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Gardening with Laurie: Nip tomato problems in the bud

By By Laurie Garretson
Feb. 21, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 20, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.

Laurie Garretson

If you do any vegetable gardening, you have probably already planted some tomatoes or are going to be planting some very soon. Homegrown tomatoes are the kings of our gardens. There really is nothing better than a garden-ripe, fresh-picked tomato.

Gardeners will go to great lengths to produce abundant crops of the best tasting tomatoes. There is something about growing tomatoes that brings out the competitor in a gardener. Gardeners can be very serious about producing the first and biggest tomato of the season.

Unfortunately, there can be several things that happen to those beautiful little seedlings before they actually produce a fruit. I would like to cover a few of the more common tomato problems that tend to plague area gardeners.

I'll start with insect problems. Holes in tomatoes or chewed off leaves are usually caused by caterpillars and worms: tomato hornworms, pinworms or tomato fruitworms. You can pick these little pests off or spray the bush with BT worm killer.

One of the most common tomato problems in the past few years has been stink bug damage. These bad guys pierce the fruit and then suck out juices. This causes hard discolored areas on the fruit and adult stink bugs can be very difficult to eradicate. You will have a much easier time getting rid of these guys while they are young. Young stink bugs can be easily smashed between two gloved hands.

Fruit that is cracked or split can be caused by dry periods that are followed by very wet periods. The tomato actually swells faster than the skin can expand and this results in cracking.

Dark areas on the bottom of the fruit are called blossom end rot. This problem can be caused from erratic watering (too much and then too little) that can then lead to a lack of calcium. Sprinkle a quarter cup of Epsom salt around plants at planting and keep the soil evenly moist. Once the temperatures stay warm, keep the plants well mulched to help retain moisture in the soil.

Fungal problems can be another problem for tomatoes. Fungal problems can show up on leaves as dark brownish spots surrounded by yellow areas. Good air circulation around all plants and using drip irrigation or soaker hoses can help to prevent problems.

Remove and dispose of any damaged leaves to reduce further infections. Horticultural ground cornmeal can be sprinkled on the soil under and around the bush to help with fungal problems. Cornmeal can also be used at planting as a preventive measure.

As with all gardening problems, gardeners must maintain a close watch on all crops to discover problems as they first appear so they don't get out of control.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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