Tomatoes Won't Grow - Help!

naomi1435July 25, 2007

I live in Ohio and can not seem to get my tomatoes to grow this year. I planted the first patch in May - and 6 weeks later they were still only 5 inches tall - this was after watering them and fertilizing them with Miracle-Gro. I pulled those up and planted more mature plants - these were about 16 inches tall. This was in June. These have not grown either. I have never had this problem. I have cucumbers planted in the same garden and they are thriving. A friend of mine told me that her neighbor is experiencing the same problem. So what is going on and how do I get my tomatoes to grow? Thanks and God bless you for your help and advice

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We need more detailed descriptions of your planting environment. What kind of soil do you have and how is the drainage? How did you prepare the planting site? Are the plants in full sun at least 8 hours a day? If a tomato won't grow, there is a reason.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 10:07AM
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Ohio's soil is alot of clay - however we dug that out and put in top soil plus comptil. Comptil comes from the sewage plant here - tho it has been sterilized - but it's very good fertilizer plus it breaks up the soil. We also used peat moss to break up the soil as well. If anything it probably gets too much water, as my neighbor's yard drains into ours - however, we have not had a whole lot of rain this season, it's been adequate. As for sun, the garden gets at least 8 hours. Like I said in my first post, the cucumbers I have planted there are doing very well, so I don't think it is lack of water, too much, or bad soil. But then what do I know! Thanks for your reply

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 10:28AM
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bobolink(z6 MA)

The 3 factors that contribute to plant growth are soil, light, and temperature. Sounds like you get the last 2 right and the problem is got to be the soil. If the moisture in the soil is within plant growing range, as long as the plants are not always soaked or always dry, the problem is either ph level or unbalanced nutrient.

You need a soil test that tells you the Ph level and amount of nutrients(N, P, & K) in the soil.

Answer the following questions to give us more clues:

1. How often do you water and how much when there isn't heavy rain for a week?
2. When you water, does the soil soak up the water well?
3. When you pulled those 5 inch plants, what conditions were they in? Leaves were green or yellowish? You can tell if the plant is getting enough nutrient by the look. Do some search on the web on nutrient deficiency.
4. How much roots the plants have after you pull them? Were the roots shallow and short or deep and wide(unlikely)?

Pictures of soil and plants would help.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 6:22PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

As bobolink said - it has to be one of the 3. ;) Also, since topsoil has little nutrient value, what besides the Comptil??? stuff did you add for plant nutrients? Have you used this Comptil before with no problems? Any idea what it's nutrient values/ratings are?

And peat and clay soil both retain water badly and sometimes a hole dug out of clay and replaced with other soil creates a "bathtub" effect - a pond of water forms below the filler dirt. Any chance of that given the neighbor's drain into your yard and all the rain?

Cukes can't really be compared when it comes to potential watering problems as they are much more tolerant of excess water but yellowing of leaves on your tomato plants is a good clue to too much water.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 6:58PM
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Thanks for your replies. Probably if anything, the plants get too much water - since my neighbor's yard drains into ours - tho I do try to compensate by not watering that often. I have laid mulch too so that helps keep the water in. When I pulled up the plants the root system was shallow - but the plants were still very green. The plants I have out there now are also very green. They look healthy - they have blossoms and the tomatoes on them are getting red - they just aren't getting any taller.
I can't tell you what's in the Comptil - like I said, it comes from the sewage plant. Everyone uses it around here and it really makes things grow and grow quickly.
Anyway, thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 2:02AM
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drtomato(5 Ortonville MI)

I've seen this before, it could be "damping-off" or "root rot" the roots get infected and plugged up. Lace your soil with Captan. It causes plant growth to just stop.


The single term used to describe underground, soil line, or crown rots of seedlings due to unknown causes is damping-off . The term actually covers several soil borne diseases of plants and seed borne fungi.

