues can contribute to this issue.
To prevent blossom drop, maintain consistent watering, provide proper nutrients, control pests and diseases, and ensure good pollination conditions.
Premature fruit drop can also occur due to environmental factors, such as extreme temperatures, lack of proper pollination, or nutrient deficiencies.
Solutions include protection from too much sunlight and proper fertilization. Encouraging pollinators like bees also helps to improve pollination and fruit set.
Tomato pests and diseases
Insects can have both positive and negative effects on tomato plants. Some insects are beneficial since they help with pollination or prey on harmful pests, while others can cause damage to the plants.
Here are some common insects that might cause problems for your tomato plants:
These are small, soft-bodied insects that suck the sap from tomato plants. They can cause stunted growth and curling of leaves
They feed on plant sap and excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract other pests like ants and promote the growth of sooty mold.
There are several ways to control aphids. You can spray your plants with a strong stream of water, introduce natural predators (like ladybugs), and use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Spider mites are another common pest that can affect tomato plants.
These tiny arachnids suck sap from the leaves, which leads to stippling, yellowing, and eventually the leaves turning brown and falling off.
To manage a spider mite infestations, increase humidity around the plants. There are several ways to do this:
- Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tomato plants to help retain soil moisture.
- Plant tomatoes close together in groups. As they release moisture into the air, the combined effect can raise humidity levels within the group.
- Install a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses to water the tomato plants at the base. This method delivers water directly to the roots, reducing water loss through evaporation and maintaining higher humidity around the leaves.
Remember that while some humidity is beneficial, excessive moisture around the plants can lead to fungal diseases. So, try to strike a balance and avoid overwatering or creating conditions that encourage mold or mildew growth.
If you do find an infestation, spraying tomato plants with water will remove the mites, and you can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil to control the population.
Tomato plants are susceptible to whitefly infestations, which can cause significant damage if they are left uncontrolled.
Whiteflies are small, winged insects that feed on the sap of tomato plants, causing yellowing leaves, reduced plant strength, and contribute to the spread of viral diseases.
To manage whiteflies, introduce natural predators like ladybugs, use yellow sticky traps to catch adult whiteflies, and spray plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Regularly inspect plants to catch infestations early to help prevent them from spreading.
Tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms
The caterpillar of the tomato hornworm moth can strip the leaves of tomato plants, causing significant damage to both foliage and fruits. They are a common pest on tomato plants.
These large, green caterpillars have horn-like structures on their rear end. They feed on both the leaves and fruits of tomato plants, and can quickly cause extensive damage.
Both tobacco and tomato hornworms feed on plants in the nightshade family, mainly tomato and also eggplant, pepper and potatoes.
To control them, handpick and remove the caterpillars from the plants. Regularly inspect your tomato plants to catch hornworms early and prevent severe infestations.
Check out this post to find out more about tomato hornworms.
Tomato fruitworm, also known as corn earworm or Helicoverpa armigera, is a common pest that can affect tomato plants. These worms bore into tomatoes, causing internal damage and making the fruit inedible.
To manage tomato fruitworms, inspect plants regularly. Handpick and remove the caterpillars when found, and use floating row covers as a preventive measure.
Removing weeds can also help reduce their population.
These small, winged insects feed on the sap of tomato plants, leaving behind silver or bronze streaks on leaves. They can also spread viruses and affect fruit development.
To manage thrips, use reflective mulches, introduce natural predators such as minute pirate bugs which feed on thrips, and use insecticidal soaps or neem oil to control infestations.
Regularly inspect plants to catch thrips early and prevent severe damage.
Solutions for insects on tomato plants
It is important to manage insect populations on tomato plants to ensure healthy growth and maximum fruit production. Here are some strategies for doing this.
Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs, minute pirate bugs, and lacewings by providing suitable habitats or purchasing them from garden supply stores or online.
Use row covers or netting to physically protect young tomato plants from pests like aphids and whiteflies. Regularly inspect your tomato plants for signs of insect infestations so you can take action early on.
Tomato diseases and treatments
Tomato plants are susceptible to many diseases that can affect their growth, yield, and overall health. These common tomato plant diseases can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens.
I will first list some of the common tomato diseases with their symptoms and photos to help identify the disease. This list is followed by some general solutions that are helpful to treating all of the fungal diseases.
This fungal disease is also known as Alternaria solani. It causes dark brown or black concentric rings with yellow halos on lower leaves, which eventually spread and lead to defoliation.
Wilting and yellowing of the lower leaves, progressing upward, can be indicative of early blight.
This disease, also known as Phytophthora infestans, is a devastating disease that can affect both foliage and fruit. It causes water-soaked lesions on leaves, stems, and fruit, turning into brown patches with a fuzzy appearance.
