What’s wrong with my tomato plant?

This has some excerpts from an earlier post in 2015 in June and new info as well in 2016. We are experiencing heavy pressure from the Beet Leafhopper which transmit a virus called Curly Top Virus (CTV) to tomato plants now in 2016. Please read below.

Photo credits: curly top disease - photo courtesy of http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3352

Curly Top Virus (CTV) on tomatoes
Last year, the Beet Leafhopper which transmits ‘Curly Top Tomato Virus’ was rampant in our gardens and devastated many of our tomato plants. I lost only 1 plants out of 125  in 2015 to it but only because I take extraordinary measures to protect them. Here is some information on the beet leafhopper, how to identify it, symptoms and how to protect your plants.

The Beet Leafhopper flies in on the winds in early June through early July, jump on the tomato plants and taste them. It is a big problem in the Southwest and inland in California where it is hot. They don’t even like to eat tomato plants but sample them, transmitting the disease in the process, then fly off to visit other plants.

Identifying Beet Leafhoppers
The beet leafhopper is very small-about 1/8 inch long, pale green to light brownish green and has wings that look like a tent when folded up vs spread out like a moth. See photo on left. They come when conditions are dry, hot and windy. Sound familiar? This is typical June-early July weather here in the greater Santa Fe area.

You will know if they are in your garden as they come in and when you walk around your garden, you’ll see jumping little green bugs that fly off when you walk by. Then they leave—flying to the next garden. Because of this, you can’t really spray anything to get them because they hop so fast and only stay in the garden a short time—here today, gone tomorrow. By the time you notice something is wrong with your tomato plant, they are long gone. It takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to show up.

 

Symptoms
Your tomato plant leaves will start to curl and the underside of the leaves and veins will turn a purplish color.

curly top virus_helthy plant

Tomato Curly Top Virus-beginning stages on left and advanced stages on right


The leaves then start to wilt and the plant will look stunted. You might think it needs water but it doesn’t, it is sick and won’t recover. There is no cure for tomato plants with this disease. ‘Curly-Top Virus’ is only transmitted from bug to plant and is NOT transmitted from plant to plant hence you will see a healthy plant next to a sick plant. The pictures above show 2 plants with curly top. The first one is beginning to be sick with curly leaves and the veins will turn purple.  The second plant in the picture is advanced.

There is NO CURE for this virus and if your tomato (or pepper for that matter) shows signs of the disease, you should pull the plant. You could leave the plant in BUT if another wave of leafhoppers come by and a healthy leafhopper bites your sick plant, it only takes 10 minutes in 90°F weather for it to be able to transmit the disease to one of your healthy plants. The best thing to do is pull any sick plant and dispose of it. I don’t compost ANY tomato plant that shows disease.

Here are some remedies:
• Leafhoppers do not like shade and if your plants are partly shaded, that may help keep them off but since most of us grow tomatoes in full sun that might be difficult.

Create a physical barrier with row cover

Put row cover over tomato plants

• The main thing I do is create a physical barrier between the bugs and the plants.  I now cover all tomato plants with row cover until the bugs leave. Wrap the row cover around your tomato cage and put a piece on top of the cage BEFORE they come. I observe they either leave or are suppressed after the monsoons come in July when it is cooler and wetter. After the monsoons roll in, I take off the row covers BUT NOT UNTIL THEN.  I hope they come in soon as they are late right now. Tomatoes are self pollinating so they aren’t pollinated by bees or other pollinators. Another thing I’ve noticed is many of my purple or black tomato varieties seem to get hit hard. I wonder if they give off something that attracts the leafhopper? Right now all of my tomatoes are covered.

• Lastly you could put out some tomatoes later in the season after the bugs leave but you’ll have to put in early season varieties so you can still harvest before the season ends. I buy gallon size at that point so as not to be too far behind. Agua Fria Nursery still has 1 gallon tomatoes as of now. A couple of years ago when I was out at the Santa Fe Community Garden, I noticed many rows of sick tomato plants but one row of perfectly healthy plants and when I asked about them, it turned out they were put out about a month later than the rest of them and by then the leafhoppers were gone.

Dry, sunny, windy weather are perfect conditions for the leafhoppers so look out this summer-conditions are ripe again until the monsoons come!

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IMPORTANT NOTE:Now there are three cases where you may think you have curly top virus but may or may not have it.

Denver Downs Farm, Anderson, SC; High temperature on black plastic; lower leaves only.

Physiological Leaf Roll-Photo courtesy Clemson University

The first condition that may not be Tomato Curly top Virus is Physiological Leaf Roll that can happen on some tomatoes and could be caused by various factors including stress and that is not necessarily curly top-if you plant has rolled leaves but no purple veins as shown above, it possibly has physiological leaf roll and look for why it may be stressed. It is getting enough water, too much water, too much nitrogen? Also drought, pruning, root damage and transplant shock can all be reasons for leaf roll. For more info on this condition go here.

purple tomato_purlple leaves

Phosphorus deficiency in tomatoes happen when the weather is still cold-not in June.

The second condition is early in the season, not now. Sometimes the leaves turn purple when it is still cold outside. This is a phosphorus deficiency. This never happens in June or later when it is warm but more in May if you plant early and it is still cold outside.

The third condition (no pic) is if you are growing a purple or black variety of tomato your plant may have purple veins  so don’t pull it unless it start to looks sick with the curly leaves and looks like it needs water.

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Eldorado vegetable pest lecture

tomato hornworm revealed

Tomato Hornworm revealed-such a good camouflage artist!

