Q: This is my first year vegetable gardening in 12 years. My tomato plants (Big Girl) have just recently developed some branches whose leaves have started to curl. I cut back on watering recently because I've heard that daily watering produces lots of leaves but fewer fruits. Is this my problem?
Also, I just bought some seed packets for 10/$1.00. Will these be good next spring?
Jean from Connecticut
Curling leaves can be the start of several different tomato diseases: Curly Top, Mosaic, and Fusarium all start this way. However, if no additional symptoms appear, you simply have a case of Tomato Leaf Roll. This occurs more characteristically with certain varieties (Big Boy, for example) and although it is somewhat a mystery, it usually shows up after excessive rainfall or over watering. When the soil stays wet for too long, the older leaves on the lower half of the plant start to curl (roll) upward. In a few days, after the soil dries out, it may just go away. It's also thought that this condition can be caused by intense sunlight, which causes the accumulation of carbohydrates in the plant. It doesn't seem to have an adverse affect on yields, so unless other symptoms follow, it's nothing to worry about. Even feeding and watering about 1 inch per week (more in hotter parts of the country) will produce the best yields. Water in the morning and from the bottom of the plant to keep leaves dry and help prevent disease.
As far as the seeds you purchased, most seeds packed this year (check the date on that package) will still be viable next year providing you store them in a cool, dry place over winter.
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If I am correct in thinking that you live in Louisiana, and you have had a lot of rain very recently (as have I in Central Texas,) then a good guess would be that the plants have had way too much water. Are you also noticing that the tips of some of the leaves appear to be turning brown? Some hot dry weather should take care of that. However, if you start to notice holes in the leaves, white spots, etc., you may be dealing with some sort of insect infestation.
If you want to err on the side of caution, you can use regular dish soap. I use a tiny amount of dish soap and dilute it in a substantial amount of water, probably something like 10:1, and spray the plants with that. The dish soap sometimes successfully washes the insects away, and saves the plant. You don't have to worry about doing this when there is fruit on the plant because the dish soap is perfectly harmless. I hope this helps. (06/07/2005)
It could be a disease that is in the soil. Or it could be from smoking cigarettes then touching the plant without washing your hands. If I were you I would get rid of those plants and buy new disease resistant ones. (06/07/2005)
Mine were doing that and my mother said they weren't getting enough water and that they need about a gallon a day. I was shocked, but it started raining like crazy and now they are big and healthy and have lots of tomatoes on them. I also put a little vegetable fertilizer around them (not up by the plant itself) and the rain washed it into the soil. (06/08/2005)
Can't say that I've ever had that problem with my tomatoes, (leaf curl) but if I may offer a few suggestions on a healthy tomato plant, then please read on.
When I first plant my seeds in January for a small backyard garden, I place them in a seed tray and put them in my bedroom window (it gets the most sun and/or daylight). During the day, I put a piece of Saran Wrap over the top of the tray right after spraying (make sure you spray and not drown your seeds by pouring on the water). At night, I remove the wrap so no mildew forms during the winter months. By the way, I place a heating pad under the tray and keep it on low at all times (unless it gets hot outside, of course) until the seedlings start to appear. Then turn off the heating pad. When the seedlings have at least four leaves on them, plant in two to four inch seedling plastic planters. I sometimes just use Styrofoam cups with three holes for drainage punctured on the sides towards the bottom of the cup. Early in the morning, after watering the seedlings it is safe now to actually water them carefully; I run the flat bottom part of my hand over the tops of the plants (remember to actually brush the leaves with the palms of your hands). For some reason this strengthens the stalk. I've heard that the nitrogen from your breath (talking to them) helps in their growth as well.
When the tomato plant looks sturdy enough, start putting your plants outside in the daytime to harden off. If it's a really windy day or a bit too cool, I sometimes put my seedlings into a mini green house (a structure with two shelves and plastic wrap that zips around it) that I purchased from Big Lots for $20 apiece two or three years ago. Remember to bring them in at night.
When all threat of frost is gone, plant your seedlings with the stem "sideways" rather than straight in the ground. This insures a stronger plant. Set in about 3 or 4 solid stakes around the plant right away. You'll need these to help support your plants at a later date. The herb Basil makes for good companion planting as well. It wards off certain insects detrimental to the tomato. Planting some marigolds close by also seems to help ward off the pesky critters. Using these methods almost always insures me of good, healthy tomatoes. I haven't even seen a Hornworm in several years. Of course, you might want to keep an eye out for them just in case. Don't forget to fertilize. I use a liquid fertilizer Miracle Gro is my favorite about every 4 to 6 weeks, depending. Used coffee grounds help with these acidic plants as well.
If you follow these procedures, you should have a healthy plant with great tasting tomatoes. Also, don't forget to water early in the a.m. or in the evening hours as often as needed. I live in North Central California and it gets really hot here in the summer, so I water at least once a day sometimes twice. Remember this depends on where you live and how hot it gets.
As for the leaf curl, I think I'd just dig the plant up and discard. Remember to rotate your crops every year or two.
Good luck and good eating.
Mary M. (06/08/2005)
By Mary M.
Just wanted to add my thoughts on your tomatoes. I am having the same problem. Three of my heirloom tomatoes are in huge pots on the patio. They are different varieties. But they all have the lower leaves curling up, with the very tips of some brown and crunchy. The plants are otherwise healthy and growing with buds and some fruit. I was and still am a little puzzled.
But after researching the problem and talking to growers, I think my problem is caused by the fact that they are in containers, and have been recently, severely pruned. I cut off the lower stems and shoots to prevent the leaves from getting diseases by touching the dirt and getting splash back from watering. I have also been doing some inconsistent watering. So if you have been doing a lot of pruning, or training the plants to grow on stakes this could cause it. And the sites I looked at all said that it wouldn't affect the fruit. I ruled out the disease "tomato leaf curl" because the leaves curl downward not upwards. Hope this is encouraging. Bye (07/08/2005)
More water helped mine when leaves curled. You can keep seed packets up to a year in the refrigerator.
Hope this helps. (08/08/2005)
By Rev. Alex
This year I planted some tomato seeds from tomatoes in my father's garden. He died 27 years ago, so the seeds are older than 27 years. They came up fine and I have some lovely plants waiting to give birth to the beautiful tomatoes which my father grew. I am excited to see what they will be like. Wow! the miracle of life. (06/18/2007)
My Big Boy leaves curled too at the bottom (older leaves) just as you all have mentioned, but there is plenty of new growth at the top that is unaffected. I live in southern California desert and it gets very hot here (it's been 100F every day this summer). I water three times a day for 4 minutes (7am, 12pm, 2pm) on a drip system to avoid wilting leaves at mid-day which in the past induced stress and lead to disease (it took me a while to figure that out). I also hose down my plants at night because otherwise they get no moisture whatsoever on their foliage which also leads to disease and infestation (such as spider mites which have killed my whole vegetable garden three years running).
For the first time in three years I have healthy plants. So, the Big Boys did drop their flowers for the first 6 weeks, probably due to too much water and too much heat, and a few leaves curled but they're alive still. They're about 7' tall now and I noticed three tomatoes that have set and they seem healthy. (08/06/2008)
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