My sorry, ugly, sickly tomatoes....HELP!!!

annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)January 11, 2009

Me and tomatoes just don't get along. I see all of you have just beautiful, green foliage-laden plants with plentiful yields. Well, my tomatoes are embarassing! They are ugly, spindly plants which start off healthy looking, but end up looking like this. I grow them in earthboxes to avoid nematodes. As the lower leaves start turning yellow, then brown, I do trim them off because I am a little OCD about trimming dead stuff off. It seems to accelerate after that. These now have better looking leaves (not great) at the top, but the flowers have all turned black and no new ones are setting. Are they diseased? What did I do wrong? Do I pluck these and start over? Please tell me what I should do. I don't really see a curl going on like you guys talk about. I want to have beautiful plants like the rest of you!

These are the 'better' leaves at the top, but notice there are no longer blooms.



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watermelon7(9 - 10)


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 4:03PM
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Anna, I can try

Like wm said, they could be too wet. Rots roots and can cause that. Stick your finger in the dirt and check it out.

Could also be fertilizer burn, or even lack of some fertilizer being able to get into the plant because of wet roots.

Did you have any cold weather? followed by hot weather, recently? that can mess with them too.

I didn't see any spots associated with the yellowing in the pictures, or moldy looking places. Do you?

Blight, is not really a disease, it's a catch all phrase that tomato growers use - when they don't have a clue what's wrong. LOL

How about your potting soil, what are you using?


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 5:35PM
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hallandalegal(Hallandale FL)

You say you live in Pembroke Pines, right? The bad news is we are both in Zone 10 which is NOT CONDUCIVE to tomato growing. Neptune variety is supposed to do well in our zone but I have not tried it yet.. I have tried most varieties and had similar results to yours. Zone 10 is not good for tomatoes. You are fighting a battle we cannot win in zone 10.
However, I am going to try the wild Everglades tomato seeds that Bill has in this forum. NOT the $7.95 for 15 seeds ripoff on the net. I stick with the members of this forum. Bill says they grow well in our zone. Of course they should because they are "everglades wild tomatoes" and we live very close to the Everglades, you and I.
Certain plants simply will not flourish in zone 10. Just a fact of life. There may be some of the wild everglades tomato seeds on eBay. I will take a look. No matter what you do, no matter which varieties you try, it all comes down to what zone 10 weather will allow to grow. I have learned to grow what will grow here and give up on the rest. My collards are doing very well. I just put in a lot of red and white onions and some cabbage. Marigolds do NOT grow well in zone 10. Instead I grow gorgeous zinnias. Squash is impossible, there are no resistant squash varieties.
I am holding off on tomatoes until I get the wild everglades tomato seeds and MAYBE Neptune, but I am not holding my breath about Neptune in zone 10. Hope this helps you to understand it is not your fault. NONE of the varieties of tomatoes or tomato seeds at Home Depot will grow in zone 10, but they keep offering them anyway. There are NO Neptune or wild everglades tomato plants or seeds available in Home Depot. SAD....I used to live in Hallandale, but now I live in Hollywood. I increased the size of the vegetable garden today by and extra 1/2. My neighbor and I hope to help feed needy people with our excess. Bill says the wild everglades tomatoes are very prolific. I hope so, because many people need extra food in our area. Unemployment in Florida slightly exceeds the national rate as of December, 2008. The neighbor and I are retired. But there are many families near us who are experiencing financial stress, so I hope the wild tomatoes help out.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 5:59PM
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All that said,

Anna, I forgot to ask, do you know what varieties you are growing too?


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 6:12PM
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I think you ought to add iron...that will green them up...maybe a tiny bit of Ironite. Or...there are water soluable products just for tomatoes...Tomato Tone or another acid adding product...

And add your coffee grounds to the dirt. THey don't have much acid, but the leftover coffee does. I fill the carafe the rest of the way with water and take it outside to the plants.

That is my take on it.

And we used to live in Davie and grow great tomatoes. So I don't think it is your area.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 6:46PM
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"too wet" sounds plausible,I gave up on self watering pots because it kept roots too soggy. I have read bottom leaves get yellow and drop off when the plant is sacrificing them to keep itself alive at the top.Multiple reasons for that.

You grow so many things well (like begonia nelumbifolia that died on me) tomatoes are just a small challenge. (P.S. You don't have TYLCV tomato leaf curl showing so be glad about that!)

