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September 30, 2017


I have several small raised beds in my yard where I grow vegetables.  I continue to have trouble with what I believe is blight (yellowing of the leaves starts at the bottom of the plants and moves up) on my tomato plants even though they were planted in a different portion of the bed.  I had some tomatoes, but the amount of tomatoes and the season were quite short.  Would it be worth the effort and expense to take out the old soil and replace it with new? I incorporated some compost into the soil this year.  Did this contribute to the problem or help?



Soil diseases on tomatoes are quite common, and replacing the soil is an option when we use raised beds.  After all, a raised bed is really a large container.  Compost should not have made the problem worse.  The extra rain this year helped some gardeners and hurt others.  Make sure you practice good sanitation--removing all the spent plants from the beds now if they are done, or when you end the growing season this fall.  If you do replace the soil continue to practice crop rotation each season. Our recommendation is not to plant in the same spot for at least 3 years. If you have several raised beds, you might consider trying to solarize one next summer. Work up the soil, wet it and cover with clear plastic for 6 weeks any time from July-September.  The heat can sterilize the soil. 


July 22, 2017

QuestionI have heard you say that tomato plants will not set fruit when night‑time temperatures are above 75 degrees.  Is this also true for cucumbers?  A week ago, our cucumber plants were setting fruit so fast that we were afraid we would not be able to keep up with them.  Then they seemed to just stop setting fruit overnight.  I thought that it was because I had failed to water them enough when the weather turned hot and dry so quickly, but now I wonder if the heat is to blame.



Cucumber flowers need a pollinator to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower.  While high temperatures won’t stop them from blooming, but the flowers may not stay open as long on a really hot day as they will on a cooler day.   If the plants are too dry and wilting, they won’t bloom as well either.  Bees aren't as active during the intense heat, so your window of pollination is reduced, which can result in less fruit set.  If you see any misshapen fruit, that is also a result of weak pollination.  If you get bitter tasting cucumbers that can be a result of a stressed plant—if it got too dry or wilted.


July 1, 2017

QuestionMaybe you can help us on this one. Our tomato plants started to die, and we pulled one up and on the bottom (roots) was some little (looked like) white rocks.  You could crush them with your finger.  Tomatoes don't taste as good as last year.Every year I have the same problem with my tomato plants.  They get blossom end-rot.  The bottom of the tomato starts to rot just as they begin to ripen.  What can I do this year as I plant, to prevent this problem?



If you still have the plant handy, take a closer look or take it in to your local county extension office for a correct diagnosis.  Some growers use perlite as a soil mix which is white, and most nurseries use a slow release fertilizer like osmocote when growing. Many gardeners mistake these resinous beads of fertilizer as insect eggs. There are also some bad things that you may have. When you pulled the plants up, had the root system spread out or were the roots stunted and the ends of the roots had the small growths?  This could be a root knot nematode.  Were there small mustard seed like growths at the soil line or at the crown of the plant?  Southern stem blight can kill a plant.  Usually you will see some small white mustard seed like growths at the base.  They will turn brown in time, but usually the plant is on its way out at that point.    Here is a link to an excellent publication we have on tomatoes with color images to help you pinpoint the problem:


May 1, 2017

QuestionEvery year I have the same problem with my tomato plants.  They get blossom end-rot.  The bottom of the tomato starts to rot just as they begin to ripen.  What can I do this year as I plant, to prevent this problem?



Blossom end-rot is a calcium deficiency caused by a fluctuation in moisture levels.  The first occurrence usually happens when we have a dry spell followed by a downpour.  As you plant your tomato plants this year, work some lime into the planting hole.  Then after planting, mulch the plants well to keep the soil moisture levels as even as possible.  Try to keep the plants watered evenly and hopefully you won’t see any problems this year.


May 13, 2017

QuestionI want to grow a grape tomato plant in a 20" container. What type of soil should I use?



Since you are growing in a container a good quality potting soil is best.  Bagged garden soil is heavier and soil from the yard is heavy but can also contain weed seeds and pathogens.

 QuestionIn 1980, my husband planted a tomato plant that grew to 8 feet. We had tomatoes until November.   Could you please help us find the type of tomato?



