Sudden collapse of container tomato

Ohiofem(6a Ohio)July 12, 2014

Two days after a good rain of one inch or more, and a day after I harvested my first perfect tomato from this Goosecreek tomato in a 25-gallon smart pot, it completely collapsed overnight. The other 11 pots growing eight different heirlooms in the same modified 5-1-1 potting mix (5 parts pine bark fines-1 part compost-1 part FloorDry diatomaceous earth) are doing great. Most, including this one, show some minor damage from septoria on the lower leaves, but they are mostly six feet tall or taller and have many green tomatoes. This one is actually much shorter than the others, but it also has more fruit on it.

The potting mix includes Dynamite all purpose CRF 15-5-9 and I have been using some Tomatotone and FoliagePro to feed every few weeks. I haven't seen much insect damage and have only treated for fungus a couple times with Serenade. I know some would recommend more aggressive treatment for disease, but in many years of growing tomatoes this way, I've never seen disease damage the fruits or stems enough to be a major problem. And I'm uncomfortable using anything stronger.

I watered the plant thoroughly after seeing the wilt, even though the mix was still damp a few inches below the surface and none of my other tomatoes needed watering. It perked up overnight, but collapsed again the next day and has continued to look worse each day. There are 16 fruits -- most larger than a tennis ball -- on the plant. The plant hasn't been exposed to herbicides. The weather has been just about perfect during the day with highs in the low 80s, although we did have overnight temperatures in the mid50s for several days in the week before this happened.

This happened once before many years ago to one of six tomatoe plants in containers, and I never was able to figure out the cause. In that case there were two plants in the pot. The first one wilted a week before the second one. After both were goners, I pulled them out and planted another tomato in the same pot. It did fine.

Any ideas what may be going on?

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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I suspect something wrong with the root system.
Is it possible for rodents to dig in from the bottom ?

I dont think watering (too much or too little ) is a problem here with your 5-1-1 base medium.

I have only experience once such a wilt and death. It was under the black walnut tree.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 8:45PM
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sharonrossy

I don't want to read this! I'm having a few issues this year with a couple of plants in the smart pots. Not sure if mine are being attacked by squirrels, which I have found evidence of. Another looked like a fungus was the culprit. I did spray with serenade and then another spray with insecticidal soap and horticultural oil. I've found small red spiders between plants. So I'm hoping there isn't too much damage. I was getting discouraged b/c with the 5-1-1 I really hoped a lot of issues would be avoided, but apparently not. I just keep removing leaves and praying. Good luck, ohiofem. Sorry I can't help! Maybe Dave or Caroline will help.
Sharon

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 9:21PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I have only experience once such a wilt and death. It was under the black walnut tree.

You may have figured it out. The reason I grow tomatoes in containers is that my yard is surrounded by walnut trees. I try to keep any part of the leaves or trees out of my compost, and I only use a small amount of compost in my mix. But the squirrels are always trying to bury the nuts in my containers, and wind storms can blow the leaves everywhere. It may be that this particular plant was more sensitive than the others, which still look fine.

When something like this happened before, I suspected that it might have been caused by my compost having some black walnut leaves in it. My husband had added leaves to the pile without realizing how poisonous walnut juglone can be to some plants. Although I've read that composting can remove most of the juglone, I suspect some stayed in the pile that year. I'm going to stop using my own compost with any members of the nightshade family. How sad.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 12:04PM
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ncrealestateguy

I doubt that nightshade poisoning would cause it to collapse overnight. My bet is it has one of the wilt diseases. A vascular disease. Cut the main stem in half and tell us what you see in the cross section.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 12:49PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

What does this cross section tell you? I took it near the bottom of the plant. It doesn't appear to be like the photos I've seen of tomatoes with bacterial wilt. I have had it in a glass of water for about 15 minutes, and there is no sign of white ooze coming out of the cut stem. Verticillum and fusarium seem unlikely since the pot contains mostly fresh potting mix with no soil. I never use any tomato cuttings in my compost. But, I did leave about six inches of the mix from last year in the bottom of this container which is about 16 inches deep. Could this be carried over from last year?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 3:08PM
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sharonrossy

Ohiofem, checkout this site.

http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/pdfs/Tomato-Diseases.pdf

There are close up photos and great information on various diseases. Actually there is even one with a cross selection like yours. Hope it helps.
Sharon

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 8:07PM
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kathy9norcal

That is just too sad. I hope you figure it out.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:19AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Sharonie, I took a look at that link. In one description of how to manage Bacterial Speck, it advisedâ¦.

'Avoid growing tomatoes in summer monthsâ¦.heavy rains'

I thought that was very odd. If you don't grow tomatoes in summer months, does that mean your only alternative is to grow in the winter in a greenhouse?

Sorry about your tomato plant, Ohiofem. I hope the remainder of your plants stay healthy! And since you are growing in the 5-1-1 mix, I hope you will post photos of your plants as the season progresses.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:39AM
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sharonrossy

Prairiemoon, I know i found that odd, but it must be because it was written for the hotter southern climates I guess? Which I suppose is true to some extent because I think certain months are not optimal in those climates for tomatoes.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:51AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

You're probably right.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:40AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Sharon: Thanks for the link. My cross section does look similar to the photo in the section on fusarium and verticillium, but not quite that bad. I wish I could see what a healthy cross section looks like, but I'm not willing to sacrifice any of my plants to find out.

I have been researching walnut wilt and have not seen any photos of what that does to the vascular system of a tomato. I suspect it is similar. Many sources do describe the kind of sudden death I experienced. So I think the jury is still out. All these problems cannot be cured. They can only be prevented.

Here is a link that might be useful: Walnut wilt

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:57AM
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ncrealestateguy

I think you said it perked up in the late evening hours and then went totally limp again the next day. That is a classic wilt disease symptom.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:32PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Yes, the first day I noticed it, it did perk up a bit overnight after I watered it. But it collapsed early the next day and never perked up again. I have seen verticillium before, and that process took place over several days, unlike this one.

The thing is, walnut toxicity is a wilt disease just like verticillum and fusarium. The juglone poison blocks the vascular channels that transport water from the roots to the plant. I don't think it would be possible for me to know for sure what the cause is unless I could get a soil test that could distinguish between the different causes of wilt.

In any case, the solution is the same for verticillium, fusarium and walnut wilt. I've got to use all new soil mix for next year's containers.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:46PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Tomatoes are THE most sensitive plants I know. I have sprayed weed killer on some weeds and they have persisted. Now somebody sprays weed killer half a mile away and a drift of it delivers damage to tomato plants. I have planted numerous other vegetable under Black Walnut tree ( such as peppers, 4Oclock, gurds, okra, shiso, beans ...) and they survived

Juglone exists not just in soil, but also in bark, leaves, So the rain drop from its limbs and branches can carry juglone as well.
So in human terms , tomatoes are allergic to juglone among other thongs

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:26PM
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