Tomatoes are a challenge in Zone 10 but I was successful in Naples and now further north still Zone 10. It is easier in January thru April though than the fall season. Hey they grow tons of tomatoes in Immokalee Zone 10 :-) And corrie is Zone 11.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 7:12PM
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South Florida, zone 10, produces over 80% of this country's winter domestic produce, including tomatoes.
At one time, the Florida Keys were the winter tomato capital for this country, and were said to grow the best tomatoes in the world.

You couldn't prove that by me though! LOL

I think it's too wet too. My tomatoes do a lot better when I neglect them, as far as watering and fertilizer.
Too much water and fertilizer makes them grow fast and soft, fast and soft translates to bug and disease problems, and problems adjusting to temp and humidity swings...
and problems with their roots which can look exactly like what Anna posted.

Our zone is even a little different than you guys on the mainland. We do better Jan through June. You guys get a lot hotter, and wetter, quicker than we do.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 7:29PM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Well, the concensus seems to be that they are too wet. I can see that that might be true! Supposedly you can't overwater in an earthbox, but my earthboxes are pretty old, and warp a little on the sides. Maybe they are wicking too much moisture. I do water daily since they tell you you can't overwater. The weather here has been pretty warm and pleasant the last 3-4 weeks, and that's when they've declined.

Now, should I pull these out or should I decrease to watering every second or third day and see if things improve? Are they beyond doing well and setting fruit again? Would I just be better off starting over? This is my main quandary.

Corrie, I just have four plants, three different kinds. FL 91, tycoon, and jolly elf is the grape. The others I have are a couple of volunteers that came up in the ground and they are doing great. Haven't tasted them yet, tho.

Tamrootbeer, maybe I'll try some coffee grounds in the earthboxes too if you all say I should keep these.

Hallandalegal, I've never heard of the wild everglades tomatoes. Will have to keep my eyes open for them. Anything easy is good. I have always been tomato-challenged so I'm up for anything that might make it easier- as long as it tastes good. I do think part of it is that our warm weather brings more pests, etc.

Thanks to all of you! To pull or not to pull?


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 8:20PM
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wild everglades... that's another name for matt's, right? friends don't let friends do matt's... if anyone needs seedlings, come march i'll have a few thousand.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 9:00PM
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Anna, I don't think you are supposed to stop watering one of those EarthBox things. I think it has to do with the dry dirt won't wick water very well after that.
Stick a finger in there and see how wet the dirt is first.

If it feels too wet, I would pull and start over.

Can you get a closer picture of one of the leaves just when it's starting to turn yellow? one with spots and dry edges?
I put my glasses on and took a better look at you pictures, it might even be early blight.

If it is, look for a variety that you want to try that's resistant. We have a really long season and you have plenty of time.

Here's a pretty good link to try and figure it out:

Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato Problem Solver

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 9:08PM
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watermelon7(9 - 10)

I called Home Depot. The person at Home Depot said the leaves turning yellow could not be because of the fertilizer. The only thing she can think of is that they need more Iron, or they are over-watered.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:08PM
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watermelon7(9 - 10)

If it is not blight (or any other disease), I wouldn't recommend pulling out the plants. I would just simply snip off the yellow leaves and try to keep the soil drier. If they continue to die a week or two later, then pull them out, and start again. A fungus could have gotten in at that point.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:15PM
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treefrog_fl(z10 FL)

Hi Anna,

You didn't say what variety of tomato you're growing.
But I see you did get several ripe ones.
You should be frying the green ones now.

It looks like root rot to me too.
There's still time to grow new plants. Maybe buy a couple already started.

I kinda like when my tomato plants wilt in the afternoon sun, but not in the mornings.

I've boiled my tomato roots in the past by overwatering pots in full sun. Look like yours.
You could shade the pots?

Maybe not enough root room? They dry quickly and need water every day. And more fertilizer. I've got a couple of those now.

This is the season to grow tomatoes here.
And I know you can grow stuff!

Don't give up.

A home grown tomato is worth its weight in gold.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:49PM
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coffeemom(Broward z10)

Ok, this will be of No help what so ever, but my plants have been neglected and in prob too much shade and....they look just like your plants! Last year I know I was battling spider mites but this is altogether different. I pull the bad leaves off too but don't have nearly the yield you seem to have.
A puzzlement. Let me know if you want to try everglades.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 11:43PM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Sure looks like too much water and/or fertilizer burn. What is your potting mix? You really need to pull the cover and inspect the soil if you're only bottom watering. If you don't have the soil covered and you're top watering too I'd say for sure your potting mix is too wet....

wild everglades... that's another name for matt's, right? friends don't let friends do matt's... if anyone needs seedlings, come march I'll have a few thousand.