Tomatoes come in two types—determinate and indeterminate.  Determinate varieties are like patio tomatoes.  They grow to a specific height, stop growing and produce their fruit.  The indeterminate varieties will continue to grow provided they aren’t pruned. They need some type of physical support to hold them upright.  If we have a good growing season they can get 6-8 feet tall or more if they are not topped.  Some good indeterminate varieties include Better Boy, Traveler, Husky Cherry Red and Big Beef.


November 12, 2016


I’m retired with a small yard and lot of shade.  I have a small raised bed in full sunlight where I raise a few tomatoes. Last year they did great, this year they grew to 5’ staked, then blight hit them. I know you’re not supposed to plant in same spot every year, but have no other area in full sun.  Is there any way to treat soil to get rid of blight overwinter? Or must I change out soil in bed every spring?



Many people struggled with tomatoes this year, but planting in the same spot will make your problems occur earlier each season, as many tomato diseases are soil-borne.  You have a couple of options.  If this is the only bed you can plant in, you can solarize at the end of the season--but you would have to do so by late August to early September.   Solarization requires hot temperatures.  You till the soil, saturate it, then cover with clear plastic for 6 weeks.  July-September are the best months to do this.  You could also try planting a cover crop in the fall. Mustard greens are one that they have seen promise with helping with soil borne diseases.  Again, it is getting a bit late in the season, but if you can find some mustard plants at your local nursery, give it a try.  Your saving grace is that it is a raised bed, so you could replace the soil however, that is a hassle.  I would also consider constructing another raised bed or two and alternating what you grow.  Good luck


August 13, 2016


My tomatoes look good, are head high but none of the blooms are making tomatoes.  What do I do?



  Be patient and grateful your plants look good.  Tomatoes often slow down or quit producing during the extremely hot days of summer.  When temperatures are above 95 during the day or stay above 75 at night, they won’t set fruit. If you can keep the plants happy and healthy, once the weather breaks, you will get tomatoes again.


July 16, 2016


I planted a tomato plant earlier in the summer and it is in a pot. It is very healthy and I have had lots of tomatoes and before they turn red they are just gone. I put a netting around the plant to see if that would help and it has happened again. I am so frustrated because I had at least 4 nice ones.
What can I do or what do you think are eating them?


   My guess would be squirrels, but I have heard from folks who have raccoons and even rats.  Try fastening the net at        the  bottom to see if that helps. Animal control can be a challenge to gardeners.




July/Aug 2016


What is the reason and solution for blooms falling from tomato plants?  The flowers can’t seem to stay long enough for fruit to appear. What do I do?



 Tomato blossoms fail to set fruit when the nighttime temperature stays above 75 degrees, and/or    when the daytime temperature exceeds 95 degrees. In hot summers we will have limited tomatoes  in late summer. There isn’t much you can do about high temperatures, but keep the plants healthy and happy until the weather cools off and they should begin to bear again for a late summer/ fall harvest.


July/Aug 2016

QuestionI have tomatoes in size ranging from dime size to silver dollar size.  A large number of these tomatoes have dark brown and/or black areas at the bottom of the tomato.  What is causing this and what can I do?


a Blossom end rot has started in our gardens.  Although it looks like a disease, it is actually a calcium deficiency which  affects some varieties more than others.  It often hits our gardens when it has been really dry and we get a downpour  of rain.  Fluctuating water levels make it much worse.  Try to mulch your garden and keep it as evenly moist as possible in these dry days.  There are some calcium sprays like Stop Rot or calcium chloride which can help, but even watering and mulch should also do the trick.  It won’t correct the tomatoes that have the problem, but should prevent more from succumbing.

 June 25, 2016


My tomato plants at Two Rivers Park were fantastic until late May, then they started turning yellow from the bottom up. They are now yellow halfway up the plant.  Any ideas what this is? The plants are hybrid Celebrity. Everyone’s plants at Two Rivers are doing this.



Quite possibly septoria leaf spot or one of the tomato blights.  These diseases are soil borne, so crop rotation is important.  I would suggest you take a sample in to your local county extension office for exact diagnosis and possible controls.  We are seeing quite a few diseases this year on tomatoes, including some diseases which aren’t controllable.


February 1, 2016

QuestionI saved some seeds from some tomatoes I grew last season that we just loved.  I am attempting to grow the plants for this year. I have started with fresh soil and trays and have them in a very bright, sunny window, but the seedlings look so weak. I am trying to keep them warm, and doing things right.  Do they need fertilizer? If so, what kind and how much?


