Top 5 – Ways to Kill a Tomato Plant

OK so the title is a little over the top, but my daughter has been particularly melodramatic of late and I think its rubbed off.  What the post is really about is the mistakes I have made over the years, when growing tomatoes.

1. Insufficient food – I actually think I made this error this year, in my rush to get them in I didn’t prepare the bed as well as I could have.  I added some Dynamic Lifter (pelletised manure) to the soil but thats about it and despite good initial growth the plants just ran out of steam (or more accurately food).  They perked up a bit when I gave them some fish emulsion but it was really a case of too little too late.  Tomatoes need good levels of nitrogen, phosporus, potassium and calcium and I suspect mine ran out of most of these.  This year I will prepare my beds properly with lots of organic matter (manure and compost) and hopefully will be rewarded with stronger and healthier and thus more productive plants.

2. Sowing too early/too late – The old adage is true – ‘timing is everything’.  Plant out your tomatoes too early and they just sit there unhappily and look sad.  Sometimes they never fully recover – especially if you make the mistake of planting out before the last frost and it kills them.  Plant them too late and you could run out of warm weather needed for ripe fruit, or worse still the first frosts arrive before your crops.  Having said all that, I do find that most books on tomato growing in Melbourne err a little too much on the side of caution particularly when it comes to early plantings.  I have happily planted out tomatoes in August before (admittedly in a pretty mild year) and I don’t think their progress was slowed much at all.  Personally I think the key is a slightly staggered planting out (in Melbourne from perhaps September to December) to allow for both early and late crops  – especially if you have room for lots of plants.

3. Irregular watering – Tomatoes like regular consistent watering – but not too much.  Too much water will cause the roots to rot and as a result the plant will be less able to withstand any periods of hot weather.  The signs over watering are very similar to the signs of underwatering as in both instances the plant isn’t able to access sufficient water from the soil – in the case of under watering because it isn’t there and in over watering because the roots have rotted so they don’t have a big enough root system to take up the water.  Other watering issues include: Too much water while the plants are fruiting and the fruit may split and too little water and the fruit don’t reach a nice size.  This year I’m pretty sure I over-watered my tomatoes, they like it on the slightly dry side but that isn’t really what I gave them and they looked pretty unhappy at times as a result.

4. Pests & Diseases – Is there any disease a tomato can’t get?  And why do all tomato diseases look pretty much the same but with differing sizes and shapes of brown spots on the leaves?  And its not just the leaves and stem, from blossom end rot (which may be a sign of a lack of calcium) to fruit fly there are endless things which can destroy your fruit as well.  Good soil, attention to garden implement hygiene, judical pruning of effected branches and the removal of bugs will all help but sometimes there isn’t much you can do other than simply hope for the best.

5. Unsuitable varieties – All tomato varieties are not the same.  There are some which will tolerate far higher levels of humditiy than others.  There are some which will grow happily in colder temperatures than others.  Some take far longer to set fruit than others.  If you plant the wrong variety for your micro-climate it is very easy to have some very sad looking plants.  The early fruiting varieties are generally better suited to cooler areas and equally there are some varieties which cope far better with the tropics than others.  Because temperatures vary from year to year some varieties do much better in some years than others.  This year I found Rouge de Marmande did really well for me but that Purple Russian was absolutely hopeless.  I wonder what will do well for me next season…

So what else could I do to my tomatoes to reduce their productivity?  Any hints you could give me would be much appreciated as I’d prefer not to destroy my tomatoes in any new ways next season…

Wanting another Top 5?  The New Goodlife talks TV this week.

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22 Responses to Top 5 – Ways to Kill a Tomato Plant

  1. Daphne says:

    You could plant in the shade. Oh or better yet have people smoke in there and leave their tobacco butts in the tomatoes. They often carry tobacco mosaic virus. And there is no cure and it sticks in the soil for decades and decades. Oh and one I’ve done. Be in a place that has acid soil and don’t check the pH and don’t lime. Tomatoes really don’t like to grow in a pH of 5. And another I’ve done. Use some really old supports and have a wind storm blow through and knock them all down.

