Why Is My Tomato Plant Wilting?

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You don’t need to be an expert gardener to recognize the bad sign of a wilting tomato plant. The downward drooping leaves are an indication that something is wrong. But why is it wilting? Is it simply thirsty or does it have a disease? Let’s explore the causes of tomato plant wilting and what you can do to help your plant recover.

Understanding Tomato Plant Wilting

Tomato wilting is a symptom of dis-ease that causes the leaves to droop and lose their shape. When plants are dehydrated, they respond by wilting. In such cases, adjusting your watering schedule can often solve the problem. However, overwatering can also cause wilting, making it important to let the plant dry out before watering again. Finding the right balance is key to maintaining healthy tomato plants.

Environmental Causes of Wilting

Aside from watering issues, wilting can also be caused by environmental factors. For instance, frost can lead to irreversible wilting and plant death. Additionally, certain trees like the black walnut can stunt the growth of tomato plants, causing them to wilt. Avoid planting tomatoes under or near walnut trees to prevent wilting.

Infectious Causes of Tomato Wilting

Gardeners often refer to “wilt” as an infectious disease affecting tomato plants. Various viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can infect and destroy an entire tomato crop. It’s crucial to determine whether your plant is responding to stress or if it has become infected with a disease.

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Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

The tomato spotted wilt virus is a global infection transmitted by tiny biting insects called thrips. This viral infection affects not only tomatoes but also peppers, potatoes, and other plant species. Symptoms include brown/bronze leaves, clusters of small black spots, wilting, and lumpy fruit with ring-shaped marks. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this virus, so infected plants should be removed and destroyed.

Fusarium Wilt

Fusarium wilt is a fungal infection commonly found in warm and moist areas. The fungus enters the plants through their root system, clogging the vascular system and causing wilting and stunted growth. Lower leaves may turn yellow and die, eventually leading to plant death. The fungus can persist in soil indefinitely, so planting resistant varieties or using sterilized containers and soil is essential.

Verticillium Wilt

Similar to fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt affects tomato plants in cool and moist soils. Symptoms include yellow discoloration of older leaves, v-shaped yellowing, wilt during the day and recovery at night, and smaller fruit production. Distinguishing between verticillium and fusarium wilt can be challenging, and professional testing may be necessary. Again, planting resistant varieties or using new containers and soil is the best approach.

Bacterial Wilt

Caused by the bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum, bacterial wilt affects tomato plants similarly to fungal wilts. It thrives in hot and wet soils, leading to wilting of the uppermost leaves without turning them yellow. When you cut an infected stem, you’ll notice a white milky substance. Unfortunately, infected plants cannot be treated, and infected soil remains infective for years. Planting resistant varieties or using resistant rootstock on grafted plants is the only control method.

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Root Knot Nematodes

Nematodes are tiny wormlike creatures that infest and feed on tomato roots, causing knots or galls and damaging the plant’s ability to uptake nutrients and water. Symptoms include wilting, stunted growth, and pale color, along with visible knots or galls on the roots. Planting nematode-resistant varieties can help reduce nematode numbers over time.

Southern Blight

Southern blight, also known as Southern wilt or Southern stem rot, is a fungal disease that causes sudden wilting and death of the entire tomato plant. The fungus enters the stem at the soil line, leaving behind a dry brown rotten spot. High temperatures and wet, acidic soils promote its growth. To prevent southern blight, grow tomatoes in raised beds or containers, or plant nonsusceptible crops before reintroducing tomatoes to the affected area.

Dealing with Tomato Wilting

Optimizing watering and planting resistant varieties are the best approaches to combat tomato wilting. Look for varieties labeled with VFN resistance and remember that growing hybrids is acceptable, even in organic gardens. Some recommended wilt-resistant tomatoes include Sungold, Big Beef, and Polbig.

Have you experienced tomato wilt disease in your garden? Share your experiences in the comments below.

This article was updated on 12/24/22 to improve format.

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