AnswerEven when we think we have enough sunlight with a regular window to grow transplants, the duration and strength of the light is not enough, unless you have a greenhouse window and full sun.  Your plants are weak or leggy from low light.  Rig up a light kit over the seedlings and leave it on for 12 hours per day.  A mild solution of a water soluble fertilizer will help but I really think low light is the culprit.  Make sure you thin the seedlings out if they are too close together, and don’t be too quick to plant outdoors in the spring.  Make sure the soil temperature warms up as well as the air. They now make light kits for home gardeners that contain LED lights, but you can also use an inexpensive shop light kit, and adjust the height.


November 7, 2015

QuestionI still have lots of tomatoes this time of year and a lot of them split at the top. Got any idea why?



I am still harvesting tomatoes too, even though the plants look a bit bedraggled.  The splitting is caused by uneven moisture.   When they get dry and then you water—or we finally get a heavy rain, the fruits tend to split.   Some varieties are more susceptible to this than others, but I even had a few splits just recently on some cherry tomatoes after we finally had real rainfall!  For reference next year, mulching does help.  


December 2012

QuestionThis year we planted our garden as usual. Most years we have average size tomato plants that produce a few small tomatoes. This year we have the biggest plants we have ever seen with hundreds of tomatoes that are still growing this late in the season. We have no idea what type we bought but we would like to get them again next year. What type of tomato plants would you suggest to get these same results next season?


AnswerThere are a lot of options when it comes to tomatoes. There are two basic types—determinate and indeterminate. Determinate types are like the patio or bush tomatoes—the plants are smaller, have a stronger stem and tend to produce all their tomatoes at one time and that is pretty much it for the season. This year you for sure bought an indeterminate—they continue to grow and produce as long as there is a growing season. They have a weaker main stem and require staking. My personal favorite is the Traveler tomato. Other indeterminate include Better Boy, Brandywine, Bradley, and Early Girl. One of the more popular varieties in the trade is Celebrity and it is a determinate variety. There are plenty of great tomato varieties out there, but you definitely want an
indeterminate variety.

July 2012

QuestionWhat is the reason and solution for blooms falling from tomato plants? The flowers can’t seem to stay long enough for fruit to appear. What do I do??


AnswerTomato blossoms fail to set fruit when the nighttime temperature stays above 75 degrees, and/or when the daytime temperature exceeds 95 degrees. It was the main reason we had no tomatoes last year. It has not been a big issue this year, but will be now that the weather is heating up. There isn't much you can do about it, but keep the plants healthy and happy until the weather cools off and they begin to bear again.

June 2012

QuestionPlease tell me why one of my tomato plants has a black spot on the bottom of each tomato. I have 6 tomato plants in large pots on my patio. All plants are doing great and look beautiful except this one tomato.


AnswerIt sounds like the one plant is suffering from blossom end rot. This problem occurs more commonly on some varieties than others. It is a calcium deficiency that is made worse when we have major fluctuations of water—and if a plant is vigorously growing. The calcium gets pulled from the bottom end of the tomato and you are left with a water-soaked area, which then rots or turns black.
Mulching (even in pots) can help to moderate moisture. Adding a little lime into the soil can also help at planting, or you can lightly work it into the soil in the pot.

June 2012

QuestionThere was a tomato tasting festival somewhere in Arkansas last year, but I can’t remember where it was. Do you know of one of these this year and when and where it might be? I would love to attend one of these. 


AnswerJune 8th and 9th are the dates for the Pink Tomato festival in Bradley County Arkansas. Here is a link to their website with all the schedule information: A few years ago we participated in Heritage Days and Tomato Days at the Winthrop Rockeller Institute on Petit Jean where we held tomato tastings along with gardening classes, but they have no program scheduled for this year.

March 2012

QuestionSince spring is so early this year and the temperatures are above normal, is it okay to plant small tomato plants in pots to be replanted in the garden when they area reasonable size? We live in Russellville. 


AnswerI wish I had a crystal ball and could predict that we will have no more cold snaps! Everyone has the spring planting bug early this year, but keep in mind it is still March. While tomato plants are arriving at nurseries and garden centers statewide, if you plant now, be prepared to either replant or protect them, should a cold snap ensue. I would prefer you continue to plant cool season vegetables and hold off on tomatoes until April. Since you plan to have yours in pots, they could be moved into a garage or home if it gets cold.

