Tomato plants hit with plague!!! 911

ilovetoplantJune 15, 2011

My plants are going down fast. Since the heat has hit I'm noticing them first having severe leaf curl, loosing color really fast and then they just sort of shrink up and seem to be withering away. I've looked at a couple of the plant disease identifier sites posted here, but not really found what Im seeing here. Some will start getting yellow leaves towards the bottom but they don't really seem to start out that way. Seems like the ones it's happening too are smaller than the healthier ones. I did not get my dead plants removed at the end of the season last year and some plants were broke down and mixed in with the old hay from last year as mulch.

Earls Faux didn't really have the leaf curl and did start out more with color loss then turned into yellow leaves as it shriveled away. I haven't pulled it up yet to look at the root. Caspian pinks main stem toward the bottom had a large crack in it, not sure if that would have caused it to loose it's color and waste away. It had severe curled leaves.

I know the heat will cause the leaf curl, but I feel they were watered well enough to keep living. I'm wondering could overwatering cause them to do what I've described possibly? Most were amended lightly with hu more and given 1 cup of tomato miracle grow twice in the last month. Most of the potato leaf plant were given tomato tone and most of them are fairings better than regular leaf. My soaker hoses it seems kind of water unevenly, towards the middle to the end of the hoses seem not to put put as much water it seems like to me, but even on those, I've dug down in between and the NOT well amended soil was very damp to at least a depth of 8" or so, maybe not the 1st inch or so though. Sigh. Any thoughts?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What do you mean by "Most were amended lightly with hu more and given 1 cup of tomato miracle grow twice in the last month"

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 1:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The plants are in the same place, but I was just applying humore to the individual holes as I was planting them. I didn't apply the humore to the first 15 plants or so, because I didn't have it yet. Ive applied tomato miracle grow twice now, but some of the plants only got it once because I was sick and so I just hit the ones that looked the dullest shade of green, that was in the last week.

Also, even after our cool spell- I thought the leaves would be uncurled, but their nOt, their still rolled up. Thanks, sheri

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 11:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Mine are looking a bit yellow near the ground as well, but I've read that it commonly happens when the plant gets large enough the shade the lowest branches. I figured it was either that or a lot of heat radiating up off the hot ground and cooking them a bit. I have them mulched, but it has been so brutally hot. :/

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 12:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I have questions.

When you first notice the leaves curling, are they rolling upwards/inwards like common physiological leaf roll? Or are they distorting in some other way or even curling downward?

When you say some leaves are curling and some leaves are yellowing, do you mean that the leaves curling are different from the leaves that are yellowing, or do you mean that all the leaves curl and then some of them yellow?

Are the yellow leaves primarily at the bottom of the plant and, therefore, older leaves or are they newer leaves that are higher up on the plants?

Do I understand the progression correctly. The way I interpret what your wrote is that the leaves curl, then they exhibit a color change, then the leaf yellowing occurs and then the leaves wither and die? By withering and dying are you describing only the foliage or do you see the main stem or stalk of your plant withering, browning and dying too?

When the color loss begins, are the leaves a medium to dark green and then they "fade" to a lighter green? Or, is the color fading to a sort of mosaic pattern consisting of darker green, medium green, light green and some yellowing?At the point when the loss of color is occurring, are the leaves showing any purpling, especially along the leaf veins or on the underside of the leaves?

How long does it take for a plant to progress from leaf curl to withering, dead foliage? Does all the foliage on a plant die or just the lower leaves?

I find it hard to imagine the soil could be so wet that the roots are waterlogging, at least in the conditions we've had the last month or so. Did you receive excess moisture anytime in the last month that left the soil so wet it smelled sour and yucky? That much moisture could hurt plants, but in hot weather it is hard to irrigate enough to make the soil that wet unless it is incredibly slow draining. My plants in clay soil have withstood 18-20" of rain in a 6-week period and didn't die and didn't even show symptoms as severe as what you're describing,so that knowledge contributes to my feeling that it isn't excess moisture.

While it is never a good idea to leave even one tomato leaf on the ground to be incorporated into the soil, I don't know if leaving plant debris/mulch onto the ground last year contributed to this problem unless your plants had fusarium wilt or late blight. I do remove all tomato plant debris in the fall because it can perpetuate any of the many tomato diseases that can stay alive on the dead plant parts or in the soil. I compost it and it eventually ends up back in the garden as compost, but I don't leave it on the ground to be incorporated without composting. The heat of the compost process kills most disease microorganisms.

By chance, was your hay mulch alfalfa or red clover or did it contain those ingredients?

I cannot imagine the humore hurt the plants. Do you mean that you incorporated humore into the soil before planting or are you using it as a top dressing? If by 'given 1 cup of tomato miracle grow twice in the last month' you mean you gave them properly diluted MG plant food diluted per the label directions, then the answer is 'no' that would not hurt them.

However, if you gave them Epsom Salts, you might be seeing damage similar to what you're seeing now. Salt damage can cause yellowing of foliage, browning and wilting of dying foliage and even plant death. By chance is your water high in salt content?

I have several ideas for what it might be but need to better understand the progression of the symptoms to narrow it down and also need to better understand how long or how short the process is in terms of days or weeks.

In the past, have you ever had plants infected by the Curly Top Virus?

Also, as we attempt to solve the "what is wrong with my tomatoes" riddle, we need to remember that your plants could have physiological leaf roll that is separate from whatever else is bothering the plants. One issue with diagnosing someone else's plants is that those of us who are attempting to are seeing only one 'stage' of what is going on and we might have a better understanding if we were seeing the plants from day to day to day because it would help us understand the exact appearance and progression of the problem. Often you can have some heat-related conditions like a little normal heat-induced wilting and physiological leaf roll in combination with 2 or 3 different diseases, pests or mineral deficiencies and that makes diagnosis almost impossible. Then, there's the whole range of oddball things that can happen like herbicide damage, ozone damage or lightning damage. Diagnosis can be really difficult and, sometimes, almost impossible without lab tests or experienced plant pathologist type people.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 12:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

To improve the tone and color of your tomato plants try Espoma Tomato Tone. It will not force your plants to grow rapidly but allows them to grow naturally and reach their full abundance. Check it out!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 3:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Dawn, I'm going to send pics to your email. I don't remember howto get into my photobucket. Then I'll come back and answer all of your questions in a little while.

The leaves curl up and inward pretty tightly. The entire plant seems to fade in color to a pale sickly green, at that point the plant starts to look shriveled and keeps worsening. Some of the leaves on SOME of those plants mostly towards bottom turn yellow, but some plants don't get any yellow leaves. They just continue to wither away and turn brown.

After all your q's I'm thinking I may have 2 different plagues. I'm going back to garden to read your post and figure out how to answer the best I can. Sending pics now to your email.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 7:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Ok I sent 7 pics to your email. I would say it's taking about 1.5 weeks for the plant to die. My co-gardener lost the 2 plants the same way a few weeks before. Some of his seem to be doing a little better, but he had used acid loving miracle grow on his and tried to correct it by using some lime. His plants ate prob 15' from mine.

I used a small amount of humore and the tomato miracle grow I used was mixed correctly, but I mentioned that just to see if you thought it mIggt be a vitamin deficiency. No rain here of any decent amount and I haven't left soakers on more than 30-45 min on high 2 x's week.

I just started noticing the leaf curl on several plants about a week and a half ago as the first plant went down. Then noticed the color loss on those plants about 6 days ago. I've been sick for about 4 days so as I go to water was just noticing them withering away, and seems Luke their shrinking. I just started noticing the yellow leaves mostly towards the bottom of some of the the plants that have the problem a few days ago. They are also leaves that are curled. As I said in the pics a few plants are showing substantial amount of yellow leaves with brown spots now that are not on the sick curly leaf plants. Maybe an entirely different problem.