Gave several garden lectures this week. The first lecture was on pests in the garden at this time of year out in the Eldorado Community Garden on Monday August 3. What a lovely garden! I hadn’t been out there for several years and it has expanded and is very beautiful right now (especially with all these rains).

There were lots of questions on gophers, squirrels, aphids, tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers, grasshoppers and other insect pests that are around now and organic control of them. We talked about all these pests and it’s amazing that any plants survive!

Attached are the handouts I gave out at the lecture:

CLass pests pics

ORGANIC INSECTICIDE CONTROLS

ORGANIC DISEASE CONTROLS

Here is some more info:

HOW TO CONTROL:

gopherstrap ’em. Sorry but it’s too hard to grow crops here anyways and to see an 18 yr old apple tree decimated from gophers is a travesty. Gophers are very territorial so you might not have as many as you think. Usually there are only between 2-4 gophers on a property.

squirrels-sprinkle fox urine granules around your garden (not coyote urine granules or human urine as one person asked)

aphidsAZAMAX-a new organic product available only at Newmans.  AzaMax is made from special Azadirachtin Technical extracted using patented extraction technology from the Neem tree but is not Neem oil.  The first week of Azamax applications will pretty much stop the reproduction of spider mites, aphids, or other pests.  You need to reapply Azamax to your plants every 7-14 days for a few times. Helps disrupt eating and mating.  You will then see dead aphids on your plants but they will not be eating them so you need to rinse off before eating your crops. Do not spray in middle of day when it’s hot as it can burn your plants. In fact, it’s good to spray this and Neem in the evening before dark. That way the plants won’t get burned and the bees have gone back to their hive (you don’t want a direct hit on bees) and by morning when it’s dry, it’s fine for bees to be around, just not when it’s wet. I can’t wait to try this on some kale that has them now. A landscaper friend who uses it in her gardens, showed me the dead aphids on her plum tree and it worked. Wish I had it back when the aphids were bad on the fruit trees earlier this year!

Tomato hornworms-handpick or if you have a heavy infestation, use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Just call it Bt when you ask for it at the nurseries.  It wrecks havoc with their digestive system. Is harmless to all other animals but deadly for caterpillars.

Cabbage loopers-a caterpillar that eats greens, lettuce, cole crops, kale, etc. Use Bt for all caterpillar problems.

Grasshoppers-use NOLO Bait or Semaspore. Same thing, different manufacturers. The problem is most people wait till they are inundated with grasshoppers and then say NOLO bait doesn’t work. Not true. You just need to start much earlier in the season because it takes about 3 weeks+ for it to work and it is not as effective once the baby hopper grow up. Plus you need to refrigerate NOLO. If you have lots of adult grasshoppers now, put row cover over your crops to act as a physical barrier between the hopper and your plants. I noticed last year when I had hoppers that they were gone in 3 weeks and I heard they won’t be as bad the next year as they did not lay eggs and this must be true as I’ve only seen one or two this year. Not harmful to other animals, bees, mammals or birds.

Tent Worms

tent worms nest with small black eggs and tent worms on a Aspen tree

Tent worms nest with small black eggs and tent worms on an Aspen tree

So about this time of year tent worms appear in my apple trees, apricot trees and aspen trees. They are also known as web worms because of the web they live in. But unlike fall web worms which appear in the fall, tent worms appear in the spring. If left to their own devices, they will eat many leaves off your trees. I even saw them in my Currant plant. They leave the web in the day eating the leaves and go back to the web at night. They look like long skinny caterpillars.

I asked a landscaper friend of mine what’s the best way to get rid of them and they said to just cut off the branch they are on and put them in a plastic bag and dispose of them.  This year I’m on top of the problem so they can’t keep multiplying and it seems to be working. Keep an eye out for them. They can be anywhere on the tree branches-down low or up high.

Scarab larva grubs or cutworms?

scarab-beetle-larvaeI just got done with a my Growing Cool Season Crops class today and someone asked about those white grubs in the soil when they were turning it over. So I dug out this post I wrote in 2012 about what are those white grubs in the soil. I told the class I would put pictures up of the grubs and cutworms so you can know how to ID each of them. One is harmless and the other can be a real problem. Read on.

This time of year when you are adding amendments and turning your soil, you may notice some white fat grubs with brown heads. I noticed they were in soil that I heavily amended with horse manure and would freak out when I saw them. I took all of them (sometimes a lot) and give them to the chickens. I use to think were cutworms but they are not.

They are Scarab beetle larvae and will NOT harm your vegetable plants or vegetable roots. They are also known as the ‘dung beetle’ larvae. In fact they are beneficial because they help break down the manure by eating it, hence you will find them where you use manure. Just leave them alone as they are kind of like worms, adding nutrients to the soil as they process the manure. I have never seen any damage to vegetables but if they are in your lawn (what lawn?! LOL) they will eat grass-roots (but not vegetable roots).

cutworms

On the other hand, here is a picture of cutworms which are HARMFUL to your plants. They come out of the ground at night and chew the base of your transplant stem off leaving you with a decapitated plant (so to speak). They attack baby plant stems because they are tender. After the plants get older, they don’t bother them. If you see these, get rid of them.  I look for them in the soil around the hole I dig just before I put my transplants in the ground. But there is something else you can do to protect your plants.

You can protect your plant by putting a ‘cutworm collar’ around your newly planted transplants. I use a paper towel roll or toilet paper row  cut into 2 inch increments. I cut the tube lengthwise to get them around the plant stem and tape the cut seam.

Then I sink the tube about 1 inch into the soil. They won’t crawl up the tube. After your plants get a little older, take the tube off-they only like young stems. In this picture the collar is filled with dirt but I just leave the collar  on without filling it with dirt.