Summer is in full swing here in Austin, Texas! While the sun insults our gardens, leaving many veggies withered and brown, some plants may be looking a little more worn than others. One beloved fruit we see bearing the brunt of summertime is the tomato. Though this garden favorite traditionally does well in the heat, many folks are seeing signs of wear-and-tear on plants that could be lush and bountiful. Can the sun be solely to blame? Maybe not! Here we explore some plant diagnostics which may tell us if there is something more to your tomato-woes.
How Do the Leaves Look?
Leaves act as a mirror, reflecting any internal issues that may be stressing out your vegetables. More often than not, tomatoes are planted together. It is important to inspect your plants both individually, and collectively. Doing this will help determine if your produce problems stem from nutrient deficiencies, pests, or disease. While there are numerous environmental conditions that can affect the quality of your tomato plants, here are a few of the most common foliage ailments we see in Central Texas.
Are all of your tomatoes displaying leaves that are healthy and green at the base with brown tips and edges? This is may be a case of tip burn and it could be a telltale sign of a calcium deficiency. When the plant cells form with a lack of calcium, the cell walls tend to be weak and burst when the environment gets a little too intense. This leads to burnt tips and edges. Try a few doses of *diluted* organic milk around the plant base.
Smoking in the garden is no good! The smoke produced from cigarettes may expose your plants to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, which will cause wilting, mottling, undeveloped fern-like leaves. If you find that your plants have this issue, they must be taken out of your garden immediately before infecting other tomatoes with the virus.
Wilting is all about location with tomato plants. If you find the whole tomato plant is wilting and yellow, it could be a simple irrigation issue. When one side of the plant, or bottom portions, wilt without recovering after watering, this may be a more serious condition called fusarium wilt. Soil-borne fungus can ruin mature tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants while they are just beginning to bear fruit. Unfortunately, these infected plants will have to be removed from the garden. Fusarium wilt can be controlled through crop rotation.
Do you see fine webbing that seems to be covering your tomato leaves? If this is the case, you may have spider mite issues. These infamous garden pests will cause a loss of chlorophyll in plant leaves as they sit and sip the juices until the foliage is yellow-brown and withered. They feast primarily on adult tomato plants until entire sections of the (plant) have wilted away. While they are persistent, a little rosemary essential oil will keep them at bay. Prune away all affected foliage, then apply the rosemary oil on the leaves and stems. To further ensure plant protection, spray down your tomatoes with a soap solution- we recommend Dr. Bronner’s peppermint scented soap.
All Growth, No Grub
Is your tomato plant looking beautifully bushy and green but just not producing flowers or fruit? There may be too much nitrogen in the soil with a deficiency in phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen supports plant growth, while phosphorus promotes fruit production, and potassium is crucial during fruit maturation. Try a fertilizer with a 5-10-10 ratio of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Other issues may be over-watering, too much shade, and of course heat stress.
Bugs do not like these scorching temperatures either! That is why it is always a good idea to visit your garden in the early morning or the evening to inspect the pest situation. Check under the leaves and around the stems for any foreign feasters like aphids, flea beetles, and white flies, which can cause leaf curl, yellowing, and holes. If this poses a problem for your garden, try spraying neem oil and consider purchasing some beneficial nematodes or ladybugs that will help manage your pest predicaments.
During these fruit-bearing summer months, tomatoes can take a real beating. Be sure to fertilize every two weeks, while checking to make sure your plants are properly irrigated. Prune regularly to rid your plant of any dead or dying foliage in order to prevent disease and promote pest management. Make sure your plant roots are fully covered in order to reduce exposure to the outside elements.
We hope this helps you yield a bountiful tomato harvest this summer. If you have any questions, a great resource right here in Austin is the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
And remember, we at YardFarm Austin are always here to answer any questions you might have. Also, if your yard is currently tomato-free, we have plenty of beautiful, organic plants ready to grace your garden beds!