I've never experienced curly top virus and don't think my neighbor has. I'll go read up on it again though, I remember reading along time ago that leafhoppers carry it from one plant to the next. I'm seeing a large number of flea beetles in the garden that we usually don't see. Maybe they could be spreading it if this is the case. Let me know what your best guess is and what I should prepare myself for. I'm going to be upset if they all die. I wonder i could put the fall plants at the other side probably 20' away or should put them in my own yard. Thanks, Sheri.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 12:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I will apologize in advance for everything I'm about to say because I fear it will come across as harsh or "mean" and I do not intend it that way at all, but sometimes the truth hurts. Trust me when I say this hurts me as much as it is likely to hurt you.

I have looked and looked and looked at the photos you e-mailed me. I have looked at them over and over again. I looked at them last night. I looked at them this morning. I got out my Tomato Disease book with its glossy photos of all sorts of tomato diseases, pests and physiological issues and studied its pages carefully and compared them to your photos. Nothing looks like your plants. I don't even know what to say. Don't be mad at me when I say this, but they surely are the saddest, most pathetic looking tomato plants I've ever seen in my entire life and no matter how hard I try, I can't explain how seemingly healthy seedlings could have deteriorated this much so early in the year. I am almost speechless.

What is worse is that while I have lots of ideas and hunches about what could be wrong, I have nothing that I have faith in as "the right answer".

So, not knowing what in the world is going on with your soil or your weather, here are some random hunches:

MALNUTRITION: They look like they are starving to death. They only time I've had tomato plants look remotely this bad was in 2007 when flooding rains waterlogged their roots for 2 or 3 months and they could not take up nutrients from the soil. If your plants were mine, I'd buy the regular all-purpose Miracle Grow, mix some up following the label directions and give it to them. Then I'd look at them daily to see if they begin putting out new foliage about 2 to 4 days later. The reason I'd use All-Purpose instead of the Tomato formula is that they need to improve their topgrowth and rootgrowth first before they can even think of blooming and forming fruit. If they do not respond to the feeding, then something has to be wrong in the soil or in their vascular system.

SPIDER MITES: Before I'd do that, I'd check the leaves very, very, very carefully for signs of spider mites. Some of your plants, especially the ones with a lot of browning and withering of the leaves look like tomato plants look at the END of a bad spider mite infestation when they are near death. Here in my part of the state, you'd normally see plants looking like that in late July through August. In early June? It doesnt' seem likely, but the heat arrived early this year and so did the spider mites. If your plants were 3 or 4' tall and lush and thick, they likely could outgrow the spider mite damage, if that is what they have, but since they are so small and sickly, I don't think they can.

WATER: I don't know if there is a problem with your water, like maybe it is too high in pH or too high in salt content, or if you have very sandy soil and the water is draining through it too quickly, or if the plants just need water, but if you are watering them on a regular basis and are keeping the soil evenly moist, then something is wrong with your soil because well-watered tomato plants don't look like that unless they are sitting in standing water.

SOIL: Sandy soil? Clay? Sandy loam? Are plants other than tomatoes alive? One possibility that comes to mind is root knot nematodes, although I would think that if you have them there, you'd already know you have them and this would not be a big revelation.

If I knew absolutely nothing about you, your plants, or the soil they're growing in.....if I was driving down the street and saw those plants, I'd turn to Tim and say "Somebody needs to water or feed those poor things because they look awful, either that or they have spider mites or nematodes something fierce, don't they?" And that would be my gut feeling and it could be 100% wrong because I am basing what I think on what I see here in our area, and you may have completely different soil, pests and diseases there than we have here.

DISEASES: It is almost impossible to look at a photo of nearly dead plants and tell someone after the fact what it was that killed their plants. Maybe a plant pathologist could do it, but I can't. Trying to do that would be the equivalent of having someone pull up to your house with their dead dog in the bed of the pickup truck and having them say "what is your opinion about why my dog died?" The only logical response I could make would be to say "who knows?"

Plant disease is progressive. To diagnose it, you need to see the plants on a daily basis so you understand how it began and how it progressed. Because symptoms of many diseases mimic one another, you can't look at a plant that's been sick a week or two or three and "guess" what happened, how it progressed and what it is. With some common diseases that have very specific symptoms, maybe you can. But you can't do it with lots of diseases. For example, if you told me your leaves were yellowing and had brown, irregularly shaped patches with a bullseye, oystershell or target type ring pattern, I'd know right away that you were describing Early Blight. If you described leaves with brownish-black patches on the leaves that were rapidly (in days, not weeks) dying and that had sporulation on the black patches, I'd think it was Late Blight. But leaves that are curling and yellowing and eventually dying are symptoms of almost anything and everything that kills tomato plants, so they are not specific enough as symptoms to tell us much. (sigh)

I feel terrible telling you these things because I'm not giving you any real answers and am not providing a diagnosis either.

If they were my plants, I'd try feeding them to see if they improve. If they don't, I'd yank them before the end of June and plant something else (NOT potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant, tomatillo or ground cherry plants) in their spot. I wouldn't put tomato plants there again for 3 years. I'd get a soil test done. I'd work on fixing the soil. Something is really wrong in terms of growing tomato plants in that specific spot.

Finally, I have no idea what y'all add to the soil or use as mulch, but if you are using any form of grass clippings, straw or hay that might have been treated with one of the persistent herbicides known to have long-lasting residues that can kill plants for several years, I'd suspect it might be herbicide damage from residue in the soil.

I'm sorry I can't give you any better answer, but your tomato plants look much worse than a mere mortal like me can explain or figure out. Whatever is wrong, it is something major because healthy plants do not look the least bit like that....and I know that deep in your heart you know that.

It is possible they contracted a disease in May if y'all were as wet in May as we were. We had 6" of rain and the foliage stayed wet 24/7 most of the month which is the worst possible thing for tomato plants because their foliage needs to stay dry 24/7. If you had posted photos the very first day you saw something wrong, maybe we could have figured it out and caught it then. But, whatever is wrong with them, we're at the end of it when the plants are too far gone to diagnose.

I do think in one of the 6 or 7 photos you e-mailed, I saw a brown patch on a yellow leaf that might have been Early Blight but the quality of the photo was a bit fuzzy and I couldn't even be sure about that.
I wish I could give you some better sort of answer and not a bunch of hunches but that's the best I can do after viewing your photos.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 1:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lol! It's ok. I'm just glad your willing try to help.

I'm not the most observant person, but I know when I pt them in the ground they were healthy nice green color, and 2 weeks ago they were thriving and loading up with blooms because that was about the time I started shaking and thumping. I am wondering if maybe the pics didn't show the leaf curl as much I am seeing. I looked at some pics today and the curly top virus sure looks a lot like mine. On the other hand, my neighbor had all of his do the same thing, and his are looking like they are making a come back, well all but 2 of his.

The sudden color loss is what sparked me to get put there while I had the flu last thursday and give them the second cup of tomato miracle grow. But also dawn, all but the first 15 plants has a couple of cups of hu more added to the hole and mixed in well with soil at the time of planting. It is very sad clay soil not amended with anything. Also I forgot to tell you about the straw that was last from last year. It looked like wheat straw to me. That is all that is there to mulch with this year. It is breaking down and has that dark discoloration to it. Could that be somewhat molded and causing a problem? It's very thin and scarce. Sigh.

I'm also wondering w the leaf curl what you think about a lack of water? I have soaker hoses laid around most of them and was feeling that they were getting watered sufficiently because a few weeks ago I dig down in between a couple of them saw the soil was damp to a depth of at 8" or so. But I have the cheap hoses from ace hardware and it seems like they water better toward one end than the other. I think I did tell you though that I put tomato tone around the potato leaf plants and they are fairing better it seems. So that brings me back to malnutrition. I'll give them all a cup of tomato tone miracle grow in the morning and see mike will pick up a bag of regular miracle grow tomorrow and give them a cup of it. Shall I have him get some seaweed emulsion also, or should I not chance getting the foliage wet at this point? I've used the last of my Garrett juice but can order some more if needed. Also what about soaking a few cups of rabbit pellets and pouring a couple of cups of the water on each one? That has always helped to green them up in a jiff. Thanks so much for taking the time to help. Sheri.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 12:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I forgot to say I found no spider mites.