To manage late blight, practice good garden hygiene, avoid overhead watering, and provide adequate airflow.
Infected plants should be removed and destroyed to prevent further spread of the disease. Late blight can spread quickly, so early detection and swift action are crucial.
Septoria leaf spot
This fungal disease (Septoria lycopersici) causes small, dark spots with light centers on the lower leaves, which can merge and lead to leaf drop.
The disease is also known as “Septoria leaf blight.”
To manage Septoria leaf spot, practice good garden hygiene, and avoid overhead watering.
Tomato leaf mold
This common fungal disease is caused by the pathogen Fulvia fulva. It appears as yellowish or pale green patches on the upper surface of tomato leaves, while the underside shows a purplish-gray mold growth.
It can lead to leaf yellowing, premature defoliation, and reduced fruit production.
Early detection is essential to prevent severe damage to tomato plants.
Anthracnose is caused by various fungal pathogens, such as Colletotrichum spp., This fungal disease that can affect various plants, including tomatoes.
Basically, the disease is fruit rot. However, the disease also affects the foliage, and stems of the plant and which can lead to significant damage if not managed effectively.
On tomato fruits, anthracnose initially appears as small, circular, water-soaked spots. As the disease progresses, the spots enlarge and develop into sunken, dark lesions with concentric rings. The affected fruits may become discolored and rot.
Infected leaves may yellow and eventually die.
Fusarium wilt on tomato plants
Fusarium wilt is caused by the soil-borne fungi Fusarium oxysporum. It enters the tomato plant through the roots and leads to wilting, yellowing, and eventual death of the plant.
Infected plants often wilt on one side initially on the lower leaves, and then the symptoms progress throughout the whole plant. Fusarium wilt is difficult to control once it infects the soil.
Proper sanitation and soil management are crucial to prevent the spread of fusarium wilt to healthy plants.
Verticillium wilt is caused by the soil-borne fungi Verticillium dahliae. It enters the tomato plant through the roots and spreads, causing wilting, yellowing, and eventual death of the plant.
As with fusarium wilt, infected plants may show wilting on one side or branch, and then the fungus usually progresses to the entire plant.
The disease is characterized by lesions which have a V-shaped pattern which is widest at the leaf margin.
Note: fusarium wilt enters the plant through the roots, while verticillium wilt can enter the plant through the leaves or stems.
Tomato mosaic virus
Tomato mosaic virus (ToMV) spreads through contact and can be transmitted by handling infected plants, insects, or contaminated tools.
The virus causes mosaic-like patterns on the leaves, with light and dark green areas, curling, and distortion. Infected plants may also show stunted growth and reduced fruit production.
There is no cure for Tomato Mosaic Virus, so prevention is crucial. Use virus-free seeds or transplants, control aphids, and avoid handling plants when they are wet to reduce the risk of transmission.
Removing infected plants from the garden can also help prevent further spread of the virus.
Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus
Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) is transmitted by the whitefly, Bemisia tabaci. The virus causes yellowing and upward curling of the leaves, stunted growth, and reduced fruit production in infected tomato plants.
The disease is most prevalent in warm and humid climates. There is no cure for TYLCV.
Growing resistant tomato varieties can help minimize the impact of the virus on crops.
A white powdery coating on tomato plant leaves is a common symptom of powdery mildew, a fungal disease that thrives in humid conditions.
Powdery mildew is caused by different fungal species, such as Leveillula taurica and Erysiphe cichoracearum. It appears as a white, powdery-like substance on the leaves, stems, and sometimes fruits of tomato plants.
The affected plant parts may become distorted, and severe infestations can lead to reduced fruit production.
The solution to powdery mildew is to remove affected leaves and stems first. This will improve air circulation and reduce the spread of the disease.
To help prevent powdery mildew, space tomato plants well and avoid overhead watering to keep the foliage dry. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation at ground level instead.
Managing tomato plant diseases
It is impossible to give a simple solution for dealing with all of these diseases, however managing them has a few things in common. Prevention measures to implement are:
- Plant tomatoes that are known to be resistant to specific diseases when possible.
- To manage many of these diseases, practice crop rotation. Avoid planting tomatoes in the same location year after year to reduce disease buildup in the soil.
- Remove and destroy infected plant parts to prevent the spread of diseases.
- Avoid overhead watering, to provide good air circulation. Watering at the base of the plants will reduce humidity levels and minimize disease spread.
- Properly space your tomato plants will allows for better air circulation, which can reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
- Use mulch to prevent soil-borne pathogens from splashing onto the lower leaves during rain or irrigation.
- Regularly monitoring your tomato plants for any signs of diseases can help minimize their impact on your tomato plants.
- Be sure to remove and dispose of any infected leaves to help control the spread of any of these diseases.
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