Tomato Plant Wilt: Causes and Solutions

Have you ever walked into your garden, only to be greeted by the sight of a wilted tomato plant? It’s a sinking feeling, especially when the leaves and stems that were once vibrant and green start to go limp. This could be a sign that something is seriously wrong with your plant, and it’s important to identify the cause so you can take appropriate action. In this article, we will explore some common causes of tomato plant wilting and provide solutions to prevent it from happening again.

Possible Causes of Wilting

Fusarium Wilt

One possible culprit behind wilting tomato plants is a soil-dwelling fungus called Fusarium wilt. This disease causes lower leaves to turn yellow, and the leaves and stems start to wilt, often on one side of the plant. By cutting affected stems lengthwise below the surface, you may notice brown discoloration or streaking. Fusarium wilt can survive in the soil for years, even if tomatoes are not grown in that location. To combat this disease, consider growing resistant varieties that can withstand its effects. For instance, Nature’s Bites F1 is a great example of a tomato variety resistant to Fusarium wilt, Fusarium crown and root rot, leaf mold, root knot nematode, and tobacco mosaic virus.

The brown discoloration of the vascular tissue suggests fusarium wilt. The tissue in the middle of the stem (pith) appears healthy.
Image source: Ames Farm Center

Southern Blight

Another culprit is a soil-borne fungal disease called Southern blight. It tends to thrive during hot, wet, and humid weather conditions. This disease affects a wide range of hosts, including tomatoes and peppers. The early symptom is darkening of the lower main stems, followed by wilting. You may also notice white, fuzzy mycelium near the plant base. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Southern blight, and affected plants should be removed and discarded. However, this disease does not typically infect plants grown in the same location each year.

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Pepper plant wilting from infection by Southern blight.
Image source: Ames Farm Center

Tomato Pith Necrosis (TPN)

Tomato Pith Necrosis (TPN) is a bacterial disease that has been affecting commercial tomato production in recent years. Gardeners should familiarize themselves with this disease as well. Symptoms of TPN include stem lesions, wilting, and hollow and discolored pith. The severity of symptoms can vary. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for TPN, and affected plants should be removed.

Wilted tomato plant in the author’s garden. The plant collapsed in one day’s time and did not recover.
Image source: Ames Farm Center

Less Common Causes of Tomato Plant Wilt

In addition to the aforementioned diseases, there are several less common causes of tomato plant wilting. These include tomato spotted wilt virus, bacterial wilt, verticillium wilt, walnut wilt (when tomatoes are planted near a walnut tree), and the common stalk borer. While these causes are less prevalent, they are worth considering if your tomato plants show signs of wilting.

General Practices to Reduce Tomato Disease Risks

To reduce the risk of tomato diseases, follow these general practices:

  • Select disease-resistant varieties: Look for tomato varieties that are known to be resistant to common diseases. Cornell University provides a comprehensive list of disease-resistant varieties.
  • Avoid watering foliage in the evening: Water the base of the plants instead, ensuring the moisture reaches the root zone efficiently.
  • Harvest vegetables promptly: Pick your tomatoes before they become over-ripe to minimize disease risks.
  • Remove wilted plants: If you suspect disease, remove and discard entire wilted plants.
  • Thoroughly clean after the growing season: At the end of the season, remove all plant parts, including dropped leaves and fruits, to prevent disease transmission.
  • Keep weeds under control: Weeds can harbor pests and diseases, so it’s important to keep them to a minimum.
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Boost Tomato Yields This Year

To maximize your tomato plant’s health and productivity, consider the following tips:

  • Prune lower leaf branches: Remove lower leaf branches and suckers to improve air circulation and reduce disease problems.
    Tomato plant with lower branches pruned
    Image source: Ames Farm Center

  • Provide support: Keep your tomato plants well-supported to prevent them from bending or breaking under the weight of the fruits.
    Tomato plants
    Image source: Ames Farm Center

  • Consider pruning tall stems: If your tomato plants are indeterminate types and growing excessively tall, you can cut back the stems to manage their height. New lateral shoots will emerge below the cut, ensuring continued fruit production.

Harvesting Tips

It’s worth noting that letting tomatoes ripen fully on the vine can sometimes lead to problems. By picking them at the “breaker stage,” when they just start to turn color on the bottom, you can significantly reduce the risks and increase your harvest. Simply let them ripen on the kitchen counter, and you won’t notice any difference in texture or flavor.


Tomato plant wilting can be disheartening, but by understanding the possible causes and implementing preventive measures, you can keep your plants healthy and productive. Remember to select disease-resistant varieties, practice good watering habits, promptly remove wilted plants, and maintain proper hygiene in your garden. By following these tips, you can enjoy a bountiful tomato harvest year after year.

Ames Farm Center is your go-to resource for all your gardening needs. Visit Ames Farm Center for more information.