yellowing tomato leaves

herbzgirl(z7OKC)June 19, 2005

Some of my tomato plants have yellowing lower leaves, mainly in & around the middle, some of the upper leaves are curling. Why? What do I do about it without having to spend any money? I have Sam's miracle grow and that's all.

Would that help or hurt?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Herbzgirl!

Oh, this could be a hard one, but let's try to arrive at the right answer for you.

Yellowing leaves on tomato plants can indicate many things.
Here's the list to run through:

1) Plants are too dry.
2) Plants are too wet.
3) Foliar leaf damage from a bacteria or virus, especially if the yellowing of the leaves is accompanied by small dark spots (probably bacterial speck) or larger brown spots with concentric circles (probably early blight).
4) A more serious disease like verticillium wilt or fusarium wilt.
5) Nutritional deficiency, with the likely culprit being a lack of one of the following: nitrogen, iron, zinc, potassium, or calcium.
6) Aphids or spider mites.
7) Root-knot nematodes. Only a issue if you are growing them in sandy soil though.
8) Tobacco mosaic virus.
9) Being too close to--and especially if grown directly underneath--a black walnut tree or trees.

So, let's take them one by one.

For (1) and (2) above, check the soil moisture. Tomato plants like to be watered consistently, but don't like having wild swings between being "too wet" and "too dry".

For (5) above, if you have fed them a couple of times this season, it is hard to imagine they have a nutritional deficiency. And, if you want to feed them the Sam's Miracle Grow, I doubt it would hurt them. I think it is a complete and balanced plant food, so plants that have been fed with it shouldn't be showing a defiency. That said, I don't feed my plants at all--I feed the soil with compost, Texas greensand, blood meal, bone meal, etc. etc. and let the soil feed the plants.

For item (6) insect damage can leave the plants yellowing. Look at your leaves. Do you see any small oval bugs that might be aphids? Turn over the leaves and look at the underside of them, especially the leaves down near the bottom of the plant. Red spider mites are tiny and barely visable to the human eye. You can tap the leaves with your finger over a sheet of paper. If tiny specks fall off the leaves and onto the paper and start crawling around, you have spider mites. For aphids, release lady bugs and they will gobble them up within a few weeks. For spider mites, spray the entire plant, and esp. the leaf undersides, with a liquid seaweed solution. The spider mite damage is likely to show up as mottled discoloration of the leaf. Some tiny webbing similar to spider webs may be visable on individual leaves.

For (7) above, root knot nematodes are a horrible problem in sandy soils. The nematodes infest the roots of the plants causing a swelling, or "knot", to appear sporadically within the root system. If you have them, there is nothing you can do now. Eradicating them is almost impossible, although there are a couple of organic solutions that help control them--like crop rotation, planting nematode-resistant varieties and planting a winter crop of cereal rye (not rye grass) and then tilling it into the soil. I hope that nematodes are not the problem.

For item (9) above, black walnut trees release a chemical called juglone. It can make it impossible to grow many plants beneath the tree. If this is the problem, the only solution is to plant the tomato plants somewhere else next time.

You'll notice I left items (3), (4) and (8) for last. These are 3 very likely culprits and can be hard to diagnose without seeing the plants.

If (8) tobacco mosaic virus is the culprit, you'll see a mosaic type pattern on the leaves, and maybe also on the fruit. If the problem is item (4) above, one of the wilts, like fusarium wilt (more likely in our climate) or verticillium wilt (usually found in cooler climates than ours), then I don't know of a good "fix". However, if you feed the plants and water them consistently, sometimes a plant can grow enough to "outrun" these 2 diseases and continue producing fruit, although the plants will not look good at all.

The most likely culprit, I think, is going to be item (3) above. At least, that is what the problem is in my large tomato garden 95% of the time when leaves begin yellowing and/or curling.

If you have bacterical speck, you will notice tiny specks of brown to black to almost purple on the leave surfaces.

If it is early blight, and I think it very well might be, you will notice the yellowing begins at the base of the plant and works its way up, day after day after day. You should see brown spots, usually with concentric rings, on the yellowed areas of the leaves.

To fight early blight:

a) Keep water off the leaves as much as possible. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation.

b) Mulch under your plants to keep water from hitting the dirt and splashing back up onto the plants thereby spreading disease.

c) Remove all the damaged foliage from the plants. Usually new leaves will sprout to replace the damaged foliage. You may not be able to remove ALL the damaged foliage at once if doing so will leave your green tomatoes exposed to too much sun which can cause sunscald and ruin the fruit.

d) Spray your plants with a solution of baking soda, oil and water. To one gallon of water, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of a lightweight horticultural oil and 1 or 2 drops of dishwashing liquid. If you don't have horticultural oil, you can substitute vegetable oil, but I don't think it works as well. Shake this mixture well to blend it. Apply it to the plants thoroughly with a pump-up sprayer. It is best to apply it early in the morning or in the late evening. Do not apply during the heat of the day or further leaf damage can occur, especially in our hot climate. You can also try spraying with compost tea or Garret Juice (recipe can be found at the free side of the Dirt Doctor website (

Another organic solution is Serenade, a bacteria product that combats the diseases. It is new this year (as far as being labeled for use in the vegetable garden) and I am trying it for the first time. It seems to have some effectiveness. A 20-oz. bottle will cost under $10.00 at Wal-Mart. Just follow the label directions.

With regard to the leaf curl, leaf curl is like yellowing leaves and can indicate many different types of problems. I don't generally even worry about leaf curl if it shows up by itself. But, leaf curl accompanied by yellowing leaves almost always indicates that a tomato disease is present and is bacterial/viral/fungal related.

In my garden, early blight can show up anywhere between the 3rd week of May and the 3rd week of June. It is one of the most common tomato problems. If you want a heavy-duty treatement, you can try the more organic approach of spraying with a copper-based fungicide like Kocide. If you want a non-organic approach, Daconil is the solution. I don't use either of them in my garden as I believe both are more toxic than I care to be exposed to.

I hope this helps. If you want to look at pictures of these diseases, follow the link below.

Let me know if you have questions or if I can help you in any other way with this.

Good luck,


Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato Problem Solver 2

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Re early blight spray solution.

Repeatedly? How often?

And, thanks SOOO much. The info is very much appreciated! Great website.

Gary Owens
Moncton, New Brunswick

    Bookmark   June 20, 2010 at 5:22PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
check in, all ok? sure was windy and lots of hail
All quiet here now, near NW 14 and Villa. Sure hope,...
Need straw
I checked with Ellison's and K&K Nursery (both...
Red Dirt plant sale at Atwoods
3 packs of veggies and flowers are .69 cents and 4...
Bad weather
Nasty weather out there, be safe.
AmyinOwasso/zone 6b
Well, that's the end of my garden...
Class 5 water restrictions in Duncan. No exceptions....
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™