Tomato Troubles (aka Mid-August Update - Part 3)

So lastly in my mid (to late) August update are the tomatoes.  Back in April I described each of the varieties that I am growing this year.  I planted them in two different areas.  The first area gets a bit more sun than the second area.  The tomatoes in both sections have done very well with those in the shadier bed predictably producing less and taking longer to ripen than those in the sunnier beds.
Tomato Beds in the Sunnier Area
Tomato Bed in the Shadier Area
A closer look reveals that I have had to strip quite a few leaves from the plants.
Tomato Stems - Bare Bottoms
Removing the leaves is one of the tactics that I am using in managing disease.  And this year, the tomatoes have been graced with three different diseases - oh joy.


Early Blight

This was the first disease I noticed way back in early July.  Our weather in June was warm and wet – prime conditions for early blight.  It first showed up on the Aunt Ruby Yellow Cherry, Siberian and Bloody Butcher plants and now has spread to most every tomato plant in varying degrees.

First Signs of Early Blight
As early blight lesions get older, they form concentric rings
which you can see just starting to develop in the center of the top lesion
The plants most impacted by this disease have been the less vigorous varieties.  Aunt Ruby is one of the most vigorous tomato plants so removing the yellowing leaves has had relatively little impact on it.  Siberian and Bloody Butcher, however, are now looking very bare.  They are still putting out a few flowers here and there but they have little energy to give the tiny tomatoes that form and so they are simply falling off.  I don’t think these plants will last much longer than another week or two.

Bloody Butcher at the End of the Bed
Barely hanging on
Siberian Looking Equally Sad
Lots of tomatoes but hardly any leaves left
I am very impressed by the two hybrids I purchased - Mountain Merit & Mountain Magic - both of which are supposed to be early AND late blight resistant.  Although they both have had a yellowing leaf here and there (in fact Mountain Merit was one of the first to have a yellow leaf which is why, earlier in the season, I was not certain whether or not this was blight), they are doing very well with lots of lush growth & tons of tomatoes.  These pictures were taken just this morning:

Mountain Merit F1 - Determinate (Beefsteak Type)
Mountain Magic F1 - Indeterminate (Salad Type)

Early blight can also sometimes infect the stems and the fruits.  So far, I have not found any stem or fruit affected by it, which is a good thing.

Late Blight

A few weeks ago I noticed a very different type of disease on the Gypsy tomato and as soon as I saw it my first thought was late blight, which I had never encountered before.  Oddly enough, Gypsy is the one heirloom that shows no signs of early blight.

Late blight just getting hold of this leaf
Severely Infected Leaf

The fact that late blight is a fungus is very apparent on these leaves.
Further confirmation that we were dealing with late blight came in the last couple of weeks when I started seeing dark blotches on the Gypsy stems (stem lesions).
Late Blight Stem Lesions
More Advanced Late Blight Stem Lesion on Gypsy Main Stem
Both types of blight thrive in wet weather.  But unlike the warm conditions preferred by early blight, late blight prefers cool weather, which we have had a LOT of this summer.  Since early July, our average day has felt more like fall than summer and the nights have been downright chilly sweater weather.

Gypsy is the only variety that is significantly impacted so far but I have noticed some stem lesions on a couple of the Ildi trusses, Ildi being right next to Gypsy.  I have 3 Gypsy plants, two in the sunnier area and one in the shadier area, and both are affected, roughly to the same extent.  They each have quite a lot of fruit on them still so I am picking it as soon as I see the first hint of a blush as I know that late blight can also infect the fruit, especially now as it has progressed onto the stems.

Septoria Leaf Spot

The last disease in our lineup is Septoria leaf spot.  Back in July, I saw some of the Yellow Pear leaves looking like this:
Septoria Leaf Spot
This photo was taken on July 29, around the time I first noticed it
Septoria Leaf Spot on Yellow Pear Plant
This photo was taken today
It looks similar to early blight, but the spots are small and more numerous and there is a lightish area in the center of each spot.

I recognized it right away.  Why?  Because I had the same disease last year – on that same variety.  So I’m thinking that my seed is infected.  Considering that the majority of my plants are heirlooms, I think that it is quite the coincidence that only this variety showed the initial signs of Septoria leaf spot two years in a row.  That’s another packet of seed in the garbage.

The leaf spot has remained relatively local to the Yellow pear plant (of which I have only one), spreading only somewhat to the surrounding plants, primarily Bloody Butcher & Siberian.  The fact that all of these plants were already struggling with early blight didn't help matters.  On the bright side, Septoria does not impact the fruit at all and I have actually seen a significant slow-down of the disease on the Yellow Pear in the last week or so.  It is a relatively vigorous plant so I'm hopeful that it will survive to the end of the season.

