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It’s summer. Your garden is well underway but you notice that something isn’t quite right with your tomatoes. Some are looking yellow on the leaves and the leaves are dying. Some are not flowering. Or they’re not putting out fruit. What’s the problem? It could be a number of things. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems and how to fix them.

How To Grow Tomatoes

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Lack of Nitrogen

If your leaves are yellowing and dying it could be from lack of nitrogen. Nitrogen leaches out of the soil and must be replaced. A balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 would be a good choice here. Or the issue could be blight. There’s early blight that occurs early in the season. Then later, when the plants are fruiting well, late blight can set in. It is caused by a fungal spore that lives in the soil. There a few things you can do to help control it, but be aware, you may never be rid of it totally.

  1. Proper air circulation. If plants are too crowded, moisture has no way to evaporate.
  2. Water on the ground, not from above. We can’t do anything about rain, but watering from above can be controlled. Ground watering prevents the spores from splashing back up onto the plant.
  3. Mulch underneath. This too will help prevent back splash.
  4. Treat with a fungicide. A commercial fungicide, such as Daconil, which is available at most garden centers, is commonly used. I prefer to use Neem oil, a natural fungicide. You can also use lavender, thyme, tea tree or garlic oils. Use about 6-7 drops in warm water with a bit of liquid soap added. It will help dissolve the oils in the water and help them to stick to the plant better. (find 100% pure essential oils here)
  5. Use copper sulfate. Again, it’s not a cure all, but it could help prevent the problem. Apply it to your beds in the fall so it can work all winter.
  6. Get rid of dead plants. Don’t compost them. You might be providing a place for the fungus to grow and spread.
  7. Rotate your crops. Don’t plants tomatoes in the same place year after year. Try to plant them at least 20 feet from where they were the year before.

Plants Not Flowering?

Sunlight and Fertilizer


Another common problem is not flowering. This can be caused by a few things as well. Is the plant getting at least 6 hours of sun a day? Tomatoes originate in the tropics and need lots of sun to produce flowers and then fruit. The problem could also be from the wrong type of fertilizer. A lot of fertilizers say they can be used for everything, but many contain too much nitrogen for flowering, and therefore, fruiting, plants. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as mentioned above, or choose one for blooms, such as 15-30-15. This will give you more phosphorus. Phosphorus is great for developing a good root system. Once you have good roots, you’ll get good flowers, and then eventually, good fruit. Too much nitrogen, which is in a lot of fertilizers as 24-6-12, is great for green leaves. For herbs, chard, spinach and other leafy greens, it’s fine, but not where you want to produce fruit.

End Rot

Another common problem is blossom end rot. It’s where the fruit starts to rot at the bottom where the flower once was. It can occur in squash and peppers too. This is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. It could also be caused by inconsistent watering. Be sure to water evenly and not let the plant dry out too much before you do water. As for the calcium, again, there are commercial preparations available, but I prefer to go natural here too. Use the water when you boil eggs to water the plants. Be sure to cool it down first! Save the eggshells and boil them again to get more calcium out of them. Add a few drops of vinegar to help leach the calcium out. Nettles also contain a lots of calcium. You can find them growing near water in moist areas. Bone meal will help some too, but it takes 6 months or so to get into the soil. Add it in the fall so it can be ready for spring planting.

Lime

I have to say here that I don’t like using lime for many reasons. The first is that it will alter the pH of the soil too much. Tomatoes like a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and using lime will take up up to 7 or even 8. Too alkaline of a soil and tomatoes won’t produce well. I know a lot of old timers swear by it, but I’ve found it just doesn’t work well. Another problem with lime is that it takes 6 months or so to get into the soil. You might think you’re doing your garden good, but it takes so long to get into the soil that it doesn’t show any results until after your harvest is done, when the plants look bad anyway. I would just avoid it all together.

At The End of The Season

Finishing Up In The Garden

When your tomatoes are done for the season you can tear them out of the ground and destroy them. Remember not to compost them or you may end up with more problems. Turn your soil over and add some compost, mulch and biochar. I’ll always recommend biochar after doing the research on it and writing the article a few weeks ago. It’s a way to retain carbon in the soil as well as nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungus. Plant a cover crop such as buckwheat and you’re all set for next year.

