First aid for your tomatoes

tomatoes on vine

If only...

You tried. We know you did.

Maybe you started the seeds in your house. Then you went out in the garden this spring with the very best of intentions. Maybe you picked some plants up from a grower in the early spring. "I'll plant tomatoes," you said. "It'll be great! By August they'll be red and ripe and juicy and delicious."

You dug and hoed and planted and fertilized -- then you went to bed with visions of Caprese salad dancing in your head. But as the weeks wore on you watched your dreams sink into a cold, soggy summer. And your poor, poor tomato plants are limp, lifeless, maybe even full of fungus.

So is there any hope? Can these tomato plants be saved? AOA checked in with Capital Region gardening guru Larry Sombke to see if there are any super-secret gardening tips to rescue this year's sad-looking tomato crop.

Turns out the tips aren't exactly super-secret. And whether they work or not depends largely on how much sun you can give your tomatoes.

"It's not the rain that's the real problem this year," Sombke says, "It's the low temperatures. What you really need to do is to make sure your tomatoes get as much sun as possible. If they're blocked by shade, cut back trees or do whatever you can to get them sunshine."

"Good tomatoes grow in temperatures in the high 80's and low 90's, this year we've got days where it's not reaching 80 degrees. So they need lots of sunshine. And lots of patience."

OK, so sunshine is the key, but you still don't want to let your plants sit in a lot of standing water. "Do what you can to create good drainage in the soil this year. But for next year be sure and work mulch and organic material into the soil -- that will help provide drainage.

So what if your tomatoes are already showing signs of fungus? Yeahhhh.. then, Sombke says, you're probably out of luck this year.

"Once they already have fungus, there isn't much you can do about it. If you want to avoid fungus, you've got to buy disease resistant tomatoes. If you're planting from seeds, check on the package and it should tell you if they're resistant to different diseases. If you're buying plants from a grower be sure to ask. "Celebrity" tomatoes and a few other types bred in places like Rutgers are very disease resistant. Lately there's been a lot of interest in growing heirloom tomatoes,and they're very prone to disease."


i have heirlooms. about a week and a half ago they were green and healthy looking with small green tomatoes. yesterday, they are browning and yellowing and the fruit has brown spots. this must be the dreaded fungus. does anyone know for sure? is there any way to turn it around? fertilizer? other tomato plants in my community garden look the same. no blight i hope.

I'm glad it isn't just me. Mine put out 4 fruit before turning yellow and dying. I think it got the wilt. I was thinking about trying again with a potted plant that is already well underway, but is it too late?

do not add fertilizer to your tomato plants at this time. that is only going to cause them to grow a lot of stems and vines and no tomatoes. today is a nice hot sunny day. this will really help the tomatoes come ripe.

If you have this "late season blight" (and experts say everyone in this area is going to get it), you have to pull the plants out and throw them in the garbage--not in your compost or in yard waste bags, also clean up any plant debris on the ground. Note: if you allow these infected plants to stay in the garden, the spores can be blown around for miles. Frankly, I don't think a hot sunny day is going to turn this around. Also, this blight can survive in the soil over the winter and emerge next year. Not only will it be good to buy disease-resistent plants next year (I, too, bought mostly heirlooms and had to pull all 16 plants out), but rotate them to another spot in your garden if that is possible.

Jae--if you are a gardeners with Capital District Community Gardens (like me), check with the garden coordinators about your tomatoes. They have been keeping track of the blight at each garden site.

thank you for the tips chrisck and larry. i am going to play optimist for the next few days and if nothing changes, off with their heads (and roots).

Larry, I think there may be some confusion between early and late season blight and tomato spot. I have a lot of spots, but so far i don't see any late season blight-- i'm growing all heirlooms. I have fungus every year- I know you're supposed to rotate but i have very little room. I pick out the bad leaves and it seems to slow the disease.

Is it true that "everyone " will see late season blight?

Cherokee Purple seems a bit resistant.


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