Rhizoctonia root rot (Rhizoctonia solani) is a fungal disease which causes damping-off of seedlings and foot rot of cuttings. Infection occurs in warm to hot temperatures and moderate moisture levels. The fungi is found in all natural soils and can survive indefinitely. Infected plants often have slightly sunken lesions on the stem at or below the soil line. Transfer of the fungi to the germination room or greenhouse is easily accomplished by using outdoor gardening tools inside or vice versa. The germination room should not be used for mixing potting soils or transplanting seedlings as a general rule.

Pythium Root Rot (Pythium spp.) is similar to Rhizoctonia in that it causes damping-off of seedlings and foot rot of cuttings. However, infection occurs in cool, wet, poorly-drained soils, and by overwatering. Infection results in wet odorless rots. When severe, the lower portion of the stem can become slimy and black. Usually, the soft to slimy rotted outer portion of the root can be easily separated from the inner core. Species of Pythium can survive for several years in soil and plant refuse.

Phytophthora root rot (Phytophthora spp.) are usually associated with root rots of established plants but are also involved in damping-off. These species enter the root tips and cause a water-soaked brown to black rot similar to Pythium. These fungi survive indefinitely in soil and plant debris.

Black root rot (Thielaviopsis basicola) is a problem of established plants. It does not occur in strongly acid soils with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. It usually infects the lateral roots where they just emerge from the taproot. The diseased area turns dark brown, and is quite dry. The fungi survive for 10 years or more in soil.

Miscellaneous fungi causing similar symptoms include Sclerotinia (white mold), Sclerotium rolfsii, Macrophomina phaseoli, some species of Botrytis (gray mold), Aphonomyces, Fusarium, Cylindrocladium, and others. Hence the need for the collective term known as damping-off.

Symptoms of Damping-off:
Seeds may be infected as soon as moisture penetrates the seed coat or a bit later as the radicle begins to extend, all of which rot immediately under the soil surface (pre-emergence damping-off). This condition results in a poor, uneven stand of seedlings, often confused with low seed viability. Cotyledons may break the soil surface only to whither and die or healthy looking seedlings may suddenly fall over (post-emergence damping-off). Infection results in lesions at or below the soil line. The seedling will discolor or wilt suddenly, or simply collapse and die. Weak seedlings are especially susceptible to attack by one or more fungi when growing conditions are only slightly unfavorable. Damping-off is easily confused with plant injury caused by insect feeding, excessive fertilization, high levels of soluble salts, excessive heat or cold, excessive or insufficient soil moisture, or chemical toxicity in air or soil.

Above ground symptoms of root rot include stunting, low vigor, or wilting on a warm day. Foliage of such plants may yellow and fall prematurely starting with the oldest leaves. The roots of a diseased plant will have some shade of brown or black and evidence of water-soaking. Healthy roots are fibrous appearing and are usually white or tan in color. These symptoms are easily confused with severe mite, aphid, scale infestations, or root-feeding by nematodes or insect larvae. Environmental factors such as accumulated salts in the soil, insufficient light or nitrogen, potbound roots, cold drafts, etc. can be eliminated only by examination of the roots.

