Garden Help Desk: Keep an eye on your tomatoes this summer | News, Sports, Jobs

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Plants that are affected by the mystery tomato disease develop yellow leaves as they decline.

The disheartening thing about gardening is that plants die through no fault of yours. This year it is happening to tomatoes in many parts of the county and along the Wasatch front. There have been many calls to the Utah County Extension Office from local gardeners about this. Neighborhood-sized areas may be affected while adjacent areas are not.

Roma-type dough tomatoes seem to be dying off at a faster rate than other varieties, although other varieties are also in decline. Affected plants appear to be stunted, turning light green, then yellow with leaf scorch developing on the leaves, then they die. This decline occurs within a few weeks.

The original suspect was a viral illness — Curly top. It is spread by an insect called the beet leafhopper, and leafhopper pressure has been reported to be higher than normal this year. However, affected tomato plants are declining faster than expected with curly top disease, and there also appears to be a lack of good root development mixed with some root rot on infected plants. The only conclusion so far from samples submitted to the Utah State University Diagnostic Laboratory campus is that the curly top does not appear to be the cause. Additional tests are ongoing.

No matter what happens, there is probably no spray treatment to prevent plants from declining or becoming infected. It’s disheartening, but digging up infected plants from the garden and throwing them away is all you can do. Also, do not compost affected plants or tomatoes.

Some garden centers in Utah County may still have tomato plants, but if so, it won’t be for long. If you can find short season varieties such as Early Girl or Fourth of July, you may still have time to replant for a harvest towards the end of the gardening season. There is also still time to plant sweet corn and short-season green beans. The time to plant cool season crops for the late fall harvest is also fast approaching. Some of them could be interspersed among the remaining tomatoes.

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It is best to remove tomato plants affected by this mysterious disease, as they are very unlikely to recover and be productive.

Although the cause of this relatively widespread tomato decline is not certain, it is happening. The silver lining in all of this is that there should still be enough healthy plants that we can still enjoy fresh local tomatoes, even though they may not come from our gardens.

I have about eight fruit trees that have been in the ground for between 2 and 6 years. Most of them were planted with bare roots. How much water should they drink and how often? Can you give me quantifiable amounts of time or water for the operation of our drip system? We are trying to determine if the trees have had enough. With the drip system, we wonder if we put all the water in at once or if we have to water several times during the night.

There is no single amount of weather or water for landscapes. Your soil type, plant size and type, water quality, time of year, weather, and your landscape’s microclimates are all factors.

Most of an established tree’s feeder roots are in the top 6 to 24 inches of the ground. You’ll want the water to dip at least 12 to 18 inches into the ground to give your tree a deep soak, but you don’t need to water them frequently. Your established trees should still be soaked thoroughly, but no more than once a week during the heat of summer and less often in the spring and fall. Try tweaking your drip system a bit to make sure part of the system will water a spot in your orchard where nothing is growing. Run your drip system for about an hour, wait several hours, then dig where nothing is growing and see how far the water has moved. With this information, you can do a bit of math to determine how long you need to run your system for your fruit trees in your soil.

Be sure to consider all water sources for your trees. If your fruit trees are in the lawn or within 10 feet of the lawn, you should also consider lawn watering as tree watering.

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Stunted growth, pale color, curling or curling leaves, and twisted growth are some of the symptoms of the mysterious tomato disease.

It is not necessary to run your drip system with multiple short segments. The drip system will already give a slow soak. If you need to split the watering time, you can run your drip for half the time needed, wait about an hour, and then run it for the second half.

When fruit trees are planted near lawns, lawn watering should be included in all fruit tree watering calculations.


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