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Old 18 March 2019, 07:23 PM
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Default Home and garden questions

Spring is pretty much here, at least in my part of the world, and it's time to start thinking about planting gardens. The previous version of this thread hasn't been active since 2017, and has exceeded the number of posts at which threads were typically locked, so I'm starting a new one.

Every year I plant a couple of tomato plants in my backyard. Last year, although the plants did produce some fruit early on, later in the season the plants start to turn brown and die, starting with the oldest leaves. Watering them more didn't help. I'm fairly sure my problem was Fusarium wilt. Most advise I've read on how to deal with the problem say to rotate crops every year so that the same types of plants aren't always in the same spot. I've attempted to do that, except my garden is very small; pretty much just a couple of tomato plants, a couple of pepper plants, and maybe a basil plant. Swapping where I plant the peppers and tomatoes apparently isn't good enough; they're still close enough to last year's location to get the fungus. Is there anything else I can do? I'm wondering if it might be better to just not plant anything this year and let the soil "rest", and return to planting a garden next year, but then I don't get to have garden fresh tomatoes this year.
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Old 18 March 2019, 07:26 PM
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Some tomato plants are supposed to do well in containers. Maybe try to find a couple of those?
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Old 18 March 2019, 07:36 PM
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Quite a lot of tomatoes, including varieties not specifically for the purpose, will do well in containers, if the containers are large enough. I've grown indeterminate heirlooms in five gallon pots.

There are varieties supposed to be resistant to fusarium wilt; you might try some of those. (I'd suggest also checking flavor descriptions, bearing in mind that "mild" may mean "tasteless"; though flavor is also affected by soil type and maybe other location-specific factors, as well as by sunshine and amount of water.)

I'd also suggest, if you do see the symptoms this year, taking a sample to your county extension office and getting it diagnosed, just to make certain you're not dealing with something else.

Also, where are you getting your plants? I'd strongly recommend either starting them from seed yourself, using seed from a reputable seed company; or if you can't do that at least finding a local nursery with a good reputation. You don't want to risk buying plants that are already carrying diseases, even if symptoms aren't apparent yet at purchase.
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Old 18 March 2019, 07:38 PM
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I am a good 45 days from planting season, but I plan to plant tomatoes as I do every year. I live for the few months each year that I get fresh tomatoes from my own plants.

I often plant a few other items, but they are just sacrifices to the tomato gods.
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Old 18 March 2019, 07:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
Quite a lot of tomatoes, including varieties not specifically for the purpose, will do well in containers, if the containers are large enough. I've grown indeterminate heirlooms in five gallon pots.
Back when I lived in an apartment I used to grown them in containers on the balcony. I think they actually did better than the ones I've grown in the ground. I'm guessing the soil I was using in the containers was better than the soil in my garden, which had previously just been lawn until I tilled it up. Although it has gotten better after years of adding compost and tilling the previous year's plants under.

Quote:
Also, where are you getting your plants? I'd strongly recommend either starting them from seed yourself, using seed from a reputable seed company; or if you can't do that at least finding a local nursery with a good reputation. You don't want to risk buying plants that are already carrying diseases, even if symptoms aren't apparent yet at purchase.
Last year, if I remember correctly, I got them all from a vendor selling them at the farmers market. Some years, though, I got them from the garden center at Lowe's.
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Old 19 March 2019, 01:56 AM
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Peppers and tomatoes are closely related enough that swapping them isn't considered sufficient for crop rotation-based disease control. Best to alternate with beans, squash, etc.

However, given the small space, you may be right that it's a lost cause at this point.

Like Thorny Locust, I've had good luck with tomatoes (even varieties not traditionally considered "container" plants) in 5-gallon Home Depot buckets.
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Old 19 March 2019, 02:22 AM
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"Blight", which is what my SIL (A professional plant pathologist) calls it, can be tough to deal with when it shows up. As soon as you see the first hints of it, immediately cut off the afflicted leaves and remove them from the area. Don't leave them on the plant, and don't let them drop onto the soil. Then "sterilize" (Rubbing alcohol works well) what you used to cut them off. Never "compost" old tomato plants, even if they appeared healthy. Never.

Speaking of compost, I avoid using municipal compost. You just don't know what other people have put into what they bring to the compost sites, and that includes diseased plants. (Of all sorts.)

When you plant in the spring, if you can, get seedlings that are tall, and cut the first few leaves off of the bottom. This allows you to plant the root ball deeper into the soil, and makes the plants a bit more dry-spell tolerant. Never allow the bottom leaves to touch the ground. Keep trimming the bottom ones off if they start to touch. When you water, avoid getting the leaves wet, and try to avoid having the water splash off of the ground up onto the leaves.

Even if you don't plant any tomatoes in the soil for a couple of years, the fungus will lay dormant in the ground until you plant more tomatoes. The only true way to eliminate it, is to dig out the soil a couple of feet down and replace it with fresh soil certified disease and fungus free from a reputable supply house.