Also dawn, the pics I found on the net of curly top virus depicted how shrunken and stunted the infected plants were in comparison to the ones next to them and that is looks like what I have going on here. I asked my neighbor if he thought everything was looking similiar in size up until a few weeks ago and he thought that they were too. The beans cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash, everything else seems to thriving fine.
However I do remember the plants looking faded all of the sudden last summer and that was when I sidedressed with the alfalfa pellets and they greened up. Sigh. So maybe I'm looking at malnourishment. I just don't know. I wish you were here.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 1:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Whew! You sure took that well. I didn't want you to be upset with me and I felt bad that I was offering so little hope for your plants.

I wish I was there too because sometimes being able to see the plants in person makes a real big difference sometimes.

I also see some damage on yours that looks a little like the russett mite damage common on plants in California, but I don't have any first-hand experience with that, so hesitate to mention it. That's one reason I suggested checking for mites.

Be careful not to overfeed. Give them one thing or another but not everything if you know what I mean. Although people don't think of it this way, feeding plants stresses them to some degree because it 'pushes' them to grow and perform so you don't want to overstress plants that already are in trouble. Alfalfa tea is one of my favorite home-made fertilizers. I think it is as good of a growth booster as liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed. As a bonus, if you have problems with June bugs, a bucket of alfalfa tea is a great beetle trap. When I'm brewing alfalfa tea, the bucket has dead pest beetles floating in it every morning and I just skim them off and toss them on the ground.

Now that you've said it is clay, well.....that's a lot of the problem. I have heavily amended my clay for 13 years and I still am not thrilled with how it performs even after all that soil improvement. If you're working with unimproved clay, then I think you and your friend should do yourselves a favor this fall and really work to improve at least the area where the tomatoes will grow next year. You'll be amazed at how much better they perform. The great thing about clay is that usually it is high in minerals and minerals are, after all, what nourish our plants so it usually is fairly fertile. Also, with clay you don't have to deal with the nematodes that are so often an issue in sandier soils. We bought land that is mostly clay specifically to avoid nematodes. I think our land once had sandy loam based on what some of our older neighbors remember from many decades ago) but that largely blew away during the Dust Bowl and then the rest slowly eroded away. The property to our south and the one to our east both have a lot more sand now than we do, and it washes down into our creek big time during heavy rainfall, slowly silting it in and filling it in.

The easiest way to improve soil is to collect and then either chop or shred leaves in the fall, wet them down and pile them on top of the tomato-growing area. When you think of it in the fall or winter, spray them with a hose now and then to keep them moist but not soggy. By spring, they will have broken down into rich, humusy leaf mold that smells just like a walk through a humusy woodland. It can be rototilled into the soil and will improve it tremendously. One of the things about leaves that is so wonderful is that they contain the micronutrients that plants need and they contain them in roughly the ratios the plants need so you can't throw your soil out of balance by using them. However, avoid black walnut leaves because they contain a compound that will stunt or kill tomato plants.

During the growing season we catch all our grass clippings with the grass catcher on the lawnmower and mulch the veggie beds with them. From about September onward, I stop adding new layers of mulch to the garden (by then it has plenty) and start stockpiling the grass clippings in a pile to use later on with leaves. Then, when collecting leaves in the fall, I make a 'new' compost pile with them. I put down a blue tarp on the ground (more to discourage snakes from burrowing under the pile than anything else because I hate finding snakes in my compost pile!!!!) and put down alternate layers of grass clippings and chopped and shredded leaves until I have a huge pile. My 'best' pile (remember we're in the country with the space for such nonsense) two years ago was about 20' long, 8' wide and 8' tall by the end of November and it was all from chopped leaves (billions of them, I'd guess) and grass clippings. By February it was less than 2' tall and had decomposed enough to work into the areas where I'd be planting tomato plants in early April.

A soil test would be tremendously helpful and here's why: if a single nutrient in the soil (and it wouldn't have to be a macronutrient and could be only a micronutrient) is out of balance or if the soil pH is too high or too low, this can prevent the tomato plants from taking up nutrients as needed. One of the frustrating things about imbalances in soil is that sometimes a nutrient shows up on a soil test but, depending on the testing method used, that nutrient may not necessarily be in a form the plants can take up. Also, sometimes it isn't a shortage of a nutrient in the soil, but rather an excess of one particular nutrient that interferes in how the plants take up and use the other available nutrients.

However, if all the other plants in the garden are fine, then I'd lean less towards thinking it is a soil-based nutritional issue. (sigh) See, everything we think about is 'cancelled out' by something else.

I'm really focusing on the straw mulch because it might be part of the problem. We have had an issue in this country since the late 1990s with herbicide residue contaminating gardens and making them mostly unusable for several years. It is a specific type of herbicide. Back in the early days of the problems, it was the active ingredient in Grazon and it even got into the commercial compost and munipcal compost supplies, so people who were purchasing bagged compost or buying compost from their city were unknowingly applying compost that would kill their plants within a few weeks to a few months after it was applied. After research finally established what the problem was, some safeguards were put into place to prevent this and they mostly seemed to work for a few years. However, damage was ongoing because people would use grass clippings that they didn't know was treated with the herbicide (it is used a lot on golf courses) or were buying hay or straw treated with it. These herbicides are widely used by those who grow grass and grain crops, and most of the time when you're purchasing hay or straw, unless it is locally sourced and the seller can assure you it was raised without herbicides, then you have no way of knowing if it was or wasn't. For people using the straw as stable bedding or the hay as animal feed, the herbicide residue isn't a problem. For people using straw and hay as mulch or as an ingredient in their compost pile, it is a huge problem.

In the late 2000s, it happened all over again with a different but similar herbicide. I think it hit in purchased, bagged compost and cow manure in Great Britian in 2008 (that herbicide was voluntarily withdrawn from the market there) and in the USA in 2009. Because of it, I've stopped buying hay except for alfalfa hay because the suspect class of herbicides cannot be used on alfalfa since it is a broad-leaf plant and these herbicides are used to kill broad-leaf weeds.

So, if the hay or straw mulches are used only in the tomato area and those plants are sickly, and if the hay or straw are not used on the other plantings that are fine, then I'd be concerned about the hay or straw possibly having herbicide residue. Once again, we have a possible solution...but if you have all the other plants mulched with the same hay or straw, then it clearly isn't the issue since all of them are fine.

I know it is hard to find anything to use this year as mulch because the prices of hay and straw are so high, and about the only time I see any is on the big flat-bed trucks carrying huge loads of it down to drought-plagued Texas. Here where we live, the ranchers are saying that various types of cattle feed also are up quite a bit per ton in addition to the high cost of hay. I'm sure this is because in a lot of parts of the country either the drought or the flooding is wreaking havoc with feed crops.

The fact that you had tomato issues late in the year last year is not necessarily an indication that the soil has a major ongoing disease issue or that you have a major nutritional issue because the June-August heat are very hard on plants, especially once the overnight lows are staying in the upper 70s and the 80s. It is pretty normal for spring-planted plants to just be exhausted by late July or August. However, if you notice the plants having identical issues 2 or 3 years in a row, that might indicate either a pest or disease issue is building up in the garden to such levels that you need to do something---hence my suggestion that you not grow tomatoes in the same spot every year.

Hang in there and focus on figuring out what is going on and fixing it, but at the same time do not let this setback discourage you. Growing tomatoes is simple the very first year you buy plants and stick them in the ground, isn't it? After that, it seems to get harder every year.....and, no, I don't know why. Gardening has to be fun and enjoyable, too, or it isn't worth doing, and it is hard to enjoy it when the plants are performing badly.


Here is a link that might be useful: MEN Article on Contaminated Compost

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 9:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This may not be much consolation, but....THANKS! for this discussion...I now know that one of my plants has Curly Top - no doubt. It's a Mountain Spring that I got from an Ace Hardware store. It's the only one that has acted this way...but I do have 2 others that have spider mites. Thankfully, I've been spraying (Neem Oil) and I think I'm making progress.


One of the sites I researched said that CT tends to be seen in "warm windy springs"....what about horrible hot springs?!?! LOL...

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 7:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I'm sorry to hear your plant is ill.

