In an ideal world, our plants would never have a blemish and would produce bumper crops continuously.
I do my best to practice good garden hygiene, taking any dying or diseased leaves and stems out of my garden throughout the season, and for tomatoes, being sure to remove the old plants at the end of each season. I also don’t water at night, I lay straw mulch around tomato plants in order to minimize the splash up of disease spores, etc. etc. Yet still, this is what some of my tomato leaves are looking like these days:
Am I happy about it? No. Browned, crisp leaves don’t photosynthesize–less green means less energy being produced for the plant, which means fewer tomatoes.
But given how wet the early part of the summer was here, I’ve been seeing a lot more mold, mildew, and slugs on various plants. Areas outside of my city (and certainly, in other parts of the country) have had to deal with that same heavy rainfall all summer and their plants show it. Some years, this is the hand that Mother Nature deals us.
When I see a problem like this on my plant I usually try to figure out what the cause is, and then determine if it’s something I can or need to do something about. For tomatoes, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has an excellent online photo gallery of various tomato diseases and tomato disorders, along with accompanying descriptions to help home gardeners and farmers identify what’s going on with their tomatoes. It’s a good site and I recommend it if you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with your tomatoes.
I think some of my tomato plants likely have Verticillium wilt, a very common soil-borne disease. Some varieties of tomato are more resistant to this disease than others, so I’ll need to consider that next year when deciding which varieties to grow. I’ll be keeping a close eye on which varieties suffer most from it this year, and consider not planting those or not planting as many of them. I believe the only other solution for Verticillium wilt, since it’s in the soil, is to not grow tomatoes or any other crops related to tomatoes in that part of the garden for a number of years. Since my garden is small, and tomatoes are my favourite vegetable crop, that’s not a viable option.
This isn’t the first year I’ve had less than perfect foliage on my tomatoes and it won’t be the last. I’ve looked into a lot of other people’s vegetable gardens, including people who really know their tomatoes, and I know I’m not alone. I’m writing this post because I know that newer gardeners can often get discouraged and think they did something wrong when their plants don’t always look Pinterest-worthy. If you have no rain and you never water them, well, then yes, those crispy brown leaves mean you did something wrong. But sometimes, even with the best of care, stuff happens.
What I’m doing to deal with my problem now is going through my tomato patch every few days and removing dead and dying leaves; they’re not doing the plants any more good. Also, diseases usually spread up the plant, and leaving diseased leaves can give air-borne spores a ladder to higher parts of the plant. Most of the time I can pull them off with just a gentle tug near the base of the leaf.
Removing the dead and dying leaves also makes me feel better. It lets me see more clearly that all is not lost, those plants are still giving me tomatoes:
There may be fewer of them to come than if the plant was healthy, but there will still be toasted tomato sandwiches on the menu at our place for some time to come!
By planting different varieties of tomato I’ve also hedged by bets. Not all of them are having problems. Some of them are thriving!
Now that’s the kind of photo I like to post! Showing you my less-than-happy plants is like posting a #NoMakeup selfie, which is uncomfortable. But my goal with this site is to help gardeners, especially newer gardeners, so sometimes I need to show you the failures and not just the successes. So if you’re struggling with a less-than-perfect something or other in your garden, take heart, you’re not alone.
And, there’s always next season.