 November 2011

QuestionI always plant several tomato plants in my garden. This year a tomato plant came up that I did not plant. The plant was about 5 feet tall and the tomatoes were yellow and never turned any other color. They grew to about 2 – 2 1/2 inches in diameter. They were thick walled and crispy/crunchy to eat. Since they never turned any color but yellow, it was difficult to tell when they were ripe. But when the plant died, I picked all that were there, about a gallon to gallon and a half. We ate them for the next month. I saved one, hoping to save some seeds for next year. It has been sitting on my kitchen window sill for approximately 3 months and never has rotted. The sides finally got a little soft, but that is all. Can you tell me what kind of tomato this is?


AnswerSeedling tomato plants are not unusual in a compost pile or in a garden. They are remnants of other tomato plants or even seeds dropped from birds. There are numerous yellow fruited varieties. Some form large tomatoes, while others produce yellow pear or yellow cherry tomatoes. Cut the fruit in half and scrape out the seeds. Save until planting time indoors in February or direct sowed in mid April.

November 2010

 QuestionWhen I plant my tomatoes in the ground they start out pretty good for the first two weeks. Then when they start coming up, during the next two weeks they just start drying out. After blooming and producing the tomato the same problem is occurring. As the blooms come out they will dry and fall off. Needless to say the tomatoes plants have a short life span. They will totally stop producing around the middle of the summer. I was told by the agriculture dept. that I was probably splashing water up on the plants too much when watering. This last year I only had a soaker hose on them. The agent said to put straw down around the bottom of the plants, but to no avail. Maybe there is a better method that you can help me with. Are there other solutions that you might know?


AnswerFirst, get your soil tested. Take a pint of soil to your local county extension office and see what the pH is and the levels of N, P and K. I always want to start with the foundation of the plants, which is the soil. If your soil is pitiful and rocky, you can enrich it with compost. How is the drainage? If they are sitting in waterlogged soil, they will die quickly. We recommend that you rotate where you plant your tomatoes every year because many tomato diseases are soil borne, and attack the plants earlier each season, but problems beginning within two weeks of planting is pretty amazing. I think we might have something else going on. Mulching the plants to keep soil from splashing on the stems can slow down the disease spread, but again, it doesn't usually occur within two weeks of planting, nor does it cause the flowers to dry. Most tomato diseases either start with the leaves dying from the bottom and it progresses up the stem, or we have a dramatic wilting and dying from one of the vascular wilts. It sounds like your problem is more about fruit set than plants dying. How much sunlight do the plants get? They need at least 6 hours a day. Some varieties quit setting fruit when the temperatures get above 90 degrees during the day or stay above 75 degrees at night, but if the plants look good, they can kick back in and produce well into fall. I think we need to investigate further.

March 2010

QuestionI am planning my summer vegetable garden and trying to figure out what type of irrigation system I want to use. It seems that I remember in one of your past writings you said not to get the plant itself wet when watering tomato plants. Is this true, if so, why? Therefore, would drip irrigation be better than overhead?


AnswerTomatoes are plagued with a whole range of plant diseases. Many of these diseases are soil borne and water splashing from the ground to the stems can help increase their spread. Also, wet foliage, especially late in the day can be a precursor to many disease issues. If you have ever taken a plant pathology course, there are three things in the disease triangle that must be present for a disease to take over—1: a susceptible host plant 2: the disease pathogen and 3: climatic conditions necessary for the disease. Keeping the foliage dry can reduce disease spread if there are pathogens present, and if you are using any type of pesticide sprays, you don’t wash them off as quickly. Drip irrigation is better for several reasons—one is keeping the foliage drier, but secondly, they are much more water efficient than overhead watering—directing water to the root zone where you need it.

July 2005

QuestionMy tomatoes have died because of what I think is a blight. If this is in the soil of my garden, is there any way I could sterilize the soil so I could plant some late tomatoes and have some this fall? Is there some fungicide I could use that would prevent it?


AnswerThere are numerous diseases that plague tomatoes. Early blight, septoria leaf spot and late blight cause the “firing” up of the lower leaves. It usually takes the plant by the end of the season, but you usually have had a good harvest by then. Sprays weekly of a fungicide such as Maneb or Bravo can help to prevent it. If your plants out and out died already, you may have one of the more serious vascular wilts. These soil borne diseases can kill a plant within a few days time once they hit. Soil sterilization can be done via the sun—called soil solarization. Chemical products are no longer available to the home gardener. To solarize your soil, till it thoroughly, wet it completely, then cover it with clear plastic, making firm contact between soil and plastic. Leave it covered for six weeks. Then you can replant. You could have a good crop of fall tomatoes. You could also get them growing in large containers. Tomatoes can be container grown all season, just keep up with the watering.