Curly Top is spread by beet leafhoppers and only by beet leafhoppers as far as I know, and the wind 'carries' them or 'blows' them into the garden where they then infect the plants. I had a few days here where I saw lots of beet leafhoppers and potato leafhoppers here, but so far my plants seem to have escaped damaged from them. (The potatoes did not, but they produced well anyway.)

From looking at photos of Sheri's plants, it could be the Curly Top Virus, but is also could be malnutrition plus extreme heat causing the leaf curl. It is so hot and dry that she has an uphill battle to try to save them. Once plants start going downhill, it can be so hard to turn them around.

Curly Top usually doesn't spread in a secondary manner, so if it is only on one plant, the others won't necessarily come down with it. That's one of the few good things about Curly Top.

There's a similar virus called Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl that often is misdiagnosed as Curly Top or vice versa. To me, though, TYLC doesn't look nearly as bad as Curly Top when I've seen it.

I don't even know if the rest of the horticultural world realizes that in Oklahoma (and Kansas, Texas and probably NM and AZ as well), we traded in our warm windy spring weather for hot, gusty late spring weather these last few weeks. Yesterday it was 104 here and the wind was gusting in the 30s. How in the world can we expect veggies, herbs and flowers to cope with that kind of nonsense? It was like the poor plants had a heater blowing hot air on them all day long. The weather is not being cooperative at all this year.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 11:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How do you make your alfalfa tea? Do you use it as a spray or just give the plants a few cups of it? Yesterday I placed some pellets in water pail and kept filling it up with water and gIvong each plants 2 or 3 cups around the base. No big change as of yet. I got the regular miracle grow today, how ling do you think I should wait to give them some?

I am wondering about the straw as well, but I think your first hunch about malnutrition is correct. Here is why- my neighbor just commented the other day about the ground being dead, not having anything added in at least 5 years. He fertilizes w regular miracle grow and probably how he has kept his going all these years. Last year I tilled in a bag of rabbit pellets and sidedressed with them, that was it. well plus couple of cups of tomato grow. I'm thinkIng that explains why no ripe tomatoes last year. Also, I remember around the same time lady year the plants list color, that was when I sidedressed w pellets. So that says alot for the pellets because it greened them up in a flash but must nOt have been enough to fertilize them.

Also nothing was growing much this year until I gave everything some tomato miracle grow. I gave everything a little alfalfa tea yesterday and will hit everything with the reg miracle grow soon.

Mike said "bless your heart" after reading your post because were truthful yet so worried about my feelings. I actually was just relieved to know I might be able to save them and needed to hear the truth in order to drive home the importance of soil amendment. As much as I read here and have for 5 years I should have known a few cups of humore and peat moss wasn't enough. The first year I amended with manure, peat miss coco coir, and don't even remember what else but seemed to have forgot how important it is. So what I do from here on out green beans, fall tomatoes, Crenshaw melons will be better off.
What do you think about the alfalfa tea on the lawn? I also read on the peat moss that you could add a light layer to established lawn, wondering what you though about that as my lawn is suffering too, as I haven't fertilized it in years either. Now I have a bug question but will start another post incase anybody else is having same problem.

Thanks so much for helping me figure that one out, I was about to pull about 30 of the tomato plants the other day ugg!! Will try to keep them going instead. I'll let you know the progress on this post incase anybody else ends up in this situation in the future. Feels like were getting a cool front now, in Harper county anyway. Maybe not haven't checked the weather.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 12:55AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


There are simple ways to make alfalfa tea, and there are more complicated ways.

The simple way is to take a 5-gallon bucket. Take a cup or two of alfalfa pellets or cubes or meal or whatever you have handy. You can either dump the alfalfa right into the water or you can put it in something like a knee-high stocking that would contain it. If you dump the alfalfa right into the bucket, you can strain the water through a window screen (like an old window screen or fine kitchen strainer/colander) to strain out the solids. If you do it this way, let it sit a day or two so it can brew for a while. Pour around the base of the plants. It is as easy as pie.

To make a stonger brew, it is better to use a trash can with a lid. Fill the trash can most of the way full with water. Add as mulch alfalfa as you think you'll need. I add about 2 cups for every 5 gallons of water in the trash can. For such a large container, a burlap sack is an easy way to contain the alfalfa, but knee high stockings work too. Or, you can put the alfalfa in loose and just strain before using the tea. Leave this for a week or two. Keep the lid on to keep pets and small children out. Take off the lid and stir it up once or twice a day. Also, the lid helps contain the smell, which becomes stronger and stronger over time. When you brew a long, slow batch like this, it is fermenting and there are benefits of the fermentation. Whenever you're ready, pour the tea around your plants.

Why is alfalfa so effective? Because it is full of protein, vitamins and a growth hormone that tomato plants respond to really, really well.

You also can skip the tea completely and just mulch your plants with alfalfa pellets or cubes. Think of it as a feeding mulch. Every time it rains or every time you water, the water will wash some nutrients from the alfalfa cubes or pellets into the soil. Alfalfa on the ground will attract earthworms and they'll help improve the soil too.

If you get the alfalfa that had molasses added, that's fine because molasses (dry or wet) really helps improve soil by stimulating activity of beneficial microbes.

If you brew the trash-can type alfalfa tea, it can really smell after it has fermented for a few days, so keep that it mind. I just dump the alfalfa tea 'dregs' from the container onto my compost pile when I'm done with them.

You can go ahead and give the Miracle Grow now. The alfalfa tea and MG ought to cause your plants to show improvement in 3 to 5 days. If they don't, then malnutrition isn't the only issue.

Clay soil needs tons of amendment in order to grow tomato plants well. My first year I added 8 to 9 inches of organic matter, 2 or 3" at a time, and rototilled it into the soil...then added another 2 or 3" and repeated. For several years thereafter, I added 3 o 4 inches more every fall. Now I just mulch heavily and in the fall or winter I rototill the decomposed mulch into the soil, plant in late winter or early spring, and start mulching again. I add mulch almost every week, usually just using grass clippings from the yard. As they decompose they continually give the plants nitrogen, and once they're compost, I till them into the soil to improve it. Even after doing all of this for 13 years I am not entirely happy with the quality of our soil, but it is much, much improved over what we started out with. Remember that "heat eats compost", so you always have to add more every year. Mulching heavily and letting the mulch decompose in the garden is the easiest way to do it. I also mulch my pathways very heavily and in late winter or early spring I shovel up the mulch from each path into the growing bed beside it and then put down new mulch in the pathways. It is a whole lot easier to 'sheet compost' in the pathways and then feed that compost to the adjacent beds than it is to haul compost from a distant pile.

Either peat moss or compost are very beneficial to the lawn, especially in this heat as they help conserve moisture. If you use peat moss, be sure to cut a slit in the bag and wet it down first, or (a) it all will blow clear into another state and (b) dry peat moss sheds water so you need to start out with it moist and keep it moist or it forms a dry sort of thatch type layer that repels moistue if you let it get bone dry.

Of course, we are out in the country and the house sits back 300' from the road, so no one can see my yard from the road and I don't much care what the lawn looks like, so to improve the soil in the lawn area, here's what I did: Our 'old farmer' friend Fred dropped off 4 half-rotted round bales of hay one day for my garden. I mulched everything in the garden with them, and spread the rest over our bermuda grass/weed lawn. It looked ridiculous, of course, but I just set out the sprinkle and watered it every 3rd or 4th day so it wouldn't burn or blow away. The moist hay decomposed pretty quickly and really fed and improved the soil and the lawn. After that, whenever I got my hands on some hay, I used it on the lawn too.

I have 197 bales of hay lined up alongside the southern fence line and on Tuesday, when our high temp is forecast to be 12-15 degrees lowe than it has been lately, I'm going to use some of that hay to mulch heavily, heavily, heavily around the detached barn-style garage. We are getting big cracks in the ground out there and the grass is dying, so I am going to add the hay mulch about 4-6 inches deep (I only put a couple of inches on the lawn near the house) out there and try to get some moisture back into the ground before it cracks any more.

I've had the hay a couple of months and have been running bean tests on it to ensure it isn't herbicide contaminated. It appears it is not, so I can use it on the lawn and garden now to my heart's content.

