Heirloom Tomato Plant Leaves Curling - detailed

Garden_HobbitJuly 6, 2013

If this question has already been answered I apologize for asking again but I haven't seen anything in the archives that's specific to my situation.

I'm growing 3 cherokee purple tomato plants on my back patio in 5 gallon buckets. Of the 3 only the one has leaves that are curling. I planted it with Miracle Grow potting mix (not soil!) and 3 whole organic eggs several inches below the plant. Only the "problem child" has the eggs in the soil.

Each 5 gallon bucket has 5 holes in the bottom for drainage.

The past few weeks I've been fertilizing them all with a vegetable fertilizer once every other watering (as it says to do on the bottle). They have all responded well to this and have been growing great.

Of the 3 the one I'm having the curling problem with is the only one that has set fruit on it (just 2). They are pretty small still but you can see it growing out if your at the right angle.

The leaves have been curling almost a week. Now today I went out and checked on them (as I do several times a day) and the top bunch of new leaves are all drooping but none of the other plants are and the lower plant of the "problem child" doesn't have any drooping leaves.

I'm not sure what the problem is. I have several other plants out there, those are just the only cherokee purples and the CP's all receive the same care.

Temperatures have fluctuated this past week between 80 and 90 degrees f. Every watering is almost 2 quarts of water and you can see the water drain out the bottom shortly after.

Sorry if my post seems all over the place but i figured the more details I give the easier it is to spot the problem.

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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Usually not serious, just the result of minor stress of some sort, and will not affect growth.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 10:30PM
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You can see the top of the plant in this picture where the leaves are drooping.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 10:32PM
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Curling leaves

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 10:38PM
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Looks like too much watering to me. How often are you watering them?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:02PM
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"Looks like too much watering to me. How often are you watering them?"

Every other day. So I should cut back on watering this one but keep the other 2 the same?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:25PM
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Just wanted to know about the eggs. Not sure if I understand the reason. You said this is the only one with the eggs?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:37PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

As Ed said, you plants are showing signs of stress.

How often do you give your plants that "...almost 2 quarts of water..."? You answered that while I was typing, and based on that information, I think you may not be giving them enough water. They may not be able to use that water fully. If your growing medium is very dry, most of the water may just be running down the sides of the container and out the drainage holes (flash flood effect). In weather as hot as yours, many container gardeners water two or more times a day. You may need to slow the delivery of the water so that the growing medium has a chance to absorb it so it is available to the plants.

As a general rule, tomatoes need an inch of water every week. An inch of rain is exactly that, water that is one inch deep. One inch of rainfall equals 5.6 US (4.7 Imperial) gallons of water per square yard. Cool weather needs will be less, hot weather will need more. In a 5 gallon container with 80-90 degree weather a half gallon of water a day may not be enough. Tomatoes that are planted in the ground have an area about 3-4 feet across and nearly that deep to get their water from, yours are limited to a much smaller reservoir.

Dig down with your finger about 4", is the growing medium wet, dry, or just right? If it is wet, don't water, if dry then water. If it is just right, check again the next day. Also if you mulch your containers, it will help keep the moisture from evaporating.


First edit: Info was updated. Second edit: sheez, I left out half a sentence!

This post was edited by bets on Sun, Jul 7, 13 at 13:56

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:40PM
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Thank you Betsy and everyone for your feedback! Betsy your post was very helpful! I will try watering more and see if that helps.

Sharonie as the eggs decompose they will provide nutrients to the plant. I didn't add eggs to the other ones because I was trying different things with the other ones. 1 cherokee purple tomato plant has the 3 eggs in the potting mix, another has a whole banana and the other is just potting mix without anything else added to it. I'm just experimenting is all.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 2:55AM
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I get the same curling when the plants need water. I prefer to water on the lean side and often use the plants' appearance to determine if it's time. When we have rain, I think all is good, but when I see the curling it's time to pull out the hose.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 8:36AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Now that I see the top of the plant and the buckets they are planted in, I'm 90% sure they are underwatered. If I had a plant that size in 5 gallon bucket, I'd have to soak the soil almost every day if it was sunny and warm.

This post was edited by edweather on Sun, Jul 7, 13 at 10:50

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 10:47AM
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Bets(z6A S ID)


If you want to slow the delivery of water to the plant, you can puncture a plastic jug (1 gallon, 2 liter, etc., what ever will fit between the plant and the rim of the bucket) in the bottom with a tiny hole, then set it on top of the growing medium in the bucket with the hole toward the CENTER of the bucket and fill it with water. The pinhole will "leak" allowing the growing medium to soak it up without so much running down the sides of the "hard pan". Repeat as needed.

Want something faster and easier to fill? Take that 2 liter bottle and drill a tiny hole in the cap (or poke it with a hot needle, I think an ice pick might be too big, but see what works for you.) Cut the bottom off the bottle, or just cut a hole in the bottom or near the bottom large enough for the end of your garden hose. Then secure the bottle upside down in the bucket with the leaky cap attached. (Duct tape 3 or 4 wooden skewers or sections of small diameter dowels to it? I'll leave that up to your imagination and ingenuity.) You could make one for each of your plants and fill them up one after the other. If the plants need a second round, you could top up the first one after you fill the last one and go back down the line.

There are watering spikes you can buy to put on the 2 liter bottles. (I was going to include a link to a google search for "two liter watering spikes" but apparently GW no longer allows that.... So you can search for it yourself.)


    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 2:27PM
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