Everglades, Matt's, Red Currant...the origins of ALL tomatoes and genetically designed to survive, they ought to be on the Florida Invasive Species plant list ;-)


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 6:08AM
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coffeemom(Broward z10)

Except that this year I had everglades tomatoes all summer long! They taste good and you can always pull out the plants along with the weeds.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 7:50AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Except that this year I had everglades tomatoes all summer long! They taste good and you can always pull out the plants along with the weeds.

I agree, wonderful flavor and the only "GIVEN" during the summer. I have them too but once you plant one you'll never get rid of them....

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 7:58AM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Alright, I think you all are right about this. I pulled back the cover and the potting mix is too moist. Should I start over in pots or in the ground? What mix? Which easily obtainable seedlings are likely to do best? If I bury my pots like Tomcath, won't the nematodes get in them? Tomcath, how do you do that? Do you use regular mix and then just bury in the ground or do you line the hole?

Treefrog, I have tycoon, FL 91 and jolly elf (my favorite). I never thought about how hot the water would get. That's a very good point. Do you grow in containers too? What is your set up like? I know you grow great tomatoes.

What size containers are ideal? I know all these things have been covered before in different posts, but I guess I haven't been paying close attention since I've been relying on my earthboxes. If you could just direct me to the appropiate links that would be great. Thanks.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 8:23AM
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smart2surf(10B, N. Miami)

I think a good idea might be to completely empty out the Earth Boxes, give them a good cleaning with water and bleach, let them dry out in the sun and just set them up again. I would recommend Organic potting soil, Organic fertilizer, both of which are at Home Depot, and will never burn your plants. Get the five dollar fertilizer that has all eighteen plant nutrients in it, perhaps.
I have grown great tomatos in my Earth Box in the past, and read of lots of others who have, so I don't think it is the container itself. I don't think the water can get too hot at this time of year, either, though maybe in summer it could.
It looks to me like you have a nice setup, with the baling wire trellis and plenty of support, so why throw all that away. There really is time to plant seeds now, but seedlings are not that hard to find, and Home Depot has a fair variety, even some heirlooms. I would recommmend Beefmaster, Celebrity or Sweet 100 if you want hybrids.
Just my humble two cents here, I am not an expert but do love to grow tomatos every year here in zone 10b.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:07AM
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whgille(FL 9b)

When I moved here I was introduced to the famous gardener from the neighborhood, she told me we can't grow tomatoes here, it is just impossible! I am glad I didn't listen.

On the other hand we all have trials and tribulations with the tomatoes, no matter where we live. Nobody is a "miracle worker" who produces perfect tomatoes all the time. So, we have to work with whatever we have. And start to make a plan.

1. Throw the old and start fresh, don't reuse soil, recycle it instead. Wash the pots through, I use soap and water. The bigger the pots the better. Use a good draining potting soil mix. A lot in the market, later on you can make your own.

2. Try to pick different varieties that are determinate, indeterminate, and fruit at different times.
Florida 91 is determinate, once it gives fruit it goes. If you had more varieties you could still have tomatoes.

3. Try to grow the seeds yourself, it is too many variables and poor selection at the big box stores. Let me know if you want a starter seeds for tomatoes. I can share a lot of varieties with you and if they don't work for you, at least you don't end up with a packet full of seeds.
If you are interested send me an email with your address.

4. Once you have your seedlings up and running, it is important to have them on a weekly schedule to control bugs or diseases. I only use substances that don't harm my pets or the environment.
I was told in Phoenix from a chemist friend not to use ironate on edibles that is very toxic. I don't use coffee grounds on pots either because attracts bugs and can get moldy. I use everywhere else in the garden.

And the last words to everybody, don't give up. Everything is possible and we will all succeed (even those that have the tomato diseases now, like Corrie and Denise)

By the way I love my currant Hawaiian tomatoes that I use to grow them in Phoenix ( I was told there too that is impossible to grow tomatoes there and I probed them wrong when I gave them baskets full of tomatoes (heirlooms, hybrids, currants)


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:14AM
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Anna, looking at your first picture, it looks like the sun might be over heating your pots and cooking the roots too.

This time of the year, the sun comes in at a low angle and that's easy to do.