Tell Mike I am a really soft-hearted person who hates to hurt someone's feelings and what could hurt more than telling someone their tomato plants were sad and looked pathetic? I felt really bad saying that, but I try to be truthful because candycoating an issue and not addressing it realistically downplays a serious situation...and your plants are seriously in trouble. I hope what we're doing is helping them.

I'm still woried about that one brown stem. I've had that happen on plants a couple of times and it usually is a disease that you can't do much about.

All organic teas are great for the lawn. It doesn't matter if you make and use alfalfa tea, compost tea or manure tea. Any of them will help your lawn.

When you use organic methods you whole focus has to be on fixing and improving the soil, and soil improvement never ends. Once you get your soil in good shape, you can maintain your plants totally organically most of the time. However you shouldn't be afraid to use a synthetic fertilizer in an extreme circumstances like you're seeing now because it may be the only way to save your plants. Once the soil is healthy, the soil will feed the plants, but until you get the soil into a state of good health, you have to give the plants some supplemental feeding.

I hope you're getting a cool front! Y'all need one. We have a tiny squall line of showers running through our area this morning. It cooled us off a couple of degrees and we got really dark, but no rain fell here. I heard a little thunder, so maybe someone got rain.

It was 104 here yesterday, and we've been about 99-104 for the last week, which is so hard on the plants and depressing for the gardener too. Tuesday our forecast high is 89 degrees, and I hope we actually see that happen. If it does, I'll work in the garden like a maniac all day long to make up for hibernating inside in the air conditioning this week and only doing minimal weeding and watering, although I do harvest daily so nothing gets overripe. We had hail last night and the wind blew the corn down, but the hail didn't hurt anything and the 3/10s of an inch of rain we got was better than nothing.

I sure would love a nice hard rainfall that would drop a couple of inches of rain, but it seems unlikely for us. On the other hand, Gainesville got a lot more wind, hail and rain than we did from last night's storms and most of their city was without power last night, so I'm glad we had less trouble and didn't lose our power.

This is a hard, hard spring and it is almost summer. I hope the weather doesn't get much hotter than it already has been. I've really had enough of the heat. Between the lack of rain and the heat, our pasture plants are drying up and going dormant more and more every day. I'm really missing the wildflowers as they fade. I'd rather spend a lot more time outside, but in this heat I'm hiberating inside in the AC.

I've linked an article about compost tea. Please note that the author mentions adding Epsom salts. I wouldn't do that unless I'd had a soil test and knew for sure that my plants needed magnesium. Epsom Salts can be helpful but can be harmful if you have soil or water that already is high in salt content. I've seen some plants suffer bad soil damage from being fed too much Epsom Salts so I tend to steer clear of that particular garden remedy.


Here is a link that might be useful: Alfalfa Tea

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 9:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you got a cool front it missed me. It is 100 with 25-30 mph winds gusting to 35 mph. It wasn't so bad this morning but I didn't get a lot done as we went over to Liberal and took my stepdad out for fathers day. They are saying the next several days could be cooler but no mention of rain.

I have read some of the posts about your plants along but haven't been posting much. I'm sure Dawn has you on the track to improvement. Malnutrition can cause them to look ugly. Not seeing your pictures it is hard to compare. I've been wondering around the greenhouses and even the big box stores lately looking at plants since the hail hit here. And although I've seen plants at several locations where they looked good I've seen a lot that look terrible. And I believe much of it is malnutrition. Some is from being in small containers too long but some are in large containers but look terrible. In the past I've rescued a few just to see if I could get them to recover and how they would do if they did. Overall I've had good success. And like Dawn said if it is malnutrition you should see results soon. I've been going to post my opinions on fertilizers in a separate thread and just haven't took the time. I'm waiting for the heat to drop a little now is why I'm online. I'm sure the wind won't. Basically I feel it is hard to find a complete fertilizer especially an organic one. I've done a lot of experimenting with different fertilizers over the last 3-4 years along with having soil tests ran. I add lots of mulch every year. And the last 3 years due to lack of rainfall I see little decomposing till I till it under. I've also been tilling under 3-4 inches of tree leaves every fall. Most of my readings are real high. So I haven't added any manure for 2 years. Where the soil is wet it is teeming with worms. The past 3 years I've used all organic fertilizers except for some Fertilome and MG blue water a few times. My soil here is alkaline and also low in iron. There is a commercial fertilizer I used in the past which is 10-20-10 and has sulfur and iron added. It worked really well. Adding sulfur and iron myself didn't work as well. So starting last fall I went back to the commercial mix along with the mulch and tree leaves I mixed in. And so far I feel my garden is doing better than the last 2 years for sure considering the hail, wind and early hit we've faced. And I haven't noticed any drop in worm activity. I am trenching in more plants this year. The first plants I transplanted I added nothing to the holes. Just trenched them in. Then added a Fox Farm called Happy Frog organic fertilizer with fungi along with a sprinkling of the commercial fertilizer to some of the later transplants. Those I added nothing too look as good or better than the later ones. I have tried Tomato Tone and here in my garden I haven't been happy with it the last 2 years. I know many have good results. My feeling is it depends on what your soil lacks and what is needed. Another thing I do at least 2-3 times a year is feed them with a molasses tea. It encourages the growth of the soil microbes ect. I'm a big believer in it and usually see results in 4-7 days. I'm seeing some leaf curl now on some plants due to the heat and wind stress. So far they are holding up well. The cool spell will help. The peppers I transplanted seemed to really stall out. More so than normal. Hope your plants recover and produce well for you. Jay

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 7:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I forgot to mention it. I do use it and really like it if I need to add a compost. What I like about it is that I know what it is and it is easier for me to know what else I need to add. Like I said for me here in my garden I don't consider any fertilizer a complete fertilizer except for the one commercial one I mentioned. And that is why I'm using it again some. I don't have the time to mix ingredients and to add several times. Although I'm still probably at least 80% organic if it means I will grow more produce I won't hesitate to use a non organic source. I feel I've built my soil up very well but it still takes maintenance and in years like the last 3 it takes some extra help due to there not being enough moisture for the mulch to decompose properly and so the worms and microbes can survive and do their work. Jay

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 8:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Our weather has been like yours. Very hot and very windy. Brief relief came in the form of a little rainstorm, hail storm and wind storm on Saturday night. For anyone who's counting (I am!) that's our seventh hail storm to hit our place this year. We got about 3/10s of an inch of rain/hail and wind gusting in the 40s. So, the tall (about 6' tall) mid-season corn was blown over and some of it is down, but the shorter (now 3-4' tall) late-season corn is still standing, and I'm waiting to see if the mid-season corn straightens back up. If it doesn't, I'll take advantage of the cooler weather forecast for tomorrow to fix the corn.

The best part of the storm was that it dropped our temperature from 104 to 81, although after the storm passed, the temps went back up some--though not even close to 104 again. The hail (our seventh bout of hail this year) was mostly just pea-sized to marble-sized, but a few were up to nickle-sized, so there wasn't much hail damage--the plants just look battered but not destroyed. I had just picked all the tomatoes at breaker stage or beyond so we'd at least have them if hail hit. Directly to our south in the Thackerville area, folks were not so lucky and trees are down, but the worst of our storm hit the Muenster-Gainesville area with winds up to 100 mph and larger hail, so they have trees down, the power was out, fences and some buildings were blown down, roofs blown or torn off buildings, etc. I feel lucky by comparison.

Jay, Sheri's tomatoes are really sick. I don't know if it is malnutrition or what but they are struggling like you can't even imagine and I hope we'e able to help her get them on the road to recovery ASAP.

I use non-organic fertilizers at times too. I prefer organic ones, but there's times my crops need a stronger, quicker boost than organic fertilizers can give them. I sort of have the midset that I am going to avoid chemical pesticides and fungicides 98% of the time, and will avoid chemical fertilizers most of the time, but I'll use the chemical fertilizers if they can give my plants what they need in tough circumstances where I need for the plants to get a fast boost.