April 2008

 QuestionI'm looking for organic ways to control weeds around tomato plants. Is it okay to put mulch (i.e., cypress, hardwood, pine bark) around these plants? If so, is one type of mulch better than another?


AnswerI think all gardens should have mulch in them. Not only does it keep weeds down, mulch also maintains soil moisture levels, moderates soil temperature and prevents erosion. When using mulch in a vegetable garden it is preferable to use something that can break down readily. The bark mulches can be used, but you would not want to till them into the soil at the end of the season. Shredded leaves, newspaper or shredded paper, or straw would be a better choice to work in. Some gardeners do use plastic as a mulch in the vegetable garden, laying it down early to help warm the soil in the spring as well. Plastic is ok, but make sure you have a way to get water underneath it and possibly add some organic mulch on top to cool things down in the heat of summer.

April 2009

QuestionI would like to try growing a tomato plant in a pot this year. Are there any special techniques I should try? What about the soil? What mix should I use? This will be new for me, as I've grown Big Boy in the past, in a small sunny area in my back yard. I had the idea from a co-worker that has limited space because of apartment living.


AnswerTomatoes are easy to grow in containers, but give yourself a break by planting them in large enough containers that they don’t need constant water this summer. A minimum five gallon sized pot is best. Buy a commercial potting soil, instead of using garden soil. Garden soil tends to be much heavier and can contain contaminates like weed seeds and insect larvae. If the site is in full sun, you may want to add some of the water absorbing polymers in with the soil to help it retain moisture. Some potting soils come with these already added, but regardless, don’t get carried away with them—a little goes a long way. You can grow indeterminate varieties like Big Boy, and use tomato stakes or cages just like in the garden, or you can grow the “patio” types which are really determinate varieties that have a stronger stem but limit the length of time you harvest. Fertilize at planting with a slow release fertilizer then fertilize about every two weeks with a water soluble fertilizer. You will need to fertilize tomatoes grown in containers more often than those in the garden, because you are watering more often, since container soils dry out quicker due to smaller volume and elevated status. Watch for insects and diseases, but diseases are usually less of a problem because you are starting with fresh, sterile soil each season. Mulching the pot after planting will also aid in moisture retention. As with any tomato, give them a site that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight.

May 2008

Question Our vegetable garden consists of two grape-type tomato plants but they are having a problem that hopefully you can resolve. Something is eating a perfectly round hole about 1/4" deep and the same size in diameter but nothing is ever visible on them. I have sprayed once with Advanced Garden (cyflurthrin) to no avail. Obviously even the bugs and worms don't respect the elderly!


AnswerGrape tomatoes don’t have a lot to feed on, so any feeding is doing real damage! Tomato fruit worms can make very defined holes, but you usually find the worm and/or their droppings. Check the stems and leaves around the plants as well. Could birds be coming in to have a taste? Try using bird netting around your plants to discourage them, and see if new damage continues. If it is a caterpillar, then BT or Dipel can work, but it will take a week or so to work. Go out in the evening and see if you can spot anything working on them.

June 2008

QuestionI have planted some tomatoes in pots and all seem to be okay except one which the leaves are curling on and it does not seem to have as deep green color to the leaves. What could be the problem? Also what causes the blossom end to rot
and what can be done for that? 

AnswerLeaf roll (curling of the leaflets) is a physiological condition that occurs most commonly when plants are trained and pruned. Any type of stress can cause leaf roll. It usually does not affect fruiting or quality, and it is not a disease. Leaf roll is a common genetic trait in some varieties but it is typically not associated with a difference in leaf color. Monitor these plants, make sure you are watering enough, but don’t drown them either. Use a water soluble fertilizer and see if that helps with the color. Blossom end rot is a calcium deficiency that is usually brought about with huge fluctuations in moisture levels—we often see if when we go through a dry spell and then have a downpour of rain. Even though your plants are in containers, mulch the soil to aid in keeping the moisture levels more constant.

June 2009

QuestionI am growing three tomato plants in containers on my deck. One of my tomato plant's leaves have a yellow tint around their edges. The leaves affected are on the Northwest side of the bush. The bush is either a Bush Early Girl or a Health Kick. They may not be getting enough sunshine. Do you think that is the problem?  