When mine do that, I wrap the pots in bubble wrap packing stuff, and them over that with heavy duty aluminum foil.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:38AM
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Most of my plants look just like yours by the time im getting ripe tomatoes.Same as yours it starts at the bottom and works its way to the top eventually.With heavy dew most mornings and the humidity i just think its some water born problem.It doesnt matter in the ground or the earthboxes from what i can tell i get the same result.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 10:42PM
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mistiaggie(z9A Tx)

Maybe it's just me, but I am not too picky about what the leaves look like as long as I am getting fruit!

I am in zone 10 and we always do well. Most of ours are heirloom's and I have grown some hybrids before, even saving seeds and replanting those anyway.

This year we are growing ours in 7 gallon pots with a mix of compost and soil and have it on drip irrigation. We mixed some fertilizer in to the soil in the beginning and started seeds that way. Our best producers have been Sabre Ukraine, Kellogg's Breakfast, Amazon Chocolate.

Some have some leaf issues, but like I said, I'm more worried about keeping the bugs off the fruit instead.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 11:06PM
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Hi Anna, I live in SW Ranches so I would assume our soil is fairly close. I found that I did better with the smaller varieties. I do know that last year I had my best yield and it only when rainy season started that I had any problems. You may want to join us on Feb. 1st at my home. We will have a expert in edible gardening. Take a look at my post on this site "Like Minded Survivalist Gardeners wanted" It sounds like you may be interested. I would try cutting back on water.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 12:18AM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Well, I think my earthboxes are old and warped and that is why my tomatoes are too wet and rotting. I think the soil is slipping through the sides and wicking up too much moisture. I think I am going to try Tom's pot in pot method and start with store-bought seedlings this time so as not to lose any precious time. I am trying to sort that out.

Willy, thanks for your encouragement and your seed offer. Maybe in future seasons I'll take you up on it. Right now I'm in a hurry to get going with seedlings. I always recycle my soil. I am big on recycling yard stuff.

Corrie, I think the sunken pots will take care of the roots getting too hot. I had never really thought about that. Thanks.

Mistiaggie, if I was still getting blooms and fruit setting, I wouldn't care about what the plants look like. However, all flowers have died, and no more new tomatoes are coming. I had a reasonable yield for a while, but it has stopped. I have never heard of your varieties. Sound very interesting!

Ibeleive, I actually live in Sarasota, otherwise I would be interested in the survivalist thing. I also travel a lot, so the thought of more traveling is a bit much. Thanks for the offer....please keep us informed of what you guys talk about. I am very interested.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 8:06AM
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horse_chick(Sunset 26)

You plants are shedding the lower leaves to help promote the new growth. I would suggest a low nitrogen fertilizer. I use liquefied seaweed on mine, on a weekly basis.

I just started over 100 jiffy pots of tomato seed of various types. I've been growing them for years here in the Tampa area with excellent results. I'l keep maybe thirty for myself, another dozen will go to my mom and my best friend. The rest are for our retail nursery.

It is almost impossible to over-water tomatoes that are potted once they have attained some size to them.. I grow mine in 15g grow pots.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 7:08PM
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hallandalegal(Hallandale FL)

In zones 10 and 11, we have to plant EARLY in OCTOBER. Only my wild Everglades tomatoes can withstand the hot months. If anyone wants some seeds, email me.
All other tomato varieties DIE IN MAY down here due to the heat being 90 degrees and up. So resign yourself to waiting for OCTOBER before you plant tomatoes, OR GROW SOME OF THESE GREAT EVERGLADES WILD TOMATOES. These get about 1 and 1/2 inch long. NOTHING STOPS THEM. MINE ARE CONSTANTLY COVERED WITH BLOOMS AND FORMING TOMATOES. You can entertain yourself with these UNTIL THE PROPER COOL TIME COMES TO PLANT TOMATOES IN SOUTH FLORIDA. I already learned this the hard way. Can't tell you how many kinds of tomatoes I tried to raise down here and never understood why they died in the summer. WE DO NOT LIVE UP NORTH ANYMORE. WE HAVE TO ADJUST OURSELVES TO ZONE 10 AND 11 CONDITIONS.
Let me know if anybody wants seeds for wild Everglades tomatoes. DO NOT BUY THE OVERPRICED SEEDS OFFERED ON THE NET. I will give them to you FREE. They grow into VERY LARGE BUSHES. So you can only put ONE in a huge container, but mine are simply growing in the sand and rocks in the backyard, with some Mater Magic and watering early morning and evening every day.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2009 at 6:54PM
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atreelady(9b SW Orlando)

Just my 2 cents worth - Anything gets yellow I give it epsom salts.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2009 at 8:19PM
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