Tomato leaf curl, what next?

BrittB(6)July 17, 2011

SIGH. I hate this weather, I really do.

So after the three days of lower temps, the tomatoes grew tons of new blossoms, but surprise surprise, none of them actually did anything. They're still green with no hint of turning yellow any time soon. So, I kinda gave up on expecting any real blossoms until fall probably.

NOW every single plant (except the smaller ones) have leaf-curl. There is no trace of bugs at all, and they're very healthy otherwise. The leaves are curling upwards. Some of them are so bad it looks like someone took a curling iron to them. It appears to only be on the older upper growth though. Everything on the bottom half and the new growth is just fine. On two of the plants some of the curled leaves turned yellow, so I removed them.

I have only slightly increased their water from what they've been getting regularly, trying to compensate for the heat. I can't figure out whats wrong, or what I should do.

Should I repot them? move them into the shade for a while? Is there some sort of magical cure for this? I'm just at a loss :( I refuse to let my babies wither away and die. I've worked so hard on them.

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Britt I'm assuming these are container plants. And most of my experience has been with in ground plants. I grew 20 in containers last year and will have 6-7 this year. I've had some leaf curl this year but not near as bad as the last 2-3. I think my change of watering method has helped. I'm one that don't get too excited about leaf curl. I do stop and think if I've changed anything that may of caused it. Otherwise there is little I can do. Shade might help. I know some feel it does. In my situation I very seldom shade a plant. And then only when I feel I know the reason. Curling in my opinion is usually caused by watering or stress. The heat alone can stress a plant and cause curling. I would water them properly but not over water and otherwise leave them alone unless you want to shade a few and see if that helps. My thought is I don't worry a lot about something I can't change. And many times those with upward leaf curl will do ok when conditions moderate. If your new growth looks fine then I wouldn't worry at all. Jay

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 7:27AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I agree with everything Jay said. Most of the time physiological leaf roll is merely a stress reaction, and the extreme heat is likely the cause.

The last thing I'd do is repot them unless they're in small containers. Repotting would be stressful and the plants don't need more stress.

Tomato plants generally do best if we leave them alone and let them grow and take care not to 'love them to death' with too much water and too much fertilizer.

Having mentioned fertilizer, I'll add that it is much harder for plants to remain well-fed in this heat if they are in containers because the necessary watering leaches the fertilizers out of the soil. So if, by chance, your plants are in smalish containers that require a lot of watering, I'd take great care to ensure they are well-fed. I'd probably feed at least weekly in this heat, or maybe twice a week depending on the container size, but I'd cut the fertilizer strength in half so it is weaker to make up for the fact I was fertilizing more often. When you feed container plants with a water soluable fertilizer, their roots take up what they can and then the rest of the fertilizer often is washed out of the soil the next time you water.

Shade may or may not help. If the temps are going over 105 or so, the shade doesn't help as much as you'd like because the poor plants are still so hot in the shade. If the plants are getting reflected sunlight and heat from pavement or building walls or a wooden fence, moving the containers so they are placed in a cooler area away from heat-reflecting surfaces can help.

If your plants are in the ground, making sure they are well-mulched will help keep the soil cooler and that might help with the curling a little. I looked at the bare soil temperature map yesterday and it was showing a temperature of 111 degrees in my county at the time I looked at it. That is why mulching is so important--because the soil is so very hot right now and the roots are just baking in that hot soil.

Honestly, though, in a summer like this, there's going to be a lot of leaf curl in the heat and that's nothing much you and the plants can do except tough it out.

Sometimes leaf curl is a symptom of a disease or pest issue, but 99% of the time it is just stress. I'm so used to seeing leaf curl in hot summers that I rarely even notice the leaves are curled unless someone else notices it and mentions it to me. Then I shrug my shoulders and say something like "Oh, that's heat stress. It happens every year."


    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:07AM
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I have the exact same thing on 5 of my 6 plants. I'm assuming it is this gawd-awful heat. I do have 7 tomatoes now....yippee. The worlds most expensive tomatoes by far. I'm just wondering if they will EVER turn red...

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:16AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Just go on vacation for a week and they'll turn red while you're gone.

Seriously, it takes a long time for tomatoes to turn red (or pink or yellow or orange or whatever a given variety's mature color is).

I'm going to link the Tomato Truss Timeline in case you've never seen it before. I fine it a very interesting illustration of how long it can take for a bloom to form a fruit that then eventually enlarges and ripens. If it seems like it takes forever, that's because it does!


Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato Truss Timeline

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:28AM
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So assuming I don't change anything besides feeding them more, would that help the leaf curl at all? And does the curl actually damage the plant at all?

Also, what would be a better choice of food right now? A granular designed for veggies and tomatoes, or the miracle gro stuff you hook up to a hose and water them with? I have both, just not sure which is best right now

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 2:47PM
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In my opinion the curl itself doesn't hurt the plant at all. If stress caused the curl then the stress can affect the health of the plant. But usually you will be fine. The new leaves will be ok once the condition causing the stress moderates or goes away.

As far as feeding them personally I would use something with a low N number. Fertilizing with a high N number feed can cause problems not only with increased growth but increased stress. There are many options available. Even the same company with have 2-3 different formulations all labeled for tomatoes. Without seeing your plants it is hard to say. Either would probably be fine. I would probably go with a granular type. I use organic mixes a lot. This year have used some Fox Farm products that so far I'm impressed with. I like their organic tomato mix better than Tomato Tone. But I also use foliar sprays and have used some commercial mixes this year. As long as it is a quality product with the correct formulation I wouldn't worry too much about what type I used. The foliar feed will usually act faster. The granular will have a longer lasting affect. Jay

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:13PM
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