Thursday, April 23, 2015

Preventative Medicine for Tomatoes

Last year my tomatoes really struggled. It was bad, and not just for me but for many in my neck of the woods. By mid season I was pulling one plant after another due to some malady which caused stunted growth and curled leaves. Because there are so many things that cause those problems, I am not able to pinpoint exactly what happened. I suspect it was a combination of things including mildew, lack of pruning, watering issues, cold weather spells during June, and maybe a virus. It's such a sad thing for a gardener when the whole tomato crop fails. Looking on the bright side, I did learn some valuable lessons and this year I am doing things differently.

This year is the first year that I started my tomatoes, pepper and eggplants from seed. They have been in the ground for a few weeks and they are really starting to grow. We're at the point in our season when everything is growing and the pests are at a minimum. It is that magic time of year before the mildew sets in, and before the hot sun scorches or wilts our more sensitive plants. 

Mortgage Lifter and Amish Paste, waiting for a trellis.
The tomato plants have zero blemishes. I know I shouldn't say that because it may be tempting some mildew fairy to come my way. I know the problems are coming but I am enjoying looking at those healthy little babies of mine everyday until the drama starts.
To combat the mildew that is inevitable I am determined to do a better job of pruning this year. In the past I have taken the approach of letting the tomatoes go crazy and then spending the summer trying to control them. This year I am removing all of the suckers except one or two. This will create plants with fewer stems, and less crowded leaves. I'll also be careful to remove any leaves that touch the ground which allows the fungus in the soil to get onto the lower leaves and infect the plant. By keeping up with the pruning, there will be more air circulation between the leaves which should help.

Another change I made this spring is that I'm hand watering my garden. I have tried different types of irrigation hoses, and right now I have both soaker hoses and pierced hoses. My frustration is that every type I've tried still creates areas where the water sprays up into the air or onto the plants. The moisture on the leaves contributes to the mildew. When I hand water, I take care to keep the water off of the leaves using low water pressure. The advantage of hand watering is that you can accurately control how deeply you water, and tomatoes like deep and less frequent watering. So the hoses are there in case I don't have time to hand water, but for now I am really enjoying this pleasant garden chore. I find watering to be relaxing and a great way to stay connected and involved in what is happening out there.

Another method of controlling mildew is to spray the tomatoes with baking soda in water. This changes the pH on the leaves making it harder for the mildew to survive. Mix one tablespoon of baking soda into one gallon of water and thoroughly wet both sides of the leaves once a week. I started doing this as soon as the plants were transplanted instead of waiting until signs of mildew appear.

The final change made with this year's tomatoes is that I have been spraying them every 3 weeks with aspirin dissolved in water. There are numerous articles about why aspirin is helpful and without going into much detail, it apparently stimulates the plant's immune response, helping it to fight disease. Use a non-coated aspirin dissolved into one gallon of water and thoroughly wet the leaves. 

So far, so good. The plants are thriving and setting on lots of blossoms. 
Fingers crossed!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great tips! Thank you for sharing. I will use them as well. Keep us posted and happy gardening.