Yellow Pear Tomato
Bare from a double whammy of early blight
& Septoria leaf spot but still producing
So to summarize – hot, wet June gave use early blight; cool, wet July & August gave us late blight; infected seeds gave us Septoria leaf spot.  Just lovely.

I think that I have been able to keep ahead of these diseases (so far anyway), even though 10 of the 12 varieties I am growing are heirlooms, for several reasons.
  • Removing Low Lying Leaves/Branches, Lightly Mulching & Improving Air Circulation - Back in June, once the tomato plants had really started to grow well, I trimmed off all the leaves that were touching the ground and applied a light mulch of straw to the bed to minimize splash-back of the soil, which can contribute to the spreading of disease.  My plants are fairly closely spaced – 24” apart in 2 staggered rows 12” apart – so I also thinned out a lot of the foliage a couple of times to improve air circulation.
  • Removing Diseased Leaves - Every few days I go out there and pick off the diseased leaves.  These go straight into the garbage, not the compost pile.  I make sure to do this when the plants are dry so that I minimize the spread of the disease(s) and I do dip my pruners into alcohol to disinfect them two or three times during each trimming session.  Technically, you should probably do this after each plant, but that would just be too time consuming as I let them air dry each time I dip them so that the alcohol has a bit of time to do it's job.
  • Starting With & Encouraging Lush Growth - All of the plants grew very well early on and were strong and lush when the diseases struck.  This gave them plenty of healthy leaves to fall back on when I started to remove the diseased leaves/branches and allowed them to continue to photosynthesize at a good rate, producing more new growth and setting more tomatoes.  I have also been applying a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks (more or less) during the season in an effort to maintain a good rate of growth.  The Aunt Ruby Yellow Cherry was the first to be affected by early blight back in June but it is also one of the most vigorous growers, so it has been more than able to outpace the disease.

Aunt Ruby Yellow Cherry
This vigorous grower still has abundant leaves even though it was one of the first
infected with early blight.
I also started to use a milk spray on the plants every couple of weeks or so – I'm not really sure if this benefited them or not but I had read that milk sprays can help with disease so figured I would give it a shot.

And now for a peak at the ripening tomatoes.

Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry

Bloody Butcher


Costoluto Genovese


J's Mystery Tomato
This one was brought home from a school field trip

Mountain Magic F1

Mountain Merit F1

Purple Cherokee


Speckled Roman

Yellow Pear
Ildi (in the last photo) is a multiflora variety which produces a huge quantity of fruit on a single truss.  There must have been at least 40 tomatoes on the truss in the picture.  I often find myself just staring at the huge trusses - they are simply amazing.

Our first fall frost date is on October 3rd & tomato season will likely be over in another 3 weeks or so.  I have my fingers crossed that my plants (well, most of them anyway) keep chugging along & providing us with lots of gorgeous tomatoes until then.

This post was shared on Green Thumb Thursdays.

Till next time…


  1. I know you have a lot of diseases going on in there, but it seems like you are having a decent tomato season. Tomatoes are just so disease prone. That is one thing I don't regret about having to give them up.

    1. That is so true - I think it's rare to find anyone that grows tomatoes and hasn't had to deal with a some sort of disease. It's just the price you have to pay, I guess.

  2. That's some great info on tomatoes diseases! I am fortunate to have never had either of the blights on my tomatoes. But I do occasionally get some Septoria, usually early in the season if it's been rainy. The plants usually come through it ok.

    1. Boy you ARE lucky! Our weather is usually very humid during the summer so I have a feeling that I will have to deal with some sort of tomato disease each year.

  3. I remember from my days working the Master Gardener hotline that we had an entire book about tomato diseases that we could refer to. It was a rather thick book with lots of ugly scary photos and every time I looked at it I wondered why anyone in their right mind would ever bother to try to grow such a disease prone plant, except of course that tomatoes are so delicious and we gardeners are always up for a challenge, aren't we! My tomatoes are looking just as bad as yours with the leaves from the lower third or more of the plants stripped off, only I've not bothered to figure out what the problems are.

    1. There's certainly no lack of challenge in the vegetable garden, especially when it comes to the solanacea family. That sounds like quite the book!

    2. Early blight and septoria leaf blight have been rampant around the community garden. I think one of my tomatoes now has late blight. But it's almost September and I have plenty of tomatoes so I am not going to stress. By the way, it looks like you have a lot of beautiful tomatoes ripening for you, so you have done well with all the challenges.

    3. Thanks David - that is a great perspective. Even if all my plants keeled over right now, I am still miles ahead of where I was last year, so that's definitely something to be grateful for.

  4. Looks like you are going to have a tomato harvest in spite of all the diseases. Your persistence is paying off! Nancy

    1. You said it - I'm very happy with my tomato harvests, that's for sure!

  5. Yes I totally agree, you've done amazingly despite the diseases, fantastic crops. And still more to come!

    1. It has been a chore trying to keep ahead of these diseases, but definitely well worth it.


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