AnswerGrowing tomatoes in pots gives you a clean slate every season, because you can start with fresh soil. Therefore, diseases are at a minimum. I doubt lack of sun on one side of the bush would cause yellowing. If no spots are involved, it could be nutritional in nature. Fertility in plants grown in containers becomes more of an issue, since you are watering more frequently which leaches the nutrients out. Make sure your plants are getting at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer every 10 days to two weeks. Monitor the plants and see what happens.

June 2009

QuestionMy tomatoes have developed on the bottom leaves a blight which is yellow. The leaf slowly dies completely. The disease works to the top of the plant and finally kills the plant. I have had the same problem for the last couple of years. This year I am using Ortho's Garden Disease Control, spraying twice a week. I wonder if I am using the right fungicide or I use something else? I am also wondering if the blight is in the soil. 

AnswerTomato plants suffer from a variety of soil borne diseases and several start with yellowing of leaves from the bottom and work their way up. Two of the most common are septoria leaf spot and early blight. Early blight appears as spots on leaves, stems and fruit. Leaf spots start as small, dark brown areas, sometimes with a yellow border. Leaf spots grow rapidly under favorable conditions, forming lighter brown bands with a dark center. Stem spots have even more noticeable rings than leaf spots and may cause plant death if the stem is girdled. Another common disease that can be controlled is septoria leaf spot. Spots on lower leaves usually show up as the first tomatoes start setting and may also form on stems and branches. Spots are round, and smaller than the early
blight--about 1/8" across, with dark brown borders and light gray centers. Young spots may be surrounded by a yellow halo as well. The disease progresses up the plant, from the older to younger leaves, spread by splashing rain or overhead irrigation. Fruit infection is rare. Both diseases can be controlled with a product containing chlorothalonil- (of which there are numerous trade names including Bravo, Daconil and Ortho’s Garden Disease control) or Maneb. The key is not to wait to see the disease and start playing catch-up with fungicides. It is much easier to prevent than cure the disease. Rotate your plants in the garden—don’t plant tomatoes back in the same soil for at least three years. If you get the disease annually, start spraying when you plant and continue throughout the season. Since you can still harvest tomatoes with both of these diseases, you could grow the plants with proper cultural conditions—water, sunlight, mulch and fertility and harvest what you can until the plants play out. Then replant in a new location midsummer to have tomatoes for a fall harvest.

June 2010

QuestionMy tomatoes are blooming but are not making tomatoes - - Is there anything I can do to cause them to produce tomatoes???


AnswerBe patient. We have had some cool nights. Tomatoes can be finicky, not setting fruit when the nights are too cool or too hot, nor when the days are rainy or over 90 degrees. You can lightly shake the plants helping to set the pollen, but with time fruits should begin to form.

June 2010

QuestionMy tomato plants always grow seven feet tall. Is it possible to prune the tops at a young age before blooming to encourage them to bush out more? Even the early girl plants get huge!


AnswerBy all means you can prune them to whatever height you desire. As you prune them, they should get fuller. This has an added benefit of helping to shade the fruit as it ripens, especially as temperatures heat up. Pruning can be done throughout the growing season. You will need some trellis or means of support but they should produce well as long as they are in full sun.

July 2008

QuestionOur tomato plants are pathetic. They are planted in good soil, and I am fertilizing with Miracle Grow, but not doing it too often. I have not used any insecticides. The plant blooms appear and then fall off after a few days. Do we need bees? I have not seen a single one in Garland County, although they must be somewhere!


AnswerTomato plants produce a complete flower, which means they have the male and female parts together in the same bloom. Wind movement is usually enough to set the fruit, bees are not needed for pollination. Keep in mind that the flowers are only viable for a short period of time, and if the temperatures are hot--above 90-95 during the day and above 70-75 at night, tomatoes won't set fruit. Keep the plants healthy and happy and they should set fruit once the weather straightens out. As long as they are blooming, they are getting enough sunlight.

July 2007

QuestionMy grandmother is having a problem with her tomatoes. It has been happening the last several years. She has had a problem with her tomato plants looking wonderful one day, wilting the next, and dying the day after. She has tried several varieties, and they all have this same problem. 

