Tag Archives | tomato disease

Signs and Solutions of Nutritional Deficiencies in Heirloom Tomato Seedlings

Young heirloom tomato seedlings will often show signs of nutritional deficiencies in their leaves, and if you know what to look for you can remedy it fairly easily.  Whether planting your heirloom tomato in the ground or in a pot, starting off with a healthy plant is the best prevention of later diseases that commonly plague all tomato plants.

If your seedlings are compact and not leggy, have green leaves, and a short distance between each set of leaves (short internodes), you’re good to go.  If somewhere along the line before you’re ready to plant out in the garden your seedlings start to show signs of trouble, treating it right away will often save the health of the plant.

First Order of Defense when Starting Tomatoes from Seed:

If you are starting your own tomatoes from seed, there are 3 keys to preventing nutritional deficiencies:

  1. Use clean potting soil rather than garden soil.  You can purchase good garden soil from most stores.  Miracle Grow Moisture Control is a good one.  If you want to go completely organic with your potting soil, see this post for a formula.
  2. If you start your seedlings in a flat with small cells, or a small container, pot up your plants when they have two sets of true leaves.  I go from a 196-cell flat to a 4″ pot to the garden and it has been a successful gradation for 15 years now.  There is not much soil in a small cell, hence the nutrient supply is rapidly depleted from the growing plant.
  3. Carefully control your watering regime.  Dryness and water logging can both make it difficult for plants to take up soil nutrients.  I water the seedlings once a day or less, taking my cue from how dry the soil looks (i.e., if the soil is light in color, then water; if it is dark it is still moist and doesn’t need more water).  I also use an indoor watering hose to water, as you can regulate the amount of water you’re giving the little cells much easier than a watering can with a spout.  I’m currently using The Rumford Gardener GA1001 40 Foot Indoor/Outdoor Garden Coil Hose with Spray Wand, as it is the only one I could find.  It seems to work just fine, as long as you have the coil at a height higher than the nozzle.  My old indoor watering hose had a great nozzle that regulated flow better, but it is no longer available (I have to admit it was cheaply made and broke every other year but when it worked it was the best).

Symptoms & Solutions for Common Nutritional Problems in Heirloom Tomato Seedlings:

A.  Symptom:  Yellowing of lower leaves.

  • Probable Cause:  Magnesium deficiency or overfertilizing.
  • Solution:  Decrease the amount of fertilizer you are giving the young plants.  If you used the Miracle Grow Moisture Control potting soil, you probably won’t need any extra fertilizer until they are planted outside.  If you haven’t given any fertilizer, it could be a lack of magnesium and you can water with a weak solution of Epsom salts. Over-use of high-potassium fertilizers can cause magnesium deficiency, as plants take up potassium in preference to magnesium.

B.  Symptom:  Pale green leaves

  • Probable Cause:  Not enough light or a Nitrogen deficiency
  • Solution:  If the seedling is getting plenty of light (16 hours of light/day is good), transplant the seedling to a container with fresh potting soil that contains nutrients; mix some compost in with your potting soil to ensure a nutrient supply.

C.  Symptom:  Purple leaf-tints with bronze or brown leaf edges.

  • Probable cause:  Plant is overwatered or has a Potassium deficiency
  • Solution:  If you are not overwatering (see above tips), give the plant a dose of fertilizer that contains trace minerals or transplant to a new medium with compost.

D.  Symptom:  Reddish purple undersides of leaves, accompanied by slow or stunted growth.

  • Probable Cause:  Phosphorus deficiency due to cold soil or acid soil
  • Solution:  Soil that is too acid or too cold can make it difficult for the plant to uptake phosphorus.  Transplant to new soil and do not water with cold water.

Graphical Portrayal of Deficiencies:

The graphic below is helpful in pictorially describing the symptoms I outlined above.  Unfortunately, I copied the graphic a while back for my own information, and can no longer remember where it came from, so I am at a loss as to who to credit.  If anyone knows which site this graphic came from, please comment below and I will credit them.

