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Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 7:47 pm
Location: Sydney, Australia

Thin leaves, curling, stunted growth

Please help!
This is my second year attempting to grow indeterminate heirloom tomatoes. Last year I grew the plants from seed purchased from a reputable organic seed bank/nursery. I planted them out (late in the season, admittedly) into raised organic beds prepared according to books and websites I had read. They grew fine for a month or so, some of them getting up to about 4 feet, until I noticed the new growth on one of them beginning to curl down and round on itself, and the leaves produced were thinner and lighter green then they had been. This was a plant in a pot next to the raised beds. Soon another young plant in the bed was displaying the same characteristics, then another, and another, until they all were. I also had another plant eight or so metres away planted directly into a normal (not specially organically prepared) garden bed, and it started displaying the same characteristics. As time went on, the new growth became more and more stunted and curled, until eventually it would just kind of wither and die. The plants continued to try to put out flowers, but these would just wither and drop off. The flowers that had been produced early on, and were bearing fruit, produced healthy fruit, the flowers further up which had fruit on them when whatever was going wrong started going wrong developed a sort of brown, hard texture on them, and were stunted and eventually cracked. The only plant which seemed to do okay (although it did have some of these characteristics) was a hybrid I'd bought from a garden centre (this plant went on to survive the winter and is now a 17-foot monster pushing hundreds of perfectly lovely cherry tomatoes out - and it's still just the beginning of our season - Sweet Bite it was called).

So I put the problems with the tomato plants down to inexperience, possibly a disease, possibly some sap-sucking bug, maybe I planted them too late in the season, we had an exceptionally hot, dry summer last year - I didn't know. I gave up, greatly disheartened.

This year, I'm trying again, I've moved heirlooms grown from seed to a new organic bed. And I've planted some in large pots - some with organic soil, some with super-charged not organic soil. And to my absolute horror, some of the plants are beginning to display the same characteristics. At this point just the plants in the pots (but they are older than the ones I've put into the raised bed).

So I was hoping someone might be able to suggest something to stop whatever's going wrong now before it becomes too advanced. My gardening mother-in-law and my father both suggested lack of water. I was watering them every couple of days (so as not to overwater) but now I've started watering once a day - to see if there's any change.

I'm convinced it's something I'm doing wrong, as there's a tomato plant which self-seeded down the back of our garden, in old, sandy, non-especially fertilised soil, and I've been sort of ignoring it, occasionally watering it, not feeding it - and it's absolutely healthy - though now I've started paying attention to it I'm pretty sure it will keel over and die.

So can anyone please help? Am I over watering? Underwatering? Over feeding? Under feeding? Is there a mineral deficiency? It's going to kill me if my tomato plants all go the same way this season. Should I just start ignoring them? (I did notice some of the plants last season, after I'd completely given up, and once the weather started cooling, had begun to push out fruit - but only tiny amounts.)

Here's some photos of the plant which is leading the pack in the characteristics I'm talking about.




This is some kind of heirloom (I'm not sure which as the seed packet I got was a "ten colour tomato mix") planted in organic potting mix. This plant was having its soil soaked through every second or third day - but for the past four days this plant has been soaked through every night. You'll notice all the big dark green leaves down the bottom? They were pushed out when I fertilised with a seaweed fertiliser early on prior to flowers forming and all the plants put out all this green foliage. I haven't fertilised this plant in about three or so weeks. I usually use organic seaweed fertiliser and/or worm tea. Although when the symptoms first started, I wondered if the organic soil might be slightly nutrient deficient, so I put a thin layer of well composted manure on top - but it doesn't seem to have made any change to anything. I gave it a weak feed of seaweed fertiliser last night - so will see if that makes any difference over the next few days or week.

Another plant - planted in the supercharged non-organic soil - was starting to go the same way, but since upping the frequency of watering it seems to have stabilised a little in regards to the new growth - but all the older leaves below are still curled upwards. As seen in this photo:


And you can see the new growth is a little curled in this one:


And finally here's a photo of a tomato plant that's healthy because I completely ignore it:


Though I wonder if once it starts flowering/fruiting if it might go the same way?

Thank you in advance to anyone who has any ideas about what might be going on with these plants.

Kind regards.

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Thanks for the very detailed post with lots of pics. Often people write in saying what's wrong with my tomato, but give hardly any info on which to base an answer.

That said, I really don't have an answer (we've got a few people around here that know a lot more about tomato diseases than I do; hopefully one will come by).

But to start with, you have two tomato plants in a pot that looks too small to grow one tomato plant in. That wouldn't cause the problem per se, but it could help stress them, competing with each other, make them more vulnerable to whatever it is. And those two plants besides the leaf curl issue, just generally do not look very healthy - pale, slender, stretched out, not well branched. They aren't getting enough of something... The stretched out effect is often from not enough sunlight. Are they in full sun? In the picture they appear to be right next to a tall fence, which would indicate they would be shaded a good part of the day. Tomatoes need at least 6 preferably 8 hrs of direct sun a day.

If you get all the basics of sun, water, nutrients right, the tomatoes will be much better able to take care of themselves and resist infections.
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Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 7:47 pm
Location: Sydney, Australia

Thanks so much for the reply.

It's actually just one plant in the pot - but I'd been told that the way to grow tomato plants was to create two leaders to send up two stakes (though I've since decided that putting support AROUND the plants and just letting them do their thing seems to work better).

And I actually just moved the plant to in front of the fence so it could be discerned better (because it was getting lost in all the greenery around when I took photos). It's actually in full sun for probably six hours a day.

I absolutely agree there's something it's not getting, I just have no idea what? I suppose I can try moving it so it gets even more sun - but as I said, a lot of my other plants last year got this exact same look about them - and they were all getting at least eight hours full sun a day.

Again, thank you very much for the suggestions.

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