This weather, with highs in the 100-105 range, lows in the 78-80 range and wind that gusts into the 20s, 30s, and 40s every day is trying my patience. I feel like we went from winter to summer with very little spring type weather. But, when we were hitting the 90s in March, I knew we had a tough summer ahead of us. I just was hoping it wouldn't be this tough. We have huge amounts of spider mites and grasshoppers and some stink bugs, but not much else from the pest world, except chiggers. We have lots and lots of chiggers. We briefly had skeeters after the May rains, but it is so dry now that we aren't having trouble with them.

I keep asking myself "if you were a tomato plant, would you want to grow in these conditions?"....and, the answer, of course is no. I keep watering them trying to get them to hang in there, but unless we luck out and get fruit set tomorrow, I think my plants may have set all the tomatoes they're going to set before the heat and pests get them. I've started seed for fall tomatoes and am going to keep the seedlings under floating row cover until they're transplanted out so I can at least keep the mites off of them until then.

I'm not complaining about our fruitset. We have had tons of tomatoes but the harvest, except for bite-sized ones, will taper off pretty quickly since no new ones have set in several weeks.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 8:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Scratch the cool front I got hit with some cool air that night and was dreaming it might turn into some kind of relief. The next day was 109 degrees here. Stepping outside at 7pm felt like an oven. cooler yesterday and today but I was in okc all day yesterday so didn't get anything done.

Dawn, I've was hibernate too and now the goat head stickers surrounding my plants are as tall as they are. Way too many for this lazy woman to pull. Would I have any success weedeating them to the groundlevel and cOvering them in black trash bags? Looked all over okc and couldn't find the no hole type black plastic, oh except for the kind a painter would use -$98 roll. If so how close to the tomato plants can I go with it? Ive heard it can be used on watermelon hills but feared it might make tomato roots too hot. Everything is covered in those brown blisterbeetles second year in a row. I'm trying to find a handbag per your suggestion I found in an old post. Sigh.

Is the bean test were you put some beans in the bale to see if they grow?
Good idea.

I did some alfalfa tea on the 18th, and miracle grow on Sunday, not noticing any change yet. There's about 7 plants that look they may not make a comeback, and about 5 not far behind. Loosing the lucky cross, dang it!!! I wrote down the ones that are in the worst shape just incase anybodys interested:
Lucky cross
Amana orange
Believe it or not OR carbon (labeling problem -got bunch of them mixed up)
SuPer Sioux or church
Early wonder
Already lost-caspian pink, German Johnson.

I added some Epsom salt to Omars Lebanese as an experiment to see what would happen. Let's just say i won't be having any giangantic tomatoes this year. I'll let you know in a few days if anythings improving. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Jay, it's kind of a sadder story than I've stressed in these posts. I had a successful year in 2007, the first year I discovered heirloom tomatoes. In 2008 I had to abandon my plants before anything even got ripe, due to a wacked out drugged-up stalker who kept frequenting my garden. 2009-to present Ive moved my garden across the street to my neighbors, were I have more space but Im discovering probably deficient used up soil, so it's been really difficult getting many ripe tomatoes in recent years. I'm talking a few handfuls last year from probably 60 plants. This year I worked diligently to get seeds started on time and grabbed a few bags of humore, and peat moss and thought I was going to make it this year. My motto was: nothing can stop me now! So you can get a good laugh like I am now, I'll email you those pics I sent to dawn tomorrow. They may give a new meaning to just how ugly malnutrition can get.

I'll probably break down and do the soil test in spring next year so I can know what all I need to do for sure. I added some MG blue water Sunday, so maybe things will perk up soon. I'd be interested in that post on your opinion of fertilizers when you get around to it. Sheri

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 1:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

Not trying to steal a thread I just need somewhere to vent. I have given up on my spring tomatoes. For weeks they have had some weirdness to them. Deformed new leaves, long stems between leaf nodes, and extremely low counts of flowers and fruit. Im sure the wind and high heat had a lot to do with it. I cant find any pests and no disease pictures match what im seeing. My Black krim which is the worst of all and now pulled, had 3 good size fruit that started to turn last week. Went out last night to pick them and they had soft rotten places on them and the inside was mush, arrghh. Brandywine(just learned not that good for OK) is doing nothing, Big Boy gave one very tasty fruit and no more, Early Harvest continues to give small fruit. Anyways I have started my fall seedlings also hoping maybe round 2 will be different.

What is so frustrating is I LOVE tomatoes and they are the only thing giving me trouble. Atleast we have had more cukes and squash than we can eat.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 9:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I can't help you with your tomato plants issues unfortunately, as you've read I can't even determine when it's time to feed mine. Bt I was going to tell you it took me 1/2 of a summer to figure out when to pick a purPle tomato at he right time. Then dawn said to pick them just when they feel ripe, rather than look ripe So i dont know if youve grown them before or have knowledge about when uts time to pick them but thats my two cents worth Also, I was overwatering that summer and think that might have contributed to the mushiness of the black tomatoes. I was turning my soaker hoses on high and watering for an 1.5-2 hours 2 x's/week. The first half of the summer my large variety of heirlooms had the flavor of a grocery store tomato. Also I was going to suggest even though the red brandywine are said not to set fruit very well in our heat, if you haven't eatin one yet, you should make sure you get a ripe one to try for yourself before deciding if you want to grow it again It has been the best flavoredtomato I've ever grown, along with the ugly or beauty (its my understanding they are the same variety).

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 12:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Sheri, That's a shame the cool front couldn't give y'all a couple of days of relief. Yesterday morning it was 68 degrees when I stepped outside and it felt heavenly. Even though the afternoon got pretty hot, it still was about 94 or 95, so 9 or 10 degrees cooler than we had been the last few days. I have to force myself to go out into the garden and work for a couple of ours before it gets too hot.

With the goat head stickers, personally I'd likely cut them down with the string trimmer (if it was cooler, I'd take the time to pull them or dig them out), then rake up every last sticker head so they don't stay in the garden and sprout next year. By the way, stickers are a sign the soil is lacking in humus and organic matter, but you probably know that already. We had stickers in our front lawn when we first moved here, but after adding organic matter just by chopping up leaves and leaving them on the ground in that area every fall, we now have improved the soil so that stickers no longer sprout there. They still sprout in our bar ditch and in our driveway though.

I wouldn't put black plastic within 100 yards of my tomato plants (or any other desirable plants, including watermelon) unless I was going to immediately put 2 to 4" of organic matter/mulch on top of it. Black plastic will heat up the soil underneath it like crazy in our temperatures and will cook the roots of your plants. While you can use black plastic to warm up cold soil in spring, you have to either remove it or mulch over it heavily before hot temperatures arrive. The only thing I used black plastic for is to kill everything in a new area I want to plant the following year.

The other day, I looked at the current soil temperature 2" below bare soil at our Mesonet station and it was 111 degrees at mid-afternoon. Imagine how much hotter it would be under black plastic since black absorbs heat! You could use layers of newspaper, cardboard or even the dark-color woven-cloth landscape mulch cloth, but only if you're piling stuff on top of the landscape cloth. Just don't buy the cheap landscape fabric at some big box stores that have millions of tiny perforations to let water flow through, because weeds grow up through those holes and grow downward through them too and it is worthless. I buy a roll of woven landscape fabric every year at CostCo (similar to Sam's Club) for about $40 that is 4' wide and either 200' or 300' long. I use it in my tomato beds, and pile mulch on top of it. It helps keep the weeds down a great deal, but I still have to religiously pull up any weeds that sprout in the mulch before their roots work their way down through the cloth (which they will).

If you aren't seeing new growth on the tomato plants by this Sunday, then their main issue is not a lack of nutrition but then has to be something else like a serious soil deficiency or imbalance between nutrients, a disease or a pest that is very serious. (sigh) I cannot imagine what it is, although knowing you are growing in only lightly-improved clay makes me suspect the soil is staying too compacted and the roots may be starving for oxygen too. Remember that plant roots grow in the SPACE between soil particles, not in the soil itself. If the clay is barely improved and heavily compacted, the roots have precious little open space between soil particles because with clay the soil particles aggregate together tightly. Maybe when you send Jay the photos he'll see some symptoms he recognizes and can help you more than I have.

