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Tomato disease - leaves curl and whither, yellow and brown spots

Posted by duckflatgarden Oregon (My Page) on
Thu, Jun 19, 08 at 13:49

In search of someone to identify our tomato problem and how to deal with it, we came upon this site. Hopefully someone who has knowledge here will be able to help us.

To begin with, we had trouble with a similar-looking tomato disease last year, which we THOUGHT was leaf hopper/curly top because the plants began to curl and yellow and die rapidly, and spread to most of our other vegetables (bush beans, peppers, potatoes). We ended up uprooting all our plants and lost out on having tomatoes. We hope we don't have to do that again!

This spring we started a new garden bed with imported soil from a nursery. One month ago we set out our home-started tomato plants (Caspian Pink, Baby Girl, Souix, Honey Bunch Grape, Dr. Wyches Yellow, and Omar's Lebanese) during a warm spell (temp in 80's and 90's) and watered them regularly (by bucket) during that time. The weather cooled the next week and has continued to be cool (down into the mid 40's and up into the 60's with a few sunny 70's). They seemed to establish well and were growing beautifully and starting to flower when some tell-tale symptoms have appeared.

SYMPTOMS: The first sign has been leaves curling up while still green (with some branches also wilting) on both lower and upper areas of plant. Next, there is some yellowing and/or brown speckles on lower leaves particularly, followed by a withering/drying up of leaflets on the end of leaves. (Please see photos)

Some info that might help with the diagnosis: We first started noticing some leaf curling the beginning of June and used Pyola spray (natural insecticide), thinking it might be the leaf hopper again. I sprayed a second time, about a week later, but it has progressively gotten worse. Two days ago my husband and I removed all the dying/diseased lower leaves, including all that touched the ground, in hopes that contamination would be adverted. Yesterday my daughter took the pictures, so you can see the early stages of what's still going on. Is this a fungal disease, something spread by insects, or something enviromental? We would like to keep our garden organic and not use any synthetic pesticides, etc.

We would appreciate very much if you could help us know what it is and what can be done!

Image link: Tomato disease - leaves curl and whither, yellow and brown spots (59 k)

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Tomato disease - leaves curl and whither, yellow and brown sp

I can't wait to get your answer. i have lost a total of 30 tomato plants so far. From the same thing.

RE: Tomato disease - leaves curl and whither, yellow and brown sp

We've lost all the leaves on our tomato plants from something similar. The last two years I thought the leaves died because I wasn't watering enough. This year I've babied these plants and the leaves still died, decided we had a disease. So far the closest I've found is either a bacterial or viral canker. Either way it sounds like it's going to be difficult to get rid of it.

RE: Tomato disease - leaves curl and whither, yellow and brown sp

Leaf curling alone is a physiological condition caused by stress; it's common in stressed plants, including young plants which don't have the root system to support all their foliage yet, or in times of unusually bright sunlight. If you get it by itself, look to see what may have stressed the plant recently; often it's nothing to worry about.

The wilting, dead green leaves symptom resembles bacterial wilt, but that's pretty rare in your neck of the woods, and tends to take the whole plant down very rapidly. Stem borers can sometimes do it; look for little holes in the affected stems. Look for any damage to the stem, in fact.

With the yellowing and necrosis -- it's hard to see in that small a photo, but it looks like the dark lesions are following the veins. That's diagnostic of a toxin of some kind -- no virus I know of does that in tomato, no bacterium or fungus is that specific, and no deficiency kills the veins before the interveinal spaces. I've seen a symptom almost identical to that in a case of alcohol poisoning (someone had a cocktail party in a library foyer and apparently the drinks weren't very good, as the potted plants looked pretty rough afterward). It was an unusual enough symptom that it became a teaching example.

Toxins can come from outside or from the soil. Pyola is perfectly safe for tomatoes, and the heat wasn't excessive, but make sure the dilution was correct, as too high a concentration can burn leaves much like that. Spray damage can also cause wilted and dead green leaves.

If you can sacrifice a plant that's badly affected, dig it up to look at the roots, see whether it has lots of crisp, white, fine roots, not dark or knobby ones. Shave away the skin at the soil line to look for discolorations in the woody stem underneath; cut open wilted green shoots to check for hollow centers from stem borers; and finally split open the main stem to see whether it's hollow or discolored inside. I don't expect much except maybe root symptoms, but you really never know.

My personal guess is soil toxicity, especially given that the lower and terminal leaves are the worst affected by the yellowing and dying, and some things take a while to build up in the leaves enough to kill them. One important thing to note is that not all toxins are synthetic chemicals -- an excess of certain minerals or nutrients can poison a plant. pH affects root uptake of anything enormously, especially minerals, but it can have its own effect as well.

You may need a soil test -- call your Agriculture Department, Cooperative Extension, or U of O to find an affordable lab. I don't see your symptoms in any of the common nutrient toxicity listings, though, which means it could be something chemical, and there is no general panel for that. Down here in California I'd send it to Sacramento's Plant Diagnostics lab or the extension pathologist at U. C. Davis, but I don't know what pathologists you have at your disposal. This is certainly not a cut-and-dried common disease problem, and even a specialist is going to need some lab work to figure it out, I suspect.

I wish I had more answers for you, sorry.


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