AnswerFrom the quick death of the plants my guess would be bacterial wilt or possibly one of the vascular wilts--either fusarium or verticillium wilt. All of these tomato diseases are soil born and there is no spray program that will work to prevent them. Cut the lower or main stem and look inside at the vascular tissue. Fusarium wilt causes a dark brown discoloration within the vascular tissue. Fusarium crown rot causes a rot or canker at the base of the stem and possibly a root rot. Bacterial wilt typically causes rapid wilting and death of plants without yellowing or spotting of leaves. Brown discoloration and decay are evident inside the stems of infected plants. The disease is easily diagnosed by suspending a clean, cut section of diseased stem in clear water. A white milky stream of bacterial cells will start to flow out from infected stems into the water after a few minutes. Look for varieties labeled with a VF which are resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt. Do not plant tomatoes, potatoes or eggplant in the affected area for two or three years. No fungicides are labeled for control of any of these problems. If you want an accurate diagnosis of the problem, take one of the dying plants into your local extension office--take the lower crown and roots. They can send it to the disease diagnostic lab for diagnosis. Sanitation is important, and if the problem is in a small section of the garden you can solarize the soil now by removing the diseased plants, wetting the soil thoroughly and covering with clear plastic. Leave it covered for 6-8 weeks and the heat can kill many of the disease organisms..

April 2007

QuestionI just relocated to HSV this month from Dallas. I would like a recommendation of two or three types of tomatoes that can be grown in this area.


AnswerI think everyone has their particular favorite, but most varieties will grow well in Arkansas. The key is to rotate where you plant them each season so the diseases don't build up. In that vein, I would suggest you look for varieties that have V, F and N following their name. This means they are resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and nematodes. Some popular varieties include Celebrity, Big Boy and Sweet 100 for a cherry type. One of my all time favorites is the pink Traveler 76 variety, but it is not always easy to find.

July 2006

QuestionMaybe you can help us on this one. Our tomato plants started to die, and we pulled one up and on the bottom (roots) was some little (looked like) white rocks. You could crush them with your finger. Tomatoes don't taste as good as last year.


AnswerIf you still have the plant handy, take a closer look. Were there small mustard seed like growths at the soil line or at the crown of the plant? Southern stem blight can kill a plant. Usually you will see some small white mustard seed like growths at the base. They will turn brown in time, but usually the plant is on its way out at that point. When you pulled the plants up, had the root system spread out or were the roots stunted and the ends of the roots had the small growths? This could be a root knot nematode. Here is a link to an excellent publication we have on tomatoes with color images to help you pinpoint the problem MP 430 Managing Tomato Diseases in Arkansas. You can also take a sample of a damaged plant in to your local extension office for further diagnosis.

April 2006

QuestionI got a bit anxious this spring and planted my tomato plants in late March. I have covered them with milk jugs on every cool night and thought I had protected them from the several late frosts we had. The plants are still green, but they haven’t grown a bit since I planted them. Do you think these plants will still produce, or should I replant?


AnswerYou aren't alone in getting spring fever early. Many of our outside plants are ahead of schedule as well. Tomatoes don’t like cold soil or air temperatures, and may be sitting there waiting for both to warm up. We have had some pretty cool nights, even when our days did warm up. With temperatures in the 80’s this past week, you should begin to see signs of new growth. Lets hope the plants didn't get shocked by the cool soil. To hedge all bets, plant a few extra plants nearby and see what happens. I don’t like to begin planting tomatoes until mid to late April, and see no problems even with May plantings.

December 2005

QuestionWe had to give up a large landscaped house for a town house in Hot Springs Village. Therefore I have grown tomato plants directly in bags of soil on a sunny deck (with slits in the bottom of the sacks). What tomato variety do you suggest as the very best? Peppers have been successful, grown in bags of soil also; but what variety might you suggest as best? Has squash been successful?


AnswerYou could ask ten different gardeners which variety of tomato is best, and you would probably get ten different answers. We all have our favorites. Usually when we grow tomatoes in containers, which I would classify as the bag method, the bush type of tomatoes is easier to manage. Tomatoes come as either determinate varieties--bush type, or indeterminate--those that keep growing. The determinate ones usually have a stronger stem and don't require the rigid staking. They are usually more manageable in size. For peppers, almost all should perform well. The banana type peppers may not be as nutritionally needy as the bell types, but with proper nutrition and watering, anything is possible. They sell space saving varieties of squash and cucumbers--more bush-like in habit, specifically for containers. 

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