By Michael Jenkins
Fresh tomatoes are one of the great joys of a summer garden, and are often a point of pride for gardeners. And this is a wonderful time to be a tomato grower, with hundreds of varietals available to suite any taste or space. Love of home-grown tomatoes runs deep, but tomatoes in the garden do bring occasional complications. Here at Gardzen, we’ve gotten a lot of questions from our readers about problems with their tomatoes. While we do try to respond to everyone, in this case we thought it might be easier to write a series of blogs about troubleshooting your tomatoes. Here, in our first entry, let’s take a look at some of the most common tomato problems and some possible solutions.
Let’s start with one of the most common problems for tomato plants: blossom end rot. As the name suggests this is when tomato fruit show discolored, sunken, or rotten-looking patches at the blossom end of the fruit, eg the part opposite the stem where the flower was. Blossom end rot is a common problem, but in general it’s nothing to despair about. Blossom end rot is generally caused by a calcium deficiency, exacerbated by uneven watering/dry spells or excess nitrogen in the soil. It may pass fairly quickly on its own, affecting only a handful of fruit at the beginning of the season. To help things along, add a calcium supplement to your soil, water regularly and evenly, and consider some additional mulch to help conserve soil moisture.
Tomato hornworms are the bane of many a tomato gardener’s season. These large caterpillars are fairly easy to identify: they have thick green bodies marked by black and white diagonal strips and a large black spike or horn on their back ends—hence the name. They make look harmless or even cute, but they can do big damage to your tomato plants, eating leaves and flowers in equal measure. A handful of tomato hornworms can decimate your tomatoes in a few days! The best defense against tomato hornworms is constant vigilance. Inspect your plants regularly—daily is best—for any signs of holes chewed in leaves, inexplicably missing flowers, or chewed up stems. If you see tomato hornworms, pull them off by hand and drop them in a bucket of soapy water for quick disposal. Spraying your tomatoes regularly with an organic pest repellent like neem oil solution works well for helping to keep tomato hornworms and other unwanted bugs away.
Tomato hornworms aren’t the only bug after your tomatoes, however. If you’re finding small holes in fruit and grown tomatoes that are hollowed out inside, often collapsing when you pick them, you may have tomato fruitworms. The tiny larvae of a species of moth, tomato fruitworms aren’t as common as tomato hornworms, but can cause just as many problems. Your best bet for dealing with them is to be proactive: spray your plants with neem oil and keep a close eye on them. If you see signs of fruitworm damage, remove the infected fruit immediately and dispose of them in the trash—this is not something you want in your compost heap! If tomato fruitworms are an ongoing issue where you live, you might consider growing your tomatoes under a protective row cover to help keep bugs away.
Another common problem for tomato grows is fruit splitting. This is a pretty obvious and easy to spot issue: your tomatoes, ripe or green, will have one or more splits or cracks down the side. Splits in your tomatoes are generally caused by irregular watering, when after a dry spell the plant receives too much water at once. In response the inside of the fruit grows faster than the skin, causing the splits or cracks. Tomatoes splitting is one of those problems you have to deal with on the prevention end, with deep mulching, regular and consistent watering, and an awareness of the weather. Monitoring the moisture conditions of your soil is a must for healthy, productive tomatoes.
These are some of the most common problems with tomato plants, and some of the best and most likely solutions. However, there’s a lot more to be said, so stay tuned for the next part in this series, when we’ll address some of the most baffling symptoms tomato plants display and give you some suggestions for dealing with them. As always, get in touch with us on social media and join the Gardzen community. We love hearing from you!