Cold Damage?

okoutdrsmanApril 24, 2014

I've been watching this for a while. I'm thinking it's cold damage, but I guess could be a type of disease?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

It could be one (or more) of several different things.

I assume you're referring to the slight upward curling of the larger leaves and the weird twistiness of some of the smaller leaves? If so, your plants look like they are exhibiting physiological leaf roll, sometimes also referred to as leaf curl. There are several reasons that tomato plants sometimes exhibit this sort of behavior, and I'll list them briefly, then link something that describes them in more detail, and then you can read that, think about what your plants have experienced in recent weeks, and determine for yourself what you think is the most likely cause of the leaf curl.

Sometimes physiological leaf roll is caused by some form of environmental stress, including transplant shock, too much nitrogen fertilizer on young plants which caused lots of top growth that the immature roots cannot support, erratic weather conditions, lots of wind that dries out the soil and plants, excessive pruning, etc.

Sometimes it is caused by viruses, but when that is the case, you usually see additional symptoms that help you determine it is a viral infection. You also sometimes would be seeing the insects that sometimes transmit those viruses which, in combination with the symptoms you observe, helps you narrow it down to which virus it is.

Sometimes it is caused by herbicide drift. This sort of damage is pretty common, especially nowadays because the ester forms of some herbicides volatize very easily and disperse some distance on the wind.

In your case, if it is caused by herbicide drift through the air, it looks like pretty minor damage and I think the plants will outgrow it easily. If it is from some sort of weather-related stress or if it is related to something you've done (and I don't really think it is), I also think it will correct itself as the plants grow and as our weather becomes a little more settled down and consistent.

If it is a virus, which I don't really think it is unless you see some other symptoms appearing, the plants might not make it.

The other option is damage via herbicide uptake by the roots from compost, manure or mulch contaminated with certain long-lived herbicides that persist even after the source material (often hay, straw or grass clippings laced with herbicide residue) has decomposed. It is commonly referred to as "killer compost" and a search on this forum using that term will bring up previous mentions of it.

My best guess based on the photo alone is that it is physiological leaf roll from a weather-related cause or a gardening practice of some sort. Your plants don't look sick enough to have a killer compost issue or a virus, at this point at least.

The article linked below explains physiological leaf roll and has some photos as well.

For what it is worth, in the years when I see physiological leaf roll on my plants it tends to happen (a) when we first see the onset of really hot weather and the plants are struggling a bit to make the transition from mild, spring weather to insanely hot summer weather (and in my garden I usually see that in May or even June, but not often in March or April or (b) we have have very heavy rainfall that clogs the plant roots with tons of excess moisture, which then inhibits uptake of nutrients from the soil and stresses the plant. In either case, I ignore the leaf roll and it goes away on its own after the plants either adapt to the hotter weather or the soggy ground dries out and the plants' vascular systems are able to function normally again.

Hope this helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: Clemson U: Physiological Leaf Roll

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 12:19PM
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Thanks, Dawn!
My research had pretty much turned up the same thing.
Most of the leaf curl I've seen has been later in the season and normally on mature leaves.
Right now, I'm kind of leaning toward the physiological leaf roll theory. I'll wait and see if they snap out of it.
My later planting of Rutger tomatoes in the main garden were prepped the same way and so far have not shown any of the same leaf curl.
I'm watching the areas I heavily composted. I hauled a load of horse manure compost and there is a definite possibility it could be the problem.
The only herbicide spraying I'm aware of has taken place a couple of miles away. Hopefully that's not the issue.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 3:29PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I hope it is just normal leaf roll caused by the stress of having weather that see-saws from one extreme to another. When that happens to my plants, I just ignore the leaf roll and it resolves itself when the weather calms down and stays more consistent. I don't ever remember a case of leaf roll in the last 30 years that hasn't just gone away on its own.

I hope it isn't any sort of herbicide contamination from the horse manure. I used to love adding manure to the garden, but in recent years I have avoided it like the plague because of the issues with herbicide residue contamination.

I still accept free bales of old, spoiled hay when friends ask if I want it to use as mulch, but I pile it up and let it decompose for a couple of years before I use it. By the time I use it as mulch, it is practically compost. And, of course, I always ask if they sprayed their pastures with the problem herbicides anyway, just so I am sure I am not bringing anything onto our property that I know is contaminated.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 4:27PM
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TotemWolf(7 SWOK-Greer County)

My neighbors have a couple of horses. I know what they do and don't do to the pasture so I feel safe adding manure from there to my compost pile, but that is the only place I will get it from.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 9:31PM
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Wow, I guess I've been way out of the loop on the 'killer compost' issue. The fact that this stuff even exists, just chaps me to no end.
While I'm taking a wait and see if the plants snap out of it, I'm going to test my compost bin with green bean seed and see how it acts. Some of the stall clean out I hauled was still pretty hot, so it went in the compost bin to finish off. Should be a pretty good test bed.
On another note, I tilled in compost in a row that has radishes, mustard and romaine lettuce, all of which are showing no sign of any issues. Kennebecs and Red Pontiacs in potato towers with some compost in the top layer are all showing the exact same leaf curl.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 10:50AM
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Okay, to update this saga...

With the plants degrading daily, I've scrambled to work up a plan B. It's pretty certain I have introduced 'killer compost' into my garden. While I haven't done anything with the existing plants, I have laid out an alternate area to grow this years tomato crop. Also have the plants on hand to plant in the morning.
Unfortunately the potato towers that were really starting to crank up are affected by the herbicide.
Once I get the rest of plan B moving forward, I'll start working on removal and remediation of the plants and soil in the affected areas. Indications are, with some work, I can be back up and running next year.
Thanks to discussion of some very respected sources, I'll plant corn in one of the areas and then a manure crop in the fall. The other smaller area will probably get a manure crop here shortly and then once it's tilled in, I'll cover it with visqueen through the summer.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 10:11PM
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Bruce sorry about this but glad you have a plan b and enough area to do that.
I have been paranoid about accepting manure/etc from anyone and I am so glad I haven't. it makes it harder for me to wait on grass to grow to get mulch but its worth it.
now to get those bunnies..