A Quick Recipe: Crushed Tomatoes

This year, now that we’ve solved many of the issues with tomatoes, the only problem you might have is how to use up your bounty. Here’s a quick recipe for Crushed Tomatoes that can be used with pasta or on bread, such as with bruchetta.

  • 8-10 mediun tomatoes, peeled, seeded and crushed
  • Fresh Basil, Garlic and Rosemary (to taste)
  • Sea Salt, fresh gound pepper (to taste)
  • Olive oil (to taste) – (find unrefined olive oil here)

In a saucepan, simmer the garlic in the olive oil. The amount depends on you. I use a clove of garlic to 8 tomatoes. Don’t let it burn! Add the tomatoes and heat through. Add sea salt and pepper to your taste. When it is all heated through, remove from the heat and add chopped basil and rosemary. Serve over pasta or on bread.

 Have you grown tomatoes this year? How is your crop doing?

photo credit to plutor


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Comments

  1. evan says

    You can deliver lime to the sub-surface more quickly by dissolving powdered lime, as much as you can, in a large pot of boiling water. Let the water cool(obviously),some lime will precipitate. Put the rest in a watering can and distribute it directly to the base of each plant. Then you can spread dry lime on the rest of the soil.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      The problem with lime is that it can raise the pH of your soil too much. And it take a while to get into the soil. Be sure to use a pH test kit if you decide to use lime. I’ve never used it and have had no problems with blossom end rot.

  2. Kristi says

    I live in the Great Northwest. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Wish you were here.

    HOWEVER …. my tomato crop survives ONLY if we have a decent summer. No matter what pampering of soil, minerals, compost … whatever; if we don’t have sun, we don’t have tomatoes.

    The past two summers have been unseasonably wet and cloudy. Ergo, my tomatoes molded and died, leaving me with teeny tiny fruit.

    BUT three years ago, we had a wonderfully warm sunny summer and I was in heaven! I made homemade salsa, gazpacho, soup, ect.

    So here I am, with plants in the ground, waiting for the sun to come out, praying for a sunny summer again. I don’t mind the rain in the fall and winter (better than snow I think) but PLEASE give me a sunny summer to charge my body’s solar panels and grow my tomatoes. :D

    • sage_brush says

      Kristi- we get a lot of cloudy rain days here, too. On thing that has really helped me. is to spray all leaf surfaces with Ivory soap. I just grate the soap (after leaving it out to dry for several days) put half a cup in a hose end sprayer, add hot water, shake and attach to end of hose. Spray all leaf surfaces to the point of run off. You should see a white film on the leaves. This soap will gently prevent the fungus from taking hold. Just don’t spray when your pollinators are working! Jerry Baker also has a formula containing whiskey and seaweed that I have had great results with.

      Another trick that helps me, is red plastic tomato mulch. I’m not sure how this works, but it supposedly reflects the red rays (the kind that grows plants) back up to the underside of the plant – which is where the rot usually starts. I feel your pain – I live in the woods in a very rainy area to boot! There have been many times when I’ve actually brought a fan outside to dry them off after incessant rain. If there is even a couple of hours between showers – I try to get the foliage completely dry in between. The wetting and drying cycle is important – if they never get to dry off – the fungus or whatever can get a foot hold – because the spores are forever in the air. I grow heritage tomatoes – that are not virus resistant – and all these tricks have saved my crops over and over again. Hope this helps.

      • Debra Maslowski says

        I’ve never used the red mulch, but I’ve heard good things about it. And yes, tomatoes do need a great deal of sun. Can you move your plants so they can get more sun a day? Sometimes it’s not possible, but may be an option. I’ve only been growing heirloom tomatoes this year. There are some signs of early blight, but I’ve kept it under control with neem oil.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      I’m glad it helped you. It’s been wet here this spring into summer, and we’ve had some blight showing up. A couple of shots of neem oil and it’s all but gone. Tea Tree will do the same thing.