Not to be bossy (OK, maybe sort of big-sister type bossiness is in play here), but I'd do the soil test right now. The time to fix your garden is this summer or fall, not next winter or spring. You need to be able to add what the soil needs now so whatever you add can begin improving the soil now. I know that one of the main problems in your clay is a lack of biological activity due to compacted clay and a lack of oxygen. Fixing a problem like that means adding tons of organic matter and then giving the soil microbes time to do their thing. You cannot improve soil and plant into a week or two later and expect great results. At a minimum, once you have been adding organic matter in large amounts every year and feel your soil is in pretty good shape, you can get away with adding a little organic matter in the fall, and organic fertilizer in the spring just before planting time. However, when you are just beginning the work to improve soil, you need to add heavy amounts of organic matter in the fall and give it time to break down and work. Soil is very complicated and you need to think of it as an entire ecosystem in and of itself. You have to return bad soil to good soil by building up the ecosystem and letting it function. That's entirely different from adding a little organic matter and thinking the job is done.

With the hay, yes, I cut it up and mix it into cups of soil and raise beans in it. If they don't die, that bale of hay is good to use. So far, so good.

Jay, Sheri's tomatoes befuddle me and all my early impressions of what it might be were wrong. It can't be nematodes because she has clay, and it wasn't spider mites. Personally, I thought they looked like plants that had nematodes AND spider mites! So, maybe you can look at them and figure out something. I would think it is a combintion of clay soil, some pest that affects plant vigor and a disease or diseases, but which ones?

Mike, You know what, we really do need a special thread just for venting about our tomato plants because it is a bad tomato year. Blaming the weather is appropriate, but that is little consolation.

Uh oh, your plants are starting to sound like Sheri's. I hope y'all's plants aren't early indicators of some major tomato plague in Oklahoma this year.

I have started fall plants too, but so far they are small and seem in no big hurry to grow. Of course, our highs have been in the 99-104 range for most of the last week, and I have to keep reminding myself that if I was a tomato, I wouldn't want to grow in those temps either.

I haven't completely given up on my spring tomatoes, but I'm moving more in that direction every day. The fruit on them has been ripening fine, but now stink bugs have arrived, so I have less confidence that the quality of the fruit will remain unchanged. Luckily, we have had a big early (April and May) harvest but our mid- (June) and late-(July) season harvest will be poor. I never expect much but bite-sized tomatoes to be ripening in August in any year. Every day I am more and more tempted to just yank out everything but the plants that produce bite-sized fruit. Oh, by everything, I mean all the tomato plants....not everything else. A lot of the tomato plants are just a waste of space this year, and I think I'd be better off yanking them and replacing them with all kinds of southern peas, winter squash, okra and pole beans. I think it is likely I'll do just that around the beginning of July, unless we have a major break in the weather that gives the plants lots of moisture and cool air.

It isn't a bad garden year at all. We had huge harvests of lettuce, potatoes, onions, leeks, corn and green beans, but only a moderate harvest of everything else, and no broccoli or cabbage and relatively few snap peas. The pepper plants are covered in peppers, the melons have lots of blooms and small fruit, and the cuckes are growing great and about to start flowering. The cukes are late because I planted them in late May after I pulled out the sugar snaps. They're doing great considering how young the plants are.

It is just that the weather this year has been hard on the tomatoes. Even in a perfect year, we have a very narrow window of opportunity here when the temps are right for blooming, pollination and fertilization to occur. If the heat arrives too early, or if late cool weather keeps the plants from growing fast enough after they're transplanted, then the narrow window of opportunity almost slams shut before fruit set occurs. That's pretty much what has happened to many people here in OK this year. Or, hail hit and destroyed or badly set back the plants. Our only hope is for an occasional cool spell to drop the temps enough for fruit set, and that's really iffy. I don't know that it is worth waiting for a cool spell if you're having to water the garden weekly as I am in an almost total absence of moisture just to keep the plants alive. At some point, you're spending more on water than you're going to get in eventual fruit. I'm at that point.

I noticed several of our 'usual' gardeners here in our county didn't even plant gardens at all this year, or didn't plant tomatoes at all, or have given up and stopped watering. They knew by how dry we were/are that a tomato harvest was iffy, and so did I, but it is hard for me to not at least try for a crop because tomatoes are my favorite food. Well, maybe they're tied with chocolate in the category of favorite food, but I don't try to grow chocolate.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 1:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I dont' remember who made this comment since there is so much to go back read to find the comment about Epsom salt after I signed in but just to let you know, Epsom salt is Magnesium Sulfate not a salt as I understand it. It's a mineral.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 8:32AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Epsom salt is indeed magnesium sulfate and it is a chemical. It also is a soluable salt, as are many other chemicals. That's why you have to be careful about using it with plants. Too much soluable salt, whether it is found in the soil, water or in any fertilizer product, can harm your plants.

While Manesium Sulfate is not as high on the Salt Index as some fertilizers, you have to be careful which other fertilizer you use it with or you can overdose your plants with too much salt. You also have to be careful about using Epsom Salt if your water or soil already has a high salt content.

A person could use Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate), which has a Salt Index of 44, with a concentrated superphosphate which has a Salt Index of 5 with little worry, as long as the soil or water are not excessively high in soluable salt. However, I'd think twice before using Magesium Sulfate on plants recently fertilized with Ammonium Nitrate, which has a Salt index of 105. Each product on its own can be helpful to plants if used in the right concentration, but can be harmful if combined with other fertilizers.

Lots of gardeners use a little Epsom Salt to give their plants some magnesium and sulphur. The plants respond, green up and look great. So, the tendency is to get excited and start using Epsom Salts more often (likely too often) and before you know it, the plants have salt damage.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 12:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Okay, I guess I wont use it anymore then. I used it initially but only because I was having problems with even the peppers flowering and some greening problems but I haven't laid any mid summer compost or worm castings and rabbit manure/ composted chicken manure to the plants which I need to do. I have done that to some of the plants with some Mycorrhizae, dried Molasses, and the chicken manure and I only added the epsom salt to give it a quick boost and let the others be a slower release. I need to harvest some worm castings and get that in the soil since we are near the end of the summer growing season and we are finally getting somewhat of a break in the heat. This is what I did last year at the latter end of the year with the worm castings and the rabbit manure and I had tons of blooms and fruit setting with the tomatoes and tomotillos. It would seem easier to do that than putting specific individual components to the soil.
Also, some of my tomato leaves are small,curled downwards and hard. Deformed looking. There is said to be radiation fallout here from Japan and I wonder what the effect of that would be if any.
Is there anyway to know when our posts are replied to besides coming back and checking the actual forums?

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 7:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ladies, Gents, I just joined this site so excuse me if I'm not going about things correctly. I was hoping to get some advise on my tomato plants' leaves turning yellow. Can you take a look at my other posting?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 3:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi Rich, I am still learning, but I think I have seen this before. I would look for a pest..maybe mites or aphids. Look on the back of the leaves.

Are u in Oklahoma?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 5:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7

It does look like spider damage to me too.

Look on the undersides of the leaves for them. They are small, generally red here in our area, and about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. If you are sure if you're seeing them, hold a blank sheet of white paper underneath the leaves and thump them. If little tiny things fall to the paper and begin moving around, those would be the spider mites.

Fine webbing on the underside of the leaves is another sign of spider mites, which are members of the arachnid family and are not true insects.

If you confirm they are spider mites, then we can talk about your options.

If they aren't spider mites, we can work some more on diagnosis.

You don't have to tell us your specific location if you don't want to, but knowing if you're here in this part of the country or someplace else can help with understanding what pest you're seeing. California, for instance, has russet mites, so if you are there, you might encounter them.
Here in the southern plains, we usually encounter red spider mites or two-spotted spider mites.


Here is a link that might be useful: Spider Mites

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 7:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Rich...I saw your other posting on the tomato page - you're fortunate that your plants have done well for a while, but they are too cramped, and I don't believe there is enough soil/nutrients there to sustain them. If they're stressed, then they're going to be even more susceptible to disease/pests that come along.