Containers can work, but they should be a decent size. I've found smaller containers tend to stunt the plant growth. A tomato "bonsai" if you will. You'll need to water and feed them religiously. I grow “bush” type cucumber plants in wine barrel halves, and have had good luck with that. Every few years, I replace the soil in them with fresh soil, and rotate the old stuff into a garden with more tolerant plants like DW’s flower beds.

I also mulch the soil. (Both garden and container.) Again, I don’t use the “municipal” stuff. A good layer of mulch seems to help delay any onset quite a bit.

All of the above advice has been related to me over the years from my aforementioned SIL, and my oldest son who is a master gardener, and is in charge of the Minneapolis formal rose garden in Lyndale Park. ( I figure he must know what he’s talking about.)

Anyway, that's what I do in my gardens. We've lived here for 21 years now, and blight showed up within 2 years of my first garden in the back yard. Hope some of that helps out.

Last edited by DrRocket; 19 March 2019 at 02:32 AM.
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Old 19 March 2019, 02:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
Never "compost" old tomato plants, even if they appeared healthy. Never.
This, I think, was likely my mistake. Each year when they died in the winter I'd leave them there to compost and tilled them under the next spring, thinking it was helping the soil. Apparently I was doing the opposite.

I'm thinking I'll grow them in containers this year and just turn the current garden site back into lawn, and then maybe if I'm feeling ambitious next year I'll build a raised garden in a completely different spot. The current spot isn't exactly the sunniest part of the yard anyway; I just picked it because it was the back corner of the yard and out of the way. Really, though, right in the middle of the yard would be the best spot in terms of sunlight.
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Old 19 March 2019, 02:52 AM
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Late blight, early blight, and fusarium wilt are three different things. [ETA: I note one of those links shows potatoes -- not only peppers, but also potatoes are related to tomatoes.] Again, I suggest taking samples in to Extension for diagnosis. They can also probably line you up with soil tests (not for disease, but for nutritional levels.)

I would really advise against buying plants at the big box stores. A few years ago they infected most of the Northeast with late blight -- so called because it usually doesn't get this far north till late in the season. It was early that year. Farmers as well as gardeners lost huge amounts of crop. The farmers' market is probably a better choice; but check that the farmer grew the plants themselves from seed. At some markets (not all -- ask the market manager for the rules of the particular market) anybody can bring anything from anywhere; though I think some states require producer-only restrictions at farmers' markets.
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Old 19 March 2019, 03:19 AM
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Originally Posted by WildaBeast View Post
...and then maybe if I'm feeling ambitious next year I'll build a raised garden in a completely different spot...
That's what I ended up doing. My son helped me build three raised beds, and I'm glad I did it. Makes it easier to manage the soil. It makes it easier to defend against rabbits. (Our area is wabbit city! ) Another plus is I don't have to bend over quite as far for weeding and tilling.

I'm very lucky in that I get all my seedlings from my SIL, and son who have facilities available to them for such things.
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Old 19 March 2019, 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
When you water, avoid getting the leaves wet, and try to avoid having the water splash off of the ground up onto the leaves.
Okay, I've heard the first bit of this before, but never the second.

I also don't see, if the leaves are so delicate, why rain doesn't destroy them. I mean, don't the leaves get wet when it rains?

Seaboe
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Old 19 March 2019, 02:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
Late blight, early blight, and fusarium wilt are three different things. [ETA: I note one of those links shows potatoes -- not only peppers, but also potatoes are related to tomatoes.]
Eggplant, too.
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Old 19 March 2019, 03:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
Okay, I've heard the first bit of this before, but never the second.

I also don't see, if the leaves are so delicate, why rain doesn't destroy them. I mean, don't the leaves get wet when it rains?

Seaboe
Wet leaves create conditions where microorganisms like to grow. It's especially important not to splash both water and soil onto them, as the microorganisms hang out in the soil. Rain will also make the leaves wet, and can splash soil up on to the plant. The point of not doing it when watering is to minimize those conditions. And here in the Northwest, with summer being the dry season, it can make a big difference.
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Old 19 March 2019, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by musicgeek View Post
Eggplant, too.
And Chinese lantern. And deadly nightshade.

And I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting something. -- oh yes. Tobacco. And petunia. And some other stuff.

Solanacea family.

-- and yes, the problem with getting leaves wet isn't the water; it's that many disease organisms need water to grow. Some of those organisms live in the soil; others may be blowing around in the wind, if there are infected plants upwind -- in some cases even if it's quite a few miles upwind.
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Old 19 March 2019, 05:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
Then "sterilize" (Rubbing alcohol works well) what you used to cut them off.
Speaking of this, should I clean my garden tools before I use them this year, in case they're contaminated with infected soil? Of course I won't be using hoes and rakes if I plant in containers, but I do have a hand trowel that I will likely be using. What would be a good way to clean it?
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Old 20 March 2019, 01:17 AM
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I start my gardening year every spring by cleaning all my tools using a good household disinfectant, and a good stiff brush.

Also, what Erwin said is the way my son "splained" it to me. You really can't do much about the rain splashing them, of course, but you can do something about when you water them. As far as the rain goes, I trim the bottom leaves on my tomatoes so there's approx 2-3" between the bottom leaves and the soil.
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