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:24AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I'm sorry this happened to you, but at least you diagnosed it quickly and early enough in the season that you are able to replant in some other areas on your property that aren't contaminated.

From now on (like it or not) you'll be our resident expert on herbicide residue contamination.

The last time I accepted local manure from a friend was about 2000 or 2001. Then I heard about the herbicide residue contaimination that had occurred, at that point, in the PNW and in Pennsylvania, and I swore off using local manure. There's just no way to be sure a rancher hasn't fed their animals purchased hay from fields sprayed with this stuff or purchased bagged feed contaminated with herbicide residues.

I still use mulch hay, from one source only, and that's because I know they don't spray their fields with anything. Even so, we ask them at least 3 times "has this been sprayed with herbicide", just to be sure they didn't use some in the year they raised that hay. I am sure it annoys them for me to always ask, but they are gracious about it.

I still occasionally purchase and use one specific brand of cow manure because I've used it so long and it never yet has been contaminated. Sometimes I do wonder, though, if doing that is foolhardy, given that this issue recurs over and over again here in this country and in some European countries as well.

I cannot walk by a bottle of one of those persistent herbicides in the feed store without looking at it and kind of flinching.

I hope you'll keep us posted on your remediation efforts so we can follow along as you do them and see what works and how long it takes.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:08AM
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Thanks for the support on this. The fact that we caught it so early is only because of your (Dawn) initial response to the pic I posted. I hate to even think about this whole thing would have played out, otherwise. More than likely the plants would have yanked out and replaced with new.
Near as I can tell, that isn't one of the recommended means of remediation!
I spent about an hour with the horticulturist at the Pott county extension office this morning. After seeing pics of my tomatoes and potatoes, he's convinced it's some type of herbicide.
While I may never know what it is, it seems the remediation is pretty much the same. Encouragement of microbial growth along with aeration and time seem to be the key to breaking down the herbicide. I'm starting a regimen of green manure crops (mustard through the summer and wheat in the fall), as soon as I get the rest of the garden planted.
DuPont suggested deactivated charcoal or soil removal and replacement. Both expensive options. And denied that any of their pasture herbicides could possibly be in the compost. Dow has not responded at this point.
Figured those two emails would be a waste of time, but thought it would be fun to see what position they took.
I spoke to the lady I got the compost from and while she doesn't spray, the neighbor does and she is trying to find out what product he is using. Besides the possibility of the horses grazing through the fence, she allowed the neighbor to pasture his cattle on part of her place. Her feed comes from S&S, so that's an unknown. Her round bales come from a local source that does not spray, but her square bales come off a truck from who knows where.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 3:13PM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

I just bought a bale of wheat straw from Home Depot. Can wheat straw be contaminated the same way as hay. Can the wheat straw be tested in some manner to see if the herbicide is present. Maybe plant something in it to see how it reacts. I was going to use it as a mulch but now I am worried.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:27PM
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Other than an expensive tests that basically only Dow and DuPont can do, the only other way is to do a Bioassay. Since it requires being able to mix it into soil, I'm thinking it would be tough to do with straw.
You might be able to plant peas or green beans in a pot and then mulch in with the straw once the plants are up and growing. Once the mulch is in place, water it in and watch for a couple of weeks. I would do all of this well away from my garden, just in case. This may not work at all, since the herbicide would be in the straw, not on the surface.
Keep in mind it takes a while for the plant to show signs of herbicide contamination. It took around 2 1/2 weeks for my tomato plants to start showing signs of distress. In that time, they almost tripled in size from the original planting.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:32PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I almost didn't even mention the killer compost issue because even though it occurs, it still is fairly rare. Yours is only the second case I've heard of in OK, though I am sure there's likely been a lot more.

I thought of you and your garden issue yesterday. I was working in the garden and Tim was mowing. When the grass catcher was full, he'd come to the garden to drop off the grass clippings for mulching. I looked up at one point and he was down by the road, mowing the roadside, the bar ditch and the utility easement. I began to wonder if he had already brought me clippings from that area. (I later learned he had not.) Last year, somebody (didn't see it happen, don't know who or how....) apparently had a herbicide leak right there in the road and their herbicide ran into our bar ditch and utility easement area and killed everything in a spot about 30' x 30'. The only way we knew this happened was that everything growing there abruptly died. When he brought that load of clippings to me, I told him we couldn't use them because of that herbicide spill. If your herbicide issue hadn't been fresh on my mind, I might not have remembered we shouldn't use those specific grass clippings.

Yolos, I don't know if wheat straw would have been sprayed with the kind of herbicides we're talking about, but suppose it is possible.

I have tested hay before by using scissors to cut some of it into tiny (1/4-1/2" long) pieces, mixing it 50-50 with a good quality soil-less growing mix, and sowing bean and pea seeds in it. In my case, no evidence of herbicide contamination was found and I used the hay for mulch.

For future reference, if you want to use hay or straw, buy alfalfa. Alfalfa is a legume, which of course is a broad-leaf plant, so the type of persistent herbicides that cause problems cannot be sprayed on alfalfa because they would kill the alfalfa. When I need to buy a bale of hay for some reason, I only buy alfalfa, which is pretty expensive here compared to regular hay, so I don't buy it often.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 7:46AM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

Dawn - Thank you for your suggestions about alfalfa and how to test my wheat straw.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 1:27PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

You're welcome.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 9:56PM
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