When you type “tomato plant diseases” into the Google search box, you’ll get over 550,000 articles about tomato diseases.
You could spend hours — even days reading of fungus based early blight, late blight, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, gray leaf spot, Septoria leaf spot, anthracnose, molds and mildews, mosaic viruses, bacterial spot, bacterial speck, bacterial wilt and an endless number of others.
There are some great articles out there and on some nice looking websites. They’re set up to help you understand all the nuances of tomato plant diseases and what chemical (organic or otherwise) you should use to get rid of the problem.
There is a season and weather for every disease. Some appear during early to midseason, in humid weather or after a period of heavy rainfall. Some appear in mid to late-season and strike in cool, wet weather. Others can show up at any time during the season. There is even one that strikes only one side of the tomato plant!
One Things for Sure
Tomato diseases are common to tomatoes! What gardener in the world has not seen a leaf at the bottom turn yellow and have brown spots?
We as gardeners are pretty much obsessed with our tomatoes and any disease that might turn up on them. I include myself in that –because as I have mentioned many times in my posts I spent a lot of time in my early days of gardening worrying about what kind of diseases my tomatoes had. (You can read more about that here.)
I think as a gardener, one will always have the feeling of wanting to know what’s causing the problem, but I override the feeling to spend even part of an hour looking for details about diseases.
When I started gardening 35 years ago — I just had to push forward no matter what happened and trust that I would get a good crop. There wasn’t much else I could do no matter how bad the yellow leaves got. We had no money and no way to get any other information other than what I read in my Organic Gardening Magazine. It certainly worked for good, because I’ve had 34 years of great tomato harvests without all the specifics of what caused a leaf to yellow, etc.
A Healthy Garden (healthy soil) is your best Defense
Even healthy gardens can have tomato plant diseases. BUT – plants in a healthy garden can withstand the attack and keep right on going and give you an abundant harvest.
Many folks recommend all kinds of sprays. That’s not necessary. I’ve never sprayed my tomatoes in almost 35 years of gardening and always have abundant harvests.
Unless researching tomato plant diseases is something you consider fun and you have the time to spend on giving it priority — I can tell you — you don’t need to do it. And here’s why.
Every tomato plant disease can be either avoided or lessened by consistently following fundamental, good gardening practices
Here are 14 guidelines:
- Continually improve your soil and replenish the organic matter. Organic matter in the soil is the best thing you can do to fight diseases.
- As you continue to improve your soil it will settle at a ph level of about 6.8 (at least between 6.5 and 7) Most vegetables including tomatoes grow best and are healthier at this ph.
- Good drainage (which comes with proper soil preparation and improvement) is a necessity for tomatoes as well as most other vegetables.
- Give tomatoes space for good air circulation. Their leaves should be able to dry quickly after heavy dews and rainfalls.
- Staking your tomatoes also improves air circulation and keeps them off the ground to avoid pathogens getting on the leaves — especially during rains.
- Mulch you soil to keep needed moisture in and to keep pathogens from splashing onto leaves.
- If you water — (I don’t) — be sure to water at soil level and DON’T OVER WATER!! Over watering is as bad for a plant as not having enough water.
- Grow your own seedlings. Your own plants or those from an organic grower will be much stronger than those raised with a diet of artificial chemicals.
- Remove and destroy any leaves that you think are diseased. Usually it starts with the bottom leaves and removing them can keep or help keep the disease from spreading.
- Don’t handle your plants when they’re wet. Leaves can be damaged easily this way and diseases can spread.
- All sources I’ve read indicate that if plants are diseased do not compost foliage or leave them in the garden. If your compost pile is hot enough it will probably destroy the disease pathogens. (Update 2023) This is a good recommendation, IF there is really a disease. I have long ago stopped thinking that every brown or yellow leaf is a diseased one.
- Make sure your tomatoes get plenty of sun. Eight hours is ideal. And all day is ok.
- Don’t let smokers in your garden. If you’re a smoker — wash your hands good before going into the garden. Tobacco can carry the tobacco mosaic virus.
- It’s hard to rotate crops in small gardens. But do the best you can not to plant tomatoes where other nightshades (potatoes, eggplant or peppers) were previously grown.
If you consistently follow these gardening fundamentals, you can rest assured that tomato diseases will most likely decrease with each passing year in your garden. Just remember that every year has different variables and not every leaf that is mottled, yellow, or brown is carrying a disease.
Organic Gardening is easy, efficient, and effective — and it’s a lot healthier.
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