Bringing Dying Tomatoes Back to Life

For us, this year has been an odd year to grow tomatoes. Our tomatoes started off looking great and had lots of fruit set on. In fact, we had a really large harvest about mid July.

They’ve been some of the best tasting tomatoes I’ve ever grown, and also some of the largest.

The one pictured above weighed a little over a pound. The kids thought that one would make a tasty bacon tomato sandwich, so we sliced it up…

and it sure did make awesome sandwiches. One slice covered a whole piece of bread! Most of our tomatoes have been really meaty and flavorful, just like this one.

I was really thinking this was going to be the one of my best tomato crops ever….

Until all of the vines started dying.

At first I didn’t think too much of it because my tomato plants have always died off around the bottom of the plant. But once I noticed that the dead leaves were moving up further and it looked like the whole vine was becoming infected, I knew I had a problem. I’m not very experienced when it comes to knowing about tomato diseases and other problems, so I’ve had to do a lot of research. At different times throughout the season, I’ve thought it was different things ranging from blight, to septoria leaf spot, to spider mites. Even with all the reading I’ve done, I’m still not 100% sure what I’m dealing with. It doesn’t matter too much because most of the treatments I’m using are recommended to fight most of the diseases and problems. Since the vines were dying, I decided I had nothing to lose so I went all out and treated them with a bunch of different things. It was just one of those deals, ya know, where I figured if the treatments didn’t kill them, hopefully it’s only make them stronger.. So I researched, rounded up supplies, armed myself with a sprayer and went to work. Here’s what I used:

  • Actinovate Actinovate is a beneficial microorganism that attacks fungal diseases and helps the plants to build up resistance to disease. I treated the vines by mixing ½ teaspoon per gallon of water in a sprayer and sprayed leaves and stems, making sure get the majority of each plant covered. Actinovate can also be used as a soil drench. Since it’s recommended that you treat your vines once a week, I sprayed one week, then the next week I used it as a drench, and rotated each time. After about 2 weeks of treatment, I noticed new growth.
  • Raw goat milk I used raw goat milk on my tomato plants last year with some success. You can read about that here. I use a mixture of 50/50 goat milk and water and spray the leaves and vines down. I did this about a total of 3 times this summer so far. As a fungicide, raw milk works great for curing powdery mildew. It also controls black spot and other fungus but works better as a preventative more so than a cure. No one knows exactly how it works as a fungicide, but it appears that the proteins in milk seem to have an antiseptic effect to the plants when exposed to direct sunlight. So spraying is most effective in direct sunlight.
  • Neem Oil I started using neem oil three years ago because I was looking for an organic insecticide. As I used it over the last few years, I discovered it’s also a good fungicide and miticide. I ran out of it at the end of last year and didn’t get around to ordering any at the beginning of this season, so I didn’t start using it until just a few weeks ago. Let’s just say, never again will I go without it as long as I grow tomatoes. I think it would have made a big difference in preventing a lot of my tomato problems this year had I used it from the beginning. I highly recommend using pure neem oil rather than sprays containing it already diluted. Just from my experience, the sprays didn’t work. Fill a gallon sprayer 1/3 full of water and add two teaspoons of dish soap (I use non concentrated Dawn). Add 1 oz of neem oil and mix until it’s emulsified in the water. Finish filling the sprayer with water. It’s best to spray neem in the evenings because it can burn the leaves if it’s sprayed in direct sunlight. From what I read, Actinovate and Neem oil can be mixed together, so I have started doing that to save some time.
  • Epsom Salt Epsom salt aids in germination, early root and cell development, photosynthesis, plant growth, and prevents blossom-end rot. It can be used as a foliar spray or side dressing; I’ve used it both ways. For a foliar spray, mix 2 tablespoons Epsom salt with water in a gallon sprayer and apply once a month. If you want to apply more than once a month, you can use 1 tablespoon per gallon. For side dressing, work one tablespoon of Epsom salt per foot of plant height around the base of each plant. This should be done once every six weeks throughout the growing season. I’ve both sprayed and side dressed this season.
  • Fish Emulsion When I saw new shoots growing from the vines, I knew I need to find something that would help them grow back quickly so that they’d have enough time to produce again this season. So I did a little research and came up with Fish Emulsion. It’s a fertilizer made from fish that provides an NPK ratio of 5-1-1 which supplies nutrients needed for green foliage, vigorous growth, and solid plant structure. I mixed 1 teaspoon with a gallon of water and poured several cups around each plant. Within a few weeks, the tomatoes had a lot of new growth and plenty of blooms. I only used this once, right after the new growth appeared.
  • Bone Meal I figured that since the vines were starting to show new growth, they’d need a little extra boost to encourage them to set on. So I did more research and found bone meal is rich in phosphorus, which promotes flowering and fruiting. When I applied the fish emulsion, I side dressed each plant with a little bone meal and watered it in. I was careful not to overdo on either the bone meal or the fish emulsion because I had used Jobes organic fertilizer for tomatoes when I planted them and then again as they were setting on the first time. Plus we’d also added compost to the soil before we planted, so I didn’t want to make the soil too rich.

I’ve read that it’s recommended that you trim off all the diseased leaves to help prevent the spores from spreading. I didn’t do that because, honestly… I just didn’t feel like doing that much work. I just am sure to soak down all the dead leaves really well whenever I spray. So far that’s worked for me.

Surprisingly, after about a month and a half of steady treatments, all of the vines have some new growth.

Over half of them have a lot of new growth with a lot of new tomatoes setting on. I’m really excited at the possibility of getting a fall crop of tomatoes.

I do want to say that this hasn’t cured my tomato plants because they are still fighting this nasty fungus, but rather, it’s kept it at bay enough for them to go on to grow and hopefully produce more. I am going to have to keep this up the rest of the season in order to slow down the spread of it on the new growth.

Will we have a fall crop of tomatoes? I guess we’ll have to wait and see… I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Have you been fighting diseases in your tomato plants? Do you have any helpful tips that have worked for you?

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5 thoughts on “Bringing Dying Tomatoes Back to Life

  1. Karen Squires

    Great information, Shelly! I guess I’ve been really lucky because in the ten years I’ve been growing tomatoes I’ve had no issues. I had no idea there were so many things that could go wrong. This year I was surprised to discover cherry tomatoes rather than the full-sized ones I thought I’d purchased. Someone must have put them on the wrong shelf in the store. It’s good to know though that if/when I do have issues, there are solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. humblelittlehomestead Post author

    You are very lucky to not have any issues with your tomatoes. It seems like it gets harder and harder to grow them here with out fungus taking over. That’s a bummer about you having cherry tomatoes instead of full sized ones, but I bet they were still pretty delicious anyway.


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