210903-outdoors-gardening

More than three million people planted a vegetable garden this year. Nine out of ten of those gardeners are growing tomatoes. (Submitted photo/Linda Corwine McIntosh)

I hope you’re one of the three million people who planted a vegetable garden this year! I’ve been told 9 out of 10 of those gardeners are growing tomatoes, and why not?

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons that gardeners like to grow tomatoes, but I’d bet the unbeatable taste of a home grown tomato has to be at the top of the list! The convenience of stepping out of the back door to snatch up a tasty morsel is probably another.

If you preserve your produce, tomatoes are a must. Having the satisfaction of knowing that your produce is organically grown, if you prefer that choice, may also be cause for home grown tomatoes. And maybe we grow them just for the pure enjoyment.

What ever your reason is, sometimes it doesn’t always go exactly as planned. So if you’re experiencing a few growing pains with your tasty treats, I hope this will help you out.

If you’ve noticed the leaves of your tomato plant twisting, or drooping, it could be because of the heat and wind. Keep an eye on your soil moisture and try to avoid swings of extreme wet and dry soil.

An inch or two of organic mulch will help more than you can imagine. You could drape floating row cover above the plants to shade and protect them during the hottest summer months but keep in mind that the flowers need bees to pollinate them.

Blossom end rot might be the most common problem that tomatoes in our area experience. The tomato plant looks healthy, but as the tomatoes ripen, an ugly black patch appears on the bottom.

This black leathery appearance is caused by a calcium deficiency. However, adding calcium to your soil isn’t going to fix this problem! Our soils have all the calcium that tomatoes require.

The problem is actually uneven watering. This will cause the plant to shut down, or quit growing, a bit. This in turn restricts the calcium uptake in the plant.

Mulching and trying not to allow extreme fluctuation in the soil moisture will help your plant recover. You can cut off the ugly black bottom of the tomato and go right ahead and enjoy eating them. You may see the same problem occurring with your peppers and zucchini.

Fusarium wilt is another common disease. It begins with the older leaves turning yellow.

Eventually they will turn brown and crispy. Over watering or under watering can contribute to this disease.

Upward curling leaves or drooping leaves could be caused by Curly Top Virus. I’m sure you’re so sick of hearing about “the virus” that the mere thought of a virus in your tomatoes could send you over the edge, but sometimes a virus will happen.

A purple cast to the plant, or dark purple veins may accompany this disease.

As the disease progresses, your tomato plant may develop an overall yellow appearance, even though you’ve watered and fertilized correctly. I’d love to tell you that there’s a simple and quick solution to this problem but the truth is, there is no cure.

I recommend you pull up the plant and dispose of it because the virus will spread. This disease was probably transmitted to your plant by a leafhopper that fed on another infected tomato plant or some other host plant that had the disease. The good news is, any tomatoes on the plant are OK to eat.

If the virus is a problem in your garden, you might want to be proactive next spring by covering your plants with a floating row cover throughout the season. This will help keep the insects off of your plants yet allow water and air to reach them. You might also avoid planting your tomatoes next to beets and spinach since these plants can also be a source of the virus.

Another disease that’s showing up on many plants is called Early Blight. If your plant has dark brown spots with yellowing leaves, or target-like spots on the leaves accompanied by a dark brown stem, it may have this disease.

Once again, I’m sorry but there is no cure. Discarding the plant is your only option. Even though it’s too late for your plants this year, making sure they have adequate nitrogen next spring will help control this disease. Just don’t get carried away and over fertilize. A soil test in the spring may be worthwhile if your plants are having difficulties.

You should also plant your tomatoes in a different part of the garden and plant disease resistant varieties to avoid a reoccurrence next year.

The letters on the tag or in the catalogue when you buy the plant will indicate their disease resistance. For example, VFN will tell you the plant is resistant to Verticillium wilt (not a big problem), Fusarium wilt, and or a root nematode. Don’t compost any of your tomatoes if you think they may have a disease!

I know heirloom tomatoes are really popular, mostly because of their great flavor, but these varieties are more susceptible to many of our common diseases. This is one of the big reasons why hybrids were developed. If your plants have experienced problems, you may want ask your garden center about disease resistant varieties before you plant next spring.

If your tomato plants don’t have tasty, ripe tomatoes yet, there may be a couple reasons for this.

First, you may have a plant that requires a long growing season. Second, there are two types of tomatoes.

Determinate tomatoes will set all of their fruit at once. Indeterminate varieties will produce fruit throughout the growing season, so you might check your variety if you’re disappointed.

Also, temperatures that are above 95 degrees by 10 a.m. can cause tomato flowers to abort. Daytime temperatures above 90 degrees, and night temperatures above 70 degrees, will cause tomatoes, as well as peppers and melons, to have very poor fruit set.

So I suspect the cooler temperatures are going to help your plants produce an abundance of fruit any day now.

Cracks in your tomatoes are another common problem. This too can be overcome with even watering and mulching. The tomato was probably struggling a little with some drought stress as the skin began to thicken and mature.

Then with additional water, the tomato grew a little more and it caused the skin of the tomato to crack. Think of it this way. You just ate a big thanksgiving dinner but it’s so good that you need a few more bites. Next thing you know you’re so full you loosen your pants.

For the most part, growing tomatoes really isn’t that difficult. Some years just seem to be more challenging than others. If, or when, problems do occur, I like to view them as a challenge and a learning experience. I think sometimes we gardeners grow as much as our gardens do, and the fruits of our labor are definitely worth the experience!

I wonder if any of you gardeners know what to use to fix a broken tomato? You use tomato paste.

Happy gardening!

Linda Corwine McIntosh is an ISA-certified arborist, licensed commercial pesticide applicator and CSU advanced master gardener.

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