How to troubleshoot through tomato woes

Part of the midsummer garden bounty for many is the arrival of ripe, juicy tomatoes. This iconic garden crop can, unfortunately, be tricky to grow to perfection. As usual, the hazards include weather, gardening practices, pests and disease.

Here?s a brief guide to some common problems, along with strategies for prevention or remediation


This problem occurs because of uneven watering while the tomato fruit was forming. Tomato plants require watering that is both heavier than what is needed for some other crops and very consistent. Mulching plants, even those grown in pots, will help a bit. However, there is no real substitute for a daily check and watering when rainfall isn?t sufficient.

Lots of leaves but little fruiting

The culprit here is likely excessive nitrogen. While some fertilizer will be needed for tomatoes, it should be selected and used judiciously. Choose a balanced food such as 10-10-10 or one with the middle number (phosphorus) higher than the first (nitrogen). Do not apply more than recommended amounts.

Soft or rotten spot on bottom of fruits

The trouble here is calcium deficiency, causing blossom end rot. Again with this problem, even watering is the essential corrective. You may also wish to select a tomato-specific fertilizer which will be sure to provide calcium.

Wilting or yellow leaves

These can be signs of a fungal disease. To verify, cut a stem; a discolored interior will confirm that problem. Discard diseased plants by wrapping and placing in the trash. If plants were grown in containers, also discard the soil and then wash containers with a bleach solution.

Spots on stems

Brown patches at the joints, greasy and irregular gray spots and rings of white mold can all be signs of blight, another fungal disease. Handle as above.

Spots on leaves

Brown spots toward the bottom of the plant, either dark with a yellow border or grayish-tan with a dark brown edge, are likely signs of additional fungal disease. Handle as above. If tomato plants grown in the garden develop any of these signs of fungal diseases, be sure to rotate crops next year; a sensible practice in any case.

Chunks bitten out

This is what happens in a neighborhood like mine, where squirrels significantly out number humans. The squirrels wait until a tomato is nearly ripe, then they chomp. My solution was to give up and turn to the Farmers Market, but you can try chicken wire cages, which must cover the tops of plants.

Good luck as you work toward enjoying some homegrown tomatoes.