Tomato Disease? Bush?

caterwallinDecember 16, 2011

I have a few questions. Even though I've planted tomatoes the past couple of years, I don't actually know much about them like I'm sure most of you on here do.

The first concern I have is about disease or whatever is causing our tomato stalks to die every year. I start them from seed and they look nice for a few weeks after planting them out but then I start to see some yellow leaves which soon turn brown. Before too long I have many leaves turning yellow and then brown and also have brown, dying stems. The plants pretty much die from the bottom on up until there's barely any plant left at all. I don't know how to prevent this. I don't plant tomatoes in the same place two years in a row because I know you shouldn't (although I forget the reason). Last year I bought a fungicide and sprayed it on the plants, but they still died. I also kept the dead leaves trimmed off, although that got to be a task in futility as I had so many dying every day. We got very few tomatoes last year. I've tried Beefsteak, Super Beefsteak, Big Boy, Better Boy, some yellows, some heirlooms, and they all end up dying.

This coming spring I'd like to plant all bush tomatoes, not because of the dying off thing (because I suppose whatever killed the regular-sized stalks would kill the bush type too) but because for my husband and I, I think it would be nice to have more compact plants (the ones we've tried got huge before they died off). They'd pull the cages over and we'd end up pounding stakes in the ground to keep the cages upright, which isn't easy for us to do. I'm also hoping that maybe with more compact plants I could possibly avoid coming into much contact with the foliage. In 2010 I discovered that I have an allergy to the plants. I get a terrible rash and feel like I have poison ivy.

Assuming that Lowe's or Walmart carry bush tomatoes (I'm not sending away for one packet of seeds and pay as much or more in shipping than what the tomato seeds cost), is one kind of bush tomato any better than the others as far as being resistant to diseases (or whatever it is that keeps killing our tomato plants)? If I understand correctly bush tomatoes don't need to be staked, right?

TIA for any help you can give this tomato novice. :)


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wertach zone 7-B SC

Sounds like you may have an over or under watering problem, instead of a disease. Most likely over from your description.

Since you mentioned pounding stakes in the ground, I assume you are planting directly in the ground instead of pots?

What type soil do you have? Does it drain well or too quick? How often are you watering? How are you watering? Overhead watering can cause a lot of disease.

Lowes and Wally both have a good selection of bush types in my area. Better Boy is a good one for disease resistance.

Bush toms needing to be staked is an on going debate amongst gardeners. I prefer to cage them, keeps them off on the dirt.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2011 at 3:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Better Boy is an indeterminate growth (not bush) tomato variety, but a good variety.

The ugly truth is that there are lots of diseases that will affect tomatoes and rotating crops will have less impact than your choice of variety and care during the growing season. I'd suggest that you plant just a few Mountain Magic plants (Determinate & resistant to Early and Late Blight) along with whatever else you choose for next year. Your problem is most likely Early Blight. Unless you scout regularly and stay on top of the problem with control measures a resistant variety is going to be a better choice for you. It is highly unlikely that you will find Mt Magic or any other blight resistant variety at the box stores.

You could get by by unsupporting the determinate plants. If you do not cage or stake then at least put a thick straw base under the plants so fruit will not lay on the bare ground and rot. Even under relatively dry conditions a sprawling, intertwined plant is vulnerable to more disease havoc than a well supported one.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2011 at 8:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wertach zone 7-B SC

Thanks for the correction bmoser. I was thinking indeterminate and typing bush. Old timers disease!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 12:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Pound it with Epson salt over the winter. I have no idea,it just flew out of me. At the same time before you plant,till,hoe,however you have to do it,break that soil up as much as possible,and then cover it. Rake up your row to make it about 6 inches above your atandard soil level. Then, without knowledge of the soil, I would say out of the blue,that nitrogen application would be a good idea.

Take care,

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 1:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It was really wet here this past summer but even when I was growing tomatoes in dry weather, they still died like this.

Yes, I'm planting the tomato plants into the ground, not pots. I raise butterflies and already have dozens of pots of milkweed to water and don't want to have any more pots here to water, which is why I wanted to plant in the ground.

Our ground is really a lot of clay, but I've tried amending it with peat moss, sand, and leaves to make it looser. It's still not quite the way I'd like it, but I'm working on it. We only water when it gets pretty dry here because the veggie garden is so far away from the house that we have to put 3 hoses together to get to it to water things. We have gardens closer than that, but that's where I want my wildflowers to be for the butterflies. I'd rather look at flowers than just mostly all green (veggie plants). :) I know not to overhead water. I told my husband to water the stalks just at the bottom because I read about that, so I guess that can't be the problem.