Damping-off diseases can be prevented:
Purchase disease free plants and seeds. Know your supplier. Do not be afraid of fungicidal coatings on seeds which will be direct sown out doors in cold soils, such as corn and peas. Seed borne disease can also be avoided by soaking the seeds for 15 minutes in a bleach soak (one teaspoon per quart of water) prior to sowing.
Use sterile well drained soil mediums. See article on soil mixes. Try to maintain a soil mix pH at the low end of the average scale, i.e. 6.4 pH is less susceptible to root rot than a pH of 7.5. Commercially prepared germination mixes usually have a pH around 5.5. As you water the seed pots and your seedlings with tap water (which in many municipalities is quite alkaline), the pH in your pots gradually increases as does the susceptibility to damping-off diseases. Know the pH of your tap water, and condition it if necessary to maintain a lower pH while the plants are still in the germination room. I prefer the use of vinegar at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water.
Plants must not have their crowns below the soil line. Seeds must not be covered more than 4 times the thickness of the seed.
Use plant containers with drainage holes, water from the bottom only, and avoid excess watering. Do not allow pots to stand in water as excess water cannot drain and the roots will be starved for oxygen bringing all growth to a halt.
Avoid overcrowding and overfeeding of plants. It is important to maintain constant levels of growth through proper lighting and complete control of the growing environment.
Avoid working with plants (taking cuttings or transplanting) when the soil is wet. Do not use water from ditches or drainage ponds or rain barrels in the germination room.
Avoid spreading soil from infested areas or tools which have been used out of doors. Disinfect tools and containers with one part bleach in four parts water or with 70 percent rubbing alcohol (isopropyl).
In the germination room, sow all your seeds on the surface of the media, then cover the seeds to necessary depth with a material which is less likely to harbor fungi than the media itself. Use one or more of the following seed toppings instead of soil mix:
milled sphagnum moss
chick grit
course sand or fine aquarium gravel
composted hardwood bark (steamed)
In the germination room, mist seedlings in communal pots or flats once or twice per day with water containing a known anti-fungal agent such as:
Captan (or other approved fungicide) especially if walls or floors are damp, or
Cheshunt compound, a copper/aluminum formulation, or
chamomile tea, or
clove tea, or
a one-time light dusting of powdered cinnamon on the soil surface, or
a one-time light dusting of powdered charcoal on the soil surface, or
if stinging nettle is endemic in your area, make a fermented infusion to use like clove tea. These last five actions are suggested by sufficient anecdotal evidence to prove the existence of a low level of fungicidal activity. I would not hesitate to use them in germination environments which have no history of damping-off diseases.
Rotate plantings on a 2 to 3 year schedule using plants from different families in order to starve out existing pathogens.
Provide constant air movement not tied in with the light timer. Air should move freely 24 hours per day, but not directly aimed at the plants. This helps the seedlings to aspirate, and excess soil moisture to wick. If you do everything else right but do not provide plenty of air movement, you will still get damping-off.
So, what do I do? Answer: all of the above, all of the time.
Damping-off diseases can be controlled:
Fungicides may be applied as a soil drench after planting. They may be incorporated into the soil before planting as a dust. They can be sprayed in mist form on all seedlings as a precaution until they have been transplanted into individual pots. Once transplanted, only those seedlings known to be especially sensitive to damping-off need be misted with fungicide daily until the first or second seed leaves have emerged. The following chemicals are not recommended for use by the average recreational gardener, but may still be available for use (if not yet banned), providing the manufacturer's instructions are followed to the letter.

Captan (sold as Captan) controls most pathogens, but not Rhizoctonia.

Metalaxyl (sold as Subdue or Apron) controls Pythium, Phytophthora, and Aphanomyces.

Iprodione (sold as Chipco) controls most pathogens, but not Pythium, Phytophthora, or Aphanomyces.

Etridiazole and Thiophanate-methyl (sold as Banrot) controls most all pathogens.

PCNB-etridiazole (sold as SA-Terraclor or Super-X) good general purpose fungicide.

PCNB-quintozene (sold as Terraclor, Fungi-clor, or PCNB) controls Rhizoctonia and Sclerotinia species.

Fosetyl-A1 (sold as Aliette) controls Pythium, Phytophthora, & Aphanomyces.

Well, you get the idea. There are too many to list, and they go on and off the market very quickly (mostly because they are very dangerous when used improperly, and some are too dangerous to have been put on the market at all.)

So, what do I use? Answer: Just enough Captan as needed.
The Future of Damping Off Control:
Biocontrol with microbial fungicides is being investigated in several academic labs. Typical targets are those plants being mass-produced in nearby commercial greenhouses. Early results indicate damping-off prevention comparable to that achieved with the use of standard fungicidal drenches like those mentioned above. However, there remain some notable drawbacks in biocontrol of damping-off.

First, microbial fungicides act against only one species of root or stem rot, and must be applied in advance. So, in order to prevent damping-off, you must know in advance which species of Pythium or Rhizoctonia or other fungi is likely to attack your crop. That limits their use to large production facilities.

Second, some formulations of microbial fungicides have been shown to produce substances that are phytotoxic to certain crops.

Finally, small changes in environmental conditions during test periods seem to cause significant differences in test results.

