What’s Wrong With My Tomato Plants…They Just Wilted!

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Tomato Wilt Diseases
Everyone loves to grow and eat fresh tomatoes, it’s just a sign of summer for most of us. Things do not always go the way we plan however, such is the case in the photo below from a Hyde County garden.
Tomato plant infected with wilt virus
The issue present in this plant is Southern Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum). This is a common bacterial disease found in North Carolina. The disease shows up in mature plants around mid-summer. It spreads quickly through the soil during heavy rains or watering.

The first symptom is wilted leaves then the plant wilts completely and dies in a matter of days. A quick look at the vascular system shows brown discoloration and a peek at the roots will reveal several black or decayed roots.

The bacteria enter through the roots and eventually clog the water conducting system with bacterial cells and slime. Infected plants will not survive and in fact will die very quickly from the bacteria. The bacteria are in the soil and can be present for years to come, even without a host.

One of the best practices in the garden to combat this disease is sanitation. Remove infected plants, including the roots, immediately and destroy them. If possible, rotate solanaceous crops on a three-year rotation. There are resistant varieties such as Tropic Boy and Neptune or you can graft onto a resistant rootstock. Please see the links at the bottom of this article from NCSU’s Plant, Disease, and Insect Clinic for more information on Southern Bacterial Wilt.

Fusarium Wilt is another soil borne disease that can affect the tomatoes in our area. Symptoms are a general yellowing of leaves followed by the plant completely wilting. This disease will display a brown discoloration in the vascular system as well. Most varieties are resistant to this disease but it still shows up every year in heirloom tomato varieties. One method to diagnose between these two diseases is to cut the stem at the base and then again around 3 inches up the stem from the base. Suspend the 3 inch long piece of stem in water, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Look for a bacterial cloud coming out of the stem. If the bacterial cloud is present then you most likely have Southern Bacterial Wilt and not Fusarium Wilt.

One way to combat both of these diseases is by grafting your plants onto resistant rootstock. Please call your local extension office for more information on grafting tomatoes. There is a link to NC State article “Grafting for Disease Resistance in Heirloom Tomatoes” at the end of the page for more information.

There are other diseases that commonly affect tomatoes such as Early Blight, Late Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot, Bacterial Spot, and Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.

If you suspect you are experiencing any of these problems in the Blacklands Area of Eastern North Carolina (Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties) call Gene Fox at (252)946-0111 or visit the N.C. Cooperative Extension office nearest to you for more information. You can keep up to date with workshops and information by following Blacklands Area Horticulture on Facebook or visiting https://beaufort.ces.ncsu.edu/ or using the link below. Follow Gene Fox on Twitter @Foxplantguy.

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