I'll be checking out Lowe's for some bush tomatoes in the spring if I can't find any seeds to start them. Being on a tight budget, I start almost all of my plants (flowers and veggies) from seed. I wintersow all of my seeds.

I guess I probably would cage the bush tomatoes to keep them off the ground. I just thought it would be nice to have them because I don't think the bush kind would be pulling the cages over.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 6:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

bmoser, Pardon my naivety but what is an indeterminate and a determinate tomato? Do you mean the big stalks and the bush? So is that Mountain Magic a bush type then? Just wondering. I had never heard of it and don't know offhand where to get seeds of that kind. I would certainly try them if you think they're resistant to blight. I think every kind of tomato that I've tried here since 2008 did this dying off thing. I've tried Beefsteak, Super Beefsteak, Marglobe, Brandywine, Egg Yolk, Burpee's Jubilee, and probably 2 more that I'm forgetting.

I can't really put down straw because I usually have a pretty bad slug problem here in the spring/summer. My husband doesn't have time to till and I can't do it, so I spend most of my spring and summer weeding at least 4 hours a day. I do put newspapers down here and there to help keep the weeds down and it doesn't take the slugs long to find them. I've tried slug bait, I've tried beer. I think I need a huge supply of money to buy enough stuff to kill those things. They're disgusting. They manage to find the tomatoes even though I don't have newspapers down in that particular garden at all.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 6:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Epsom salt, huh? :) Well, it would certainly solve the problem of them taking months to die. Ha. I try to make the soil as loose as I can and then when I'm going along weeding, I break it up again down to a few inches anyway. I can only do so much on account of because of my gardening, I ended up with problems with my carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome and had to have my wrists and arms operated on. I'm disappointed because I still have problems, only not quite as bad, and now I have to really watch what I do. I wonder how much more difficult that method you're telling me of is. I'm confused about the covering up part. I haven't been fertilizing my tomatoes at all. Is that necessary then? Could that be one of the reasons why they're dying? Oh wait, I think I did fertilize them the first year or two but they died anyway. Sometimes I think I tackled more here with the gardens than I can handle because it's basically just me and tons of work. Those tomatoes (what few we get) and other veggies sure are nice to have though.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 7:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You'll see references to Determinate vs. Indeterminate in various places on this site as well as in most seed catelogs you probably order from. It is the type growth habit that you might expect from that variety. You could even expect "Semi's" and "Dwarf" designations. For almost all of the heirloom varieties you'll see indeterminate habit; most newer commercial hybrids will be determinate. You could say that Determinate varieties are "Bush" types but often people get the impression that they are self-supporting which is not the case. Left on their own they almost always sprawl and half of the fruit end up laying on the ground. There are always the exceptions but I've never seen them.

Mountain Magic is a newer Determinate variety. The reason I suggest a few plants only is because the fruits are only twice the size of a cherry tomato. However, you should notice a marked difference in plant health throughout the growing season, especially as the season progresses, if the blights are your problem.

Since you start plants from seed consider ordering a few seed now that will give you a bit more disease protection. Newer varieties are showing up every year. Even the better seed varieties that Burpee and others have to offer seldom show up on the seed racks in stores.

I hesitate to suggest shredded newspaper mulch to control slugs since it can be a litter nuisance for you although effective. Getting fruit off the ground is the better alternative.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 10:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wertach zone 7-B SC

Patio tomatoes might be a good choice for you. Small plants and seem to do better at keeping the fruit off of the dirt. They seem to grow good anywhere, at least in my experience. The fruit is kind of small, about 2 1/2" in diameter. I like the taste but some folks don't.

I know that you don't want to spend a lot of money, but it might help to put some type of potting soil in the hole instead of your soil.

I had pure red clay at an old garden where I used to live. Water would run off when needed, but wouldn't dry out when I had a good soaking rain. I put some cheap potting soil back in the holes and had great success.

Here is a link that might be useful: Patio

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 12:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There are some nice, new dwarf varieties. Maybe some pots up close to the house would be easier than tilling, weeding and running hoses?
Also, Wintersown, run by Trudy, will send you free seeds if you send her a SASE. I think the address is Wintersown and dot com.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 6:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

bmoser,Thanks for explaining the Determinate vs. Indeterminate. I'll put the tomato plants in cages to help keep the fruit up off the ground. I always hope that the snails will be discouraged too because they have to crawl extra far, but I guess they don't mind that because I find them on tomatoes up off the ground a ways. Who wants to eat tomatoes that have been entered by slugs...not me! Blah!

