Troubled tomato leaves

stephrhuff(Portland, OR)July 29, 2005

I am growing a Roma tomato plant in a container on my balcony for the first time. I also have a cucumber plant growing next to the tomato in a container. About a month ago, I noticed some small holes in the leaves of my cucumber and then about a week or two later, I noticed the same small holes in my tomato leaves. The holes eventually seemed to get larger and larger, until entire leaves have disappeared, and just the straggly stems are left. The leaves that get direct sunlight seem to be the most affected. The stems and the fruit don't seem to be affected. There are also a bunch of small black dots that look like droppings of some kind. I thought they were bugs at first, but they don't move. I checked the tomato disease identifier and nothing seemed like this. I also did a bunch of research on the internet before I found this forum, and I thought some possibilities might be flea beetles and/or aphids, but I have never actually seen any insects on the plants - the tomatoes or the cucumbers. I also tried looking for the dreaded tomato hornworm, but I see nothing on the plant anywhere. I don't know if this is relevant at all, but one of my two fruits has blossom-end rot, and I haven't had any blossoms turn into fruit since those two appeared about 3 weeks ago. I'm not clear on how much I'm supposed to water, so I water every morning, maybe 3-4 cups of water. There are also some leaves that are just turning yellow, without any of the holes.

Since this is the first tomato I've tried to grow, I'm a little discouraged, and if someone knows what this might be, I would SO appreciate any advice so I can avoid this in the future. It's so discouraging to see a bushy, healthy plant completely fall apart. I attached pictures of the holey leaves, the black specks on the stems and leaves and a picture of the yellowing leaves without holes.

Thanks in advance for any advice.

Image link:

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suze9(z8b Bastrop Co., TX)

"There are also a bunch of small black dots that look like droppings of some kind."

Likely worm droppings. [See link]

Sometimes hornworms (or other tomato worms) are very hard to spot.

"I'm not clear on how much I'm supposed to water, so I water every morning, maybe 3-4 cups of water. There are also some leaves that are just turning yellow, without any of the holes."

3-4 cups of water/day sounds like a lot for a roma (determinate) for the climate you are in, even for a container plant. Get some light colored mulch (preferably straw) and apply generously. Also, the soil surface should not be constantly moist. Allow the top couple of inches to dry out before watering. Stick your finger in the soil to tell.

Overwatering can contribute to BER, or underwatering for that matter (uneven moisture levels). BER is more common in container plants, and also more common in roma types. It tends to diminish as the season progresses and the plant becomes more mature.

Here is a link that might be useful: hornworm droppings

    Bookmark   July 29, 2005 at 8:52PM
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stephrhuff(Portland, OR)

I'm sure you're right about it being a worm of some type. I've looked very carefully (during the day) and still can't spot anything. My cucumber leaves are having the same problems with the same droppings and I don't see any worms on them either. Without knowing what the worm actually is - is there anything I can spray to get rid of these pests before they strip my plants?
Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 10:26PM
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suze9(z8b Bastrop Co., TX)

Bt (Bacillius thuringiensis), either in liquid or powdered form. Worm eats piece of leaf coated with Bt, worm gets sick, stops eating, then dies shortly thereafter.

Common brands include Dipel (dust), Greenlight Bt worm killer, and Thuricide. You should be able to pick some up in any gardening center.

Just so you know, it's not a one time spray (it washes off and degrades over time in sunlight). You'll need to apply it once a week or as directions indicate.

Here is a link that might be useful: what are the common tomato pests? -- FAQ

    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 11:26PM
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suze9(z8b Bastrop Co., TX)

Ok, addressing this part:
"My cucumber leaves are having the same problems with the same droppings and I don't see any worms on them either."

Well, I know next to nothing about cucumbers, but I don't think hormworms mess with them.

Cucumber beetles and just beetles in general leave visible droppings, I believe. So, you might have more than one pest.

Sevin would work on both your tomatoes or cucumbers for eliminating both worms and beetles, but it is pretty broad spectrum, so I don't use it all that much.

Your call.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 11:38PM
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chicagodan(5 Chicago)

Hi stephrhuff - I have the same problem you do, but not quite as bad - yet! My container tomato plant on my balcony has the same little black specks on the leaves. They look like black sesame seeds, some strung together by a silk-like string. I just noticed them a few weeks ago and now they're starting to spread. Since I'm not a big fan of chemicals, I took the novel approach of manually ridding the leaves of these things by putting tape - sticky side out - around a long letter opener and brushing the leaves with it. The black things stick to the tape quite easily and are then thrown away. I did find what appeared to be a mature moth sitting well inside the plant while doing this today. I prodded it with the letter opener and it took off, hopefully for good. Haven't found any caterpillar-like creatures yet. Hope your plant made it!

Many thanks to suze9 for the expert diagnosis.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2005 at 3:22PM
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annemcneill

If you spray the plants with water for a minute or so, you'll be able to see the tomato hornworms wiggling around, and then pick them off -- yuck.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2005 at 1:53AM
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