    • Liz says:

      Love it – I just knew I hadn’t exhausted all the potential things I could do for them. Better go and check my pH….. oh and buy new stakes….

  2. Our worse problem is blight followed by the useless compost that everyone seems to sell at the moment!

    Then of course there is the rotten weather that means to poor little things are too chilled to grow!

    • Liz says:

      Touch much wood we’ve yet to be affected by blight and I guess I have to be thankful for our weather as well don’t I.

  3. Leanne says:

    I think my main problem with my tomatoes, was life got in the way. I don’t that in a negative way, just that my daughter was diagnosed with an illness in November and has taken over our whole lives. Everything in my garden has suffered, though I did love getting the tomatoes I did get, despite my lack of care.
    Your garden must be wonderful.

    • Liz says:

      I’m sorry about your daughter – at the end of the day life doesn’t stop does it not even for delicious produce….

  4. Bee Girl says:

    Ahhh…tomatoes…so delicious and so persnickety! Thanks for your lessons…I’m working on what work here, without a doubt. I think our biggest issue is water…we really should install drip irrigation…maybe next year.

    • Liz says:

      Every year I think I’m going to set up my drip system – I have the hoses – but do I ever get round to it? No…maybe this year…

  5. Mark Willis says:

    Yet despite all this, tomatoes remain one of our favourite plants to grow! We gardeners like a challenge. And the rewards are great too. There is nothing more satisfying than eating a home-grown tomato straight from the vine.

    • Liz says:

      Absolutely on all fronts. There may be lots of ways to kill them but theres also lots of delicious ways to eat them.

  6. Nina says:

    Whitefly? I’m sure I’ve mentioned whitefly (ad nauseum) before. They are not kind to tomatoes (nor anything else, in fact). They didn’t kill them but gave them a run for their money.

    • Liz says:

      Good thought – I was very pleased not to have that particular issue this summer – most other gardeners I knew seemed to.

  7. leduesorelle says:

    And then there are the Weather Gods, a tropical storm took ours out last year by leaving them salt-burned…

    • Liz says:

      Salt burned – now that I hadn’t thought of but for coastal areas I can see how that is an issue. Ah the price of living somewhere beautiful…

  8. Kate says:

    Last year I used cheap twine to tie my Yellow Pears up. Just when they were at their heaviest, the twine broke and the main stems snapped.

  9. Great post, Liz! I watch how my tomatoes growing, planted this year several different varieties, some in the pots (no space in the garden). I also started some earlier than the other: experimenting with it as the weather here is hot in the summer, and last summer regular crop died of high heat.

    • Liz says:

      I have that problem some years – our summer vary quite a bit – some varieties definitely don’t seem to like the heat do they?

  10. Mary says:

    Thanks for posting this! I’m a newbie gardener (this is only my 2nd year) and it helps to see what I’m doing wrong.

  11. Sydney says:

    My first tomato seedlings came up this week. I planted 12 seeds 2 weeks ago so so 9 to go I hope.

    I’m in Sydney and Ive had such trouble with tomatoes but always try every year.. I think its virus wilt… plus of course fruit fly.

    I don’t use chemicals or tomato dust. My European neighbour says thats crazy in Sydney.

    I have used the pest bags around the tomato bunches.. that helps but overall its dismal apart from the accidental cherries!

    I follow this lady’s blog in the States.. ( – she grows the most amazing tomatoes.. and has about 24 plants ..every single one prolific. and she does it every year. -And many just growing in bottomless buckets.

    Funny with gardening.. you keep just trying till you get it right even with failures.

    • Liz says:

      I find germination varies a lot dependant on the variety, age of seed, temperatures etc. I got 100% from some varieties and clsoer to 10% from others this year. i always oversow so I will have plenty of seedlings to choose from. My tomatoes always seem to start off well but then start to yellow when it gets warmer. I don’t think they like the humidity of my micro-climate but perhaps this year will be better – there’s always hope. Do you read 500m2 in sydney? She grew Stupice tomatoes through winter this year and got really good crops – might be worth a try!

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