There is much work to be done in this area of biocontrol, not to mention the ultimate necessity of EPA approval. Use of biocontrol agents for prevention of damping off by home gardeners may well be decades away. For a list of those biocontrol products which have approval for controlling plant diseases, go to the USDA ARS Biocontrol Plant Diseases Laboratory at

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 1:00PM
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drtomato(5 Ortonville MI)

btw- THIS USUALLY HAPPENS WHEN PLANTS ARE PLANTED TO SOON, and the soil is to cold. You always read "make sure the soil is warm before you plant", that's why.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 1:22PM
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sunsi(z5 NY)

naomi1435 Quote:
"Comptil comes from the sewage plant here - tho it has been sterilized"

As a side note becuase I don't think this has attributed to your problem but I would never use compost from a municipal sewage plant in my food garden. It would be ok to use in a flower garden and other plantings around the landscape, though. Reason: I've heard that sterilization cannot remove harmful heavy metals which are found in these wastes.

Anyway, I wish you the best on correcting your tomato plant problem and hope you get some ripe for eating. :)

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 7:01PM
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Thank you all for your help! Bless you for taking the time to read my postings and offering your advise. I will go to the garden store tomorrow and look for this Captan.
As for the Comptil - according to their internet site, it is safe to use on vegetables. Of course with anything, in 10 years "they" will come out and say it isn't!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 9:43PM
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bobolink(z6 MA)

Plz don't be too hasty on taking advice given here. We don't have the full picture of what you are dealing with. Like the guy that says if the soil is too cold when planted, the plants are permanently stunted. That is usually not true with tomatoes. I have planted in 40 degree temps and they grow as soon as temps rises above 50 degrees.

Also on Captan, if your plants look green and healthy, they are not diseased. Don't use chemicals unless you have a correct diagnosis. You should have noticed if the plants you pulled have rotten roots. But you didn't mentioned rotten roots.

Just food for thought...

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 10:09PM
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Thanks Bobolink - I really don't know what to do. The plants do look very healthy. They have tomatoes and blossoms on them. They simply are not getting any taller. The tomatoes are turning red too. The plants themselves are thick with foliage - but they are in a cage, so it is hard to prune them. I planted them in June, so the ground was plenty warm by then. I live in Central Ohio and I guess that others are experiencing the same problem - but no one seems to know why. For others tho, their tomatoe plants are doing well - someone suggested that maybe it is just certain varieties that have been effected. It's a mystery!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 10:42AM
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drtomato(5 Ortonville MI)


Whoa just a minute- this is your quote:
"I pulled those up and planted more mature plants - these were about 16 inches tall. This was in June. These have not grown either."

Then you say:
"The plants do look very healthy. They have tomatoes and blossoms on them. They simply are not getting any taller. The tomatoes are turning red too. The plants themselves are thick with foliage"

So they are grownig? I was taking you for your word that they aren't growing, at all. Do you have 16" tall plants with tomatoes?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 11:47AM
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I am having the same problem in upstate new york. I have my plants growing in pots. The leaves on my tomatoes look a little yellow. I use alot of peat moss in my soil. I wonder if the ph is too acidic for my tomatoes. If so, what do I add to the soil to make it more alkaline? Would bone meal work?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 1:16PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Naomi - I have to agree that there appears to be some conflicting info here and some questions posed that haven't been addressed yet. So let's back up a bit. ;)

What is the name of the variety of tomatoes you planted? The problem may be nothing more than that you planted "bush" variety tomatoes. ;) Are they determinate or indeterminate varieties? What, how much, and how often have you fed them besides the initial dose of Miracle Grow listed in your original post?


angelonia_anne - plants growing in containers is a whole different set of potential problems/answers than in-ground plants. If you wouldn't mind, it would be best if you started a new thread and include in it more details about your plants, variety, potting mix used, fertilization, watering program, etc. OK? Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 1:38PM
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Yes, from the description it sounds as if these are determinate plants which naturally won't grow tall. You need to plant indeterminates if you want them high - my Supersonic are now over my head (granted, I'm rather short!).
If you have tomatoes on them and they are ripening, stop right there. Things are going the way they should.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2007 at 6:17PM
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