Next year you might consider getting large pots - one for each plant, as tomatoes require 2-3ft spacing and soil a couple of feet deep in order to grow successfully. I would also consider focusing on "patio" tomatoes, or others labeled as determinate plants; they have a limit to their upward growth. Varieties might include Patio, Celebrity, Roma, Better Bush, etc.

I know this is unsolicited advice, but just thoughts for more successful growing next time! Knowing exactly where you live might help fine-tune things as well.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 9:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


After reading Sharon's message about the other thread, I went and found it on the Tomato Forum. I am sure all the tomato experts there will respond, but I second everything Sharon said.

I grow many kinds of tomatoes in containers, but in containers the size of yours, I'd only put one or two small dwarf determinates like Better Bush,Bush Goliath or Bush Early Girl. They would only get a couple of feet tall, if that tall, in a planter as shallow as yours but would spread out as wide as they were tall and likely would produce a decent harvest as long as they are well-fed and well-watered. They'd do even better in a larger container.

Growing in containers is very different from growing in the ground. Because tomatoes in containers often require watering daily (mine sometimes need watering 3 times a day here in Oklahoma when the high temps are over 105), you have to pay special attention to their nutritional needs. There are different ways to meet those needs, but the most important thing to understand about the whole process is that every time you water the containers, nutrients are being leached out of the soil by the water, so that your tomato plants need almost constant feeding in those conditions. Some people use a soil-less potting mix like Miracle Grow that contains a slow-release pelleted fertilizer. Others use a water-soluable fertilizer, diluted to 1/4 or 1/3 the recommended strength every day or every other day. They have to experiment to see what strength gives them the desired results. Some people use Jobe's Tomato Fertilizer Spikes or other similar products.

When plants are planted in soil that is too shallow and too many of them are in one container, they cannot get adequate nutrition and they cannot branch out sideways well enough to produce all the leaves they need for adequate photosynthesis, and thus they grow poorly and produce poorly. Stressed plants like that have a lot of trouble with pests because pests tend to attack stressed plants more readily than healthy ones.

Yellowing leaves are merely an indication of stress in some cases and disease in some cases. Based on how many plants you have in those wooden planter boxes, I'd say your yellowing leaves indicate the plants likely have multiple issues because they are too crowded. Those issues include poor nutrition, overcrowded plants, and plants that generally are stressed due to moisture issues although I cannot tell from looking at them if it is that they are drying out too much in between waterings or if the container is not draining well and their roots are too wet part of the time, etc.

I don't know what varieties you planted, but suspect they are indeterminates that need a lot more room. How much room? My indeterminate tomato plants are grown 1 tomato plant per container in cattle molasses feed tubs that are about the size of a whiskey half-barrel planter. The tubs vary in size from one manufacturer to another, but at a minimum I'd say they are 20-25 gallon containers and some probably are 30-gallon. In a container that size, my indeterminate plants get between 6 and 8' tall and 3' to 4' wide in a good year when they are not heavily stressed by extreme heat and drought. I do have one container with 4 tomato plants in it, but it is a 200-gallon galvanized metal stock tank, which gives each of the 4 plants an area containing 50 gallons of soil.

In smaller containers, I choose smaller varieties that have been bred specifically to grow in containers and I match the maximum potential size of the plant with the container when I am planting. For some of the smaller plants like Little Sun, Red Robin, Orange Pixie, Sweet-N-Neat Yellow, Sweet-N-Neat Red, or Yellow Canary, I can plant them in 3-gallon pots. Some people in a milder climate say they grow Red Robin in 4" pots or 1 gallon pots, but in our hot, dry climate a tomato plant in that size of a pot would have to be watered multiple times a day. Others that were bred for hanging baskets grow well for me in 3-gallon to 7-gallon containers that sit on the patio. These include Lizzano, Terenzo, Pear Drops, Tumbling Tom Red, Tumbling Tom Yellow, Rambling Red Stripe and Rambling Gold Stripe. The do not grow as well for me in hanging baskets as they do in containers placed on the ground because they dry out too quickly in hanging baskets, and the very large hanging baskets they need in order to have adequate root space get so heavy that you cannot hang them unless you use large chains. If you are in a climate that is cooler than Oklahoma's in the summer, any of those might grow well in hanging baskets, especially hanging baskets that have a water reservoir and are self-watering.

This year, some of the best-performing container tomatoes at our house have been Lizzano, Terenzo, Cherry Falls, Yellow Tumbling Tom, Red Tumbling Tom and Rambling Gold Stripe. They are in pots ranging from 20-30 gallon molasses feed tubs to 7 gallon pots to one long cattle feed trough that is roughly 10' long x 12" deep x 23" wide. I was worried it was too shallow even for small tomato plants, but they have grown well in it, as long as I have watered them twice daily on normal days or three times a day in the hottest weather. I have the Miracle Grow Moisture Control Mix in there and without it I don't think the plants would have survived. I have had to give them supplement feeding when I am watering the container twice daily or three times a day (usually they need watering thrice daily only when the temperatures are 106 or higher, which has been common this year). With the smaller plants, I can put 3 of them in a 7-gallon pot and they are happy. For best root growth, I'd rather put 3 of them in a 7-gallon or larger pot, than to put each of them in a 2-gallon pot. Likely they'd be happier if I put only one in a larger pot like the 7-10 gallon pots, but I cram 2 or 3 into it instead. My main crop is in the ground, so the container plants are more of an 'insurance' crop to ensure we have tomatoes even during extreme drought or extreme flooding.

One plant that has pleased me greatly this year is Totem which has set some really large tomatoes (considering the small size of the plant) in that cattle trough. Next year I want to try one or two of them in one 7-gallon planter and see if they perform even better with a deeper container.

You have to choose varieties for containers very carefully and take care not to over-crowd them. None of the tomatoes I grow in smaller containers are chosen because they have the incredible taste of heirloom tomatoes. They are chosen because they have been bred to produce well in smaller containers. Their flavor isn't bad---it is typical hybrid tomato flavor--but I wouldn't choose them for use as in-ground plants where my top criteria in plant selection is flavor and productivity. And, actually, I did plant one Lizzano and one Terenzo each in the ground in the main garden this year to see if their performance in the ground was equal to or better than their performance in containers, and it was. They got about 3' tall and 4' wide, growing more like ground covers than anything else. I'll probably put them in molasses feed tubs next year because they spread out so wide that I kept stepping on them in the big garden.

For the healthiest and happiest plants and for the best production, I suggest that next year you select varieties bred for containers the size you have now if you want to grow standard indeterminate plants you need to upsize your containers. If I was trying to grow in the city on a patio or terrace in containers, I'd buy EarthBoxes or make Earthtainers (search the Tomato Forum for threads posted by Raybo about his Earthtainers if you haven't already read those--you'll see he can grow any variety he chooses in Earthtainers). With larger containers like Earth boxes or Earthtainers, you could grow any variety you want. Some people put 2 tomato plants in those types of large self-watering containers, but in Oklahoma's hot climate, I'd only put one.

Hope this helps,


    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 11:56AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Need straw
I checked with Ellison's and K&K Nursery (both...
what soil to get in okc, ok
Im looking to get about 8 yds of soil. my options are...
Lettuce and spinach
Is it to late to plant spinach and lettuce? It was...
Red Dirt plant sale at Atwoods
3 packs of veggies and flowers are .69 cents and 4...
Intercropping Tomatoes
with Sweet corn? Is it doable? with so many tomato...
Sponsored Products
Set of Four Tropical Fish Italian Marble Coasters
$59.50 | FRONTGATE
Gama Sonic Posts Imperial Outdoor Black Solar Lamp Post GS-97S-GE
Home Depot
Cherry Tomato Bold Stripe Ovo Table Lamp
Lamps Plus
Laetitia Frame 8" x 10"
$1,100.00 | Horchow
Orchid Chrome Four-Light 20-Inch Flush Mount with Royal Cut Clear Crystal
$550.00 | Bellacor
Laura Ashley 74-inch Tall Onion Grass with Cattails in 16-inch Fiberstone Plante
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™