Congratulations! You’ve made it through the tender stages of growing from seed or transplanting your tomato plants. You watched them shoot up with vigor and you welcomed the spring rains. You spotted your first flower and rejoiced and got as excited as I did when you found your first green tomato!
Those green babies eventually turned red and you finally harvested your first picking.
But like a child in his teenage years, the hardest part of growing your tomatoes may not be behind you. In fact, mid-summer poses questions and challenges all their own when it comes to growing the most popular vegetable in the home garden.
6 Common Tomato Problems
Though my list isn’t exhaustive, below are the top mid-summer tomato concerns I’ve seen and what I’ve done about them:
Every season I battle early blight to some degree or another. As I explained in detail in this post, early blight is a fungus that must be dealt with swiftly.
Some seasons are worse than others. In one year we had an abnormally-wet spring, which leads to a more widespread issue with early blight. By July, I had had to cut off so many affected stems to prevent the fungus from spreading to the whole plant that they eventually started looking more like trees than tomato plants. But, when it comes to early blight, you have to cut off the affected leaves. And if you haven’t already, mulch the area well and clip off stems at the bottom 12″ of the plant to prevent more fungal spores from reaching the plant. (More details in this post.)
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Early in the summer, I found myself on a quest to rid my tomato plants of little green bugs — also known as aphids. Because I didn’t want to use any spray (even natural sprays can kill beneficial insects), I relocated a ladybug to my tomatoes. Within a few days the aphid population declined dramatically, and within a few weeks they were gone.
Though this worked for a small outbreak of aphids, and I’ve since only had to rely on my burgeoning beneficial insect population to take care of aphids, sometimes they can get out of control.
I recommend starting with the least invasive methods first, such as spraying them off with a strong stream of water. If that doesn’t work, you can buy an organic insecticidal soap and spray directly on the aphids (just don’t hit any ladybug larvae with the spray!). Other organic gardeners have found success with Neem Oil, though I haven’t had to use this for aphids.
In mid-summer you may notice your once-vibrant tomato plants looking frazzled.
As the the plant pours its energy into producing fruit, it may need a boost of nutrition. I feed my tomatoes by filling my emptied compost crock with water and pouring the “instant tea” on the tomatoes (instructions here). You can also add a few tablespoons of organic fertilizer around the base of the plant (called top-dressing) and water it in.
As we enter the hot summer, long periods of dry weather wreak havoc on tomatoes. While established plants have deep roots to withstand the dry periods to a point, if the dry period is followed by torrents of water (whether by a rainstorm or an over-zealous gardener), this onslaught of sudden irrigation can overwhelm the plant and cause those almost-ripe tomatoes to split.
The best prevention is to make sure your tomatoes get a deep watering weekly, if not by rain then by supplemental irrigation. I prefer drip irrigation or soaker hoses, as overhead watering will only exacerbate problems with early blight.
If you find your beautiful red tomatoes sporting an ugly black blemish on the bottom, you can blame blossom-end rot. Caused by a lack of calcium getting to the plant, this problem is typically not due to a lack of calcium in the soil. Instead, we can usually assume the cause is either water stress or a soil pH imbalance.
In times of water stress, the plant is unable to uptake the calcium it needs for proper fruit formation. To combat this, follow the same protocols as above by using drip irrigation or soaker hoses consistently during dry periods. Consistently long, deep periods of watering always work better than short, shallow irrigation. Although the length and amount will depend on your soil texture, level of mulch, and level of heat, I have my drip system set to water for an hour every two to three days.
Another cause is acid soil. If you performed a soil test early in the season or if you used bagged soil for a raised bed, this is probably not the issue. But if you’re growing in native soil and you haven’t tested your soil, I recommend a soil test. Here are a few options to consider:
If you walk out to your tomato plants and find leaves mysteriously missing, most likely you can blame the tobacco hornworm or the tomato hornworm. The best prevention I’ve found is to inspect your plants frequently and hand-pick any worms you see.
Although I haven’t had to treat my tomato plants for these worms, I have used bT (Thuricide), an organic solution, for cabbage worms with great success. You spray it on the leaves and when the worm eats the leaves it will die. To my understanding, because beneficial insects don’t eat the leaves of your plants, they are safe. Just be sure and apply it in the evening when bees aren’t the most active.
I hope these suggestions help your tomatoes thrive in the mid-summer!
What tomato problems have you found in the middle part of the summer?
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