I don't care if the tomatoes aren't real big, as long as we get some. We had planted some cherry tomatoes that were good, but just like the other stalks they ended up dying too. I forget the kind of red cherry tomatoes that we had, but the other small ones we had were Egg Yolk, and they were good too. The only thing I didn't like about them is that I had hundreds of small tomato plants come up at various spots the following years. So I guess I have to put all of the bad tomatoes in a bucket and not let them lie on the ground from now on. I'd try Mountain Magic if I knew where to get it. Maybe Trudy has some like Tracy said she gives away seed. I'll see what I can get from here and possibly also look at seed catalogs. I love to look at the Burpee's catalog, but I think their seeds are expensive. I had been planning on looking for seeds in one of the local stores, but now that you mentioned that the better sizes seldom make it to the stores, I don't know if that's such a good idea. I don't mind trying patio tomatoes; 2-1/2" is fine with me as long as the plants stay living...I'd say that's a good tradeoff, losing some size for healthy plants.

Thank you for all of your suggestions.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 7:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just looked up Mountain Magic and on Burpee's website they're $5.95 for 25 seeds, and then there's shipping yet. Sheesh! I think I'll try Trudy!

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 7:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Tradewinds Fruit has free shipping if you spend $10 & lots of neat stuff. I have started using Actinovate because it wipes out all kinds of disease. It ain't cheap up front, but balances out preventing plant loss. Also, why not save your volunteers? In my experience they're usually tough.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 10:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Hello,and I hope you have a really good Christmas. To directly answer some of your questions or thoughts,my small far as wondering how hard it would be I guess is up to you,and how you are feelng. I can relate to questionable health,physically speaking. It really does effect things.(to a point)
I guess the only reason I mention high nitrogen is just a thought that I have regarding the fact that a healthy,strong,quick growing plant, really has a better shot(to me) than one that grows slower when it comes to dealing with multiple issues. In other words, I want to make sure that the plant becomes a plant strong and visually large enough. I will worry about the nitrogen negatives when I get to the second stage. It is worth a shot. That is how I have been shaking it lately.

The covering was literal. Mulch is best,even better when you cover the mulch so that is does not blow away(leaves). If you were to manage find a tiller,and someone willing to help(if not yourself),and work whatever a row up, and then stick sturdy fallen tree branches into this area........then cover these branches as well as adding enough topsoil to where in the end you would still have a raised row,enough to withstand the gradual runoff that time will give you, I bet it might help with the clay. So long as when you are done with all the work, you cover it with a blanket,a pillow, tarp, clothes. I am not sure by a long shot since this type of communication is a long shot. If I was your next door neighbor, and you presented this question to me, it would be much easier. Anyhow, I hope your health stays with you in the best way it can.

Take care,

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 2:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Trivis was going great right up to covering I'd go with plastic,to help heat the soil all winter
Bush Goliath VFN is a good, bush type of Tomato to start with,use a cage on them.I'd put down mulch or straw around the base under each plant and let them grow you can find these at Lowes as plants or TotallyTomato .com as seeds I know you don't like the shipping but with a $5 order you'll get a Free trail offer (Gourmet Heirloom Blend) and a Free trail offer (sweet peper) blend so with your 5.00 you'll get two free packs that will help offset the shipping cost which wasn't bad,I called on Monday and received my shipment on Sat the 24th. great CS.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 11:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

SoTx, Thanks for the name of the website. I'll have a look at it. I hope that they say in the description of some that they're extra blight resistant. Otherwise, I don't know one from the other. I'm not too familiar with tomato varieties. Actinovate, huh? I haven't heard of that. I had gotten something last year (forget the name of it) to spray on for blight, but the tomato plants probably ended up with it anyway.

Travis, Thank you, I had a nice Christmas and hope that you did too. Thanks also for describing that raising method. Now if I sit down and read over it a few times, maybe I'll understand it fully. Sometimes it takes me awhile to wrap my mind around something. Ha. To be honest, this tomato thing is all becoming overwhelming and I might just ask my husband if he absolutely has to have them this coming year. I'm afraid that I'll be disappointed again with dead plants.

Bob, So don't you think that the slugs would become a problem then? You ought to see the gigantic ones that we get. They could almost run off with a small dog. :) I'll check out the link that you gave me. Thanks, and I hope that if my husband insists on having tomatoes that they'll live or this year might just be the last for them.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 6:13PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Jersey Boy - 2015
I volunteered to post a review for "Jersey Boy"...
How many Tomato Plants can I put in this planter?
I just bought a 2x4 (10 inches deep) Ceder raised planter. How...
Rabbit Manure for Tomatoes
Hi- There's a guy locally that is selling rabbit manure...
Solo Cups vs Ribbed Pots
Cost factor is in favor of the cups, especially if...
hoosier40 6a Southern IN
Pinetree Garden Seed Company for Cuostralee
Is Pinetree Garden Seed a reliable source for tomato...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™