Graphic of Nutritional Deficiencies

Graphic of Nutritional Deficiencies

Resource for More In-Depth Information:

A very in-depth look at deficiencies in essential minerals of plants can be found here.  Although Mr. Berry’s book is not focused on the young seedlings before they are planted out, he goes into great scientific detail on the causes and remedies of nutritional deficiencies in plants.  The most helpful part of his work might be the photos however.  They are great photos showing in detail what some of these deficiencies look like on the plant (fortunately I could not take these photos, as my plants have not succumbed to the diseases on our farm).

Comments and questions are welcome.

Tomato Disease Prevention & Cure: Blossom End Rot

Beginning and mid stages of Blossom End Rot

Beginning and mid stages of Blossom End Rot

Re:  Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Growing tomatoes in containers and pots is a great solution if you are in need of space or have limited areas with sun.  Container growing does have its trials and tribulations however, and sometimes it is a little trickier to get high yields of beautiful tomatoes growing in pots than if you were growing in the garden.

Blossom End Rot is one disease that tomatoes are more susceptible to when grown in pots.  Blossom end rot is initially a light tan, flattened area on the blossom end of the tomato that then enlarges and turns black and leathery.  It is caused by a localized calcium deficiency in the developing fruit.  This calcium deficiency is usually caused by an inconsistent watering regime, i.e., a dry-wet-dry cycle of watering.  Tomato plants prefer about one inch of water per week, and if you allow them to get quite dry in the pots, and then deluge them with water when you notice wilting, you are setting yourself up for blossom end rot.

 

Prevention:

  1. Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes

    Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes

    Mulch the soil around the plant ro reduce moisture fluctuations;

  2. When rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, soak the soil slowly with water from a hose or set up a soaker hose (sprinklers or watering from above can splash soil onto the plant’s leaves and promote other diseases);
  3. If you grow in pots each year, make sure and use fresh soil each year;
  4. Select disease resistant varieties of tomatoes, and consider growing determinate tomatoes.  Determinate tomatoes are shorter and bushier than indeterminate and they do not continue growing until frost, so they do not vine and outgrow the trellis or stakes you may have in your pots.  With determinates you will get a lot of tomatoes over a 3 to 4 week period rather than fewer tomatoes over a longer period (all summer) as with indeterminates.  Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate, but a few examples of determinate heirloom varieties that grow well in pots are:  Raspberry Lyanna, Manitoba, Principe Borghese, Prescott, and Black Sea Man.  My favorite determinate “hybrid” tomato for pots is the Bush Champion.  It was bred for pots and it is a medium slicing tomato with good flavor.  You can certainly grow indeterminate tomatoes (heirloom or hybrid) in pots, they are just higher maintenance;
  5. Select plastic or fiberglass pots rather than clay pots.  Clay pots dry out too fast and it is harder to regulate the water regime.  A self-watering container, EarthBox 1010039 Organic EarthBox, Terracotta, or home-made wicking system is even better.

Cures:

Wide range of healthy heirloom tomatoes

Wide range of healthy heirloom tomatoes

All is not lost if your first flush of tomatoes has Blossom End Rot.  It is not a disease that lives in the soil like blight so it is certainly possible to save the remaining tomatoes.  Follow these steps and you can still enjoy a large harvest for the remaining part of summer:

  1. Set up a soaker hose system, transplant to a self-watering container, or be very conscientious about seeing that the pot does not dry out to less than 1 inch of water a week (and water the soil, not the leaves if using a hose or watering can);
  2. Add 2 Tbsp. Epsom salts to a gallon of water and use this to water with every other week.  Epsom salts in the watering regime will replace the calcium that has leeched out of the pot from too much previous watering.

So, to sum up:  water management and Calcium replacement are the two primary factors to be aware of in preventing and curing Blossom End Rot on tomatoes.  Have you had any varieties of heirloom tomatoes that seemed to be more or less susceptible to Blossom End Rot?  I’d be interested in hearing your experiences!

Happy Trails,

Dorothy

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