Are Your Tomato Plants Wilted? Just Do This to Save Them


Your tomato plants seem to be fine, and then all of a sudden, they are wilting.  There are many reasons that this can happen, but most of them are preventable.

So, why are your tomato plants wilted?  Most likely, your tomato plants are wilting due to over watering or under watering.  They are more likely to wilt on an extremely hot, dry, sunny days.  Pests or diseases can also cause wilting in some cases.

So, how do you address the problem of wilting tomato plants?  First, you need to determine what is causing the wilt, and then you can try some of the remedies listed below.  It’s a good idea to start off by checking water levels, since this is the most common cause of wilting.

Tomato Plant Wilted Due to Over Watering

Many new gardeners are guilty of “killing their plants with kindness” by watering them too much and too often.  If the soil is constantly too wet, then the roots of the tomato plant eventually will rot.

Without enough healthy roots to take up water from the soil, the plant will start to suffer from a lack of water.  When new gardeners see this, they continue to add more water, causing more root rot.

This cycle continues until the tomato plant is dead.  To prevent this situation, always check the soil before watering.  (Remember: the plant can look wilted even if you are over watering!)  Use the following as a guideline for watering:

  • If the plant looks healthy and the soil is moist, leave it alone.
  • If the plant looks healthy but soil is dry, go ahead and water.
  • If the plant looks wilted and the soil is dry, add water.
  • If the plant is wilted but the soil is moist, do not add water.  Instead, wait until the soil dries out, so that the roots have a chance to recover.

To check if the soil is dry, dig a few inches into the ground near the tomato plant.  If all of the soil in the first few inches feels dry, then it is safe to water the tomato plant.

For more information, check out my article on over watering your plants.

Tomato Plant Wilted Due to Under Watering

This scenario is less likely than over watering, but if you are a forgetful gardener or if you take long summer vacations, then it is possible.  It is more likely during a long stretch of hot, dry, sunny days during the summer.

If your soil looks like this, it is too dry!

As mentioned above, you should test the soil with your hand to see how dry it is at a depth of a few inches, and water accordingly.  You should check more often when the weather is hot and dry.

Remember that it is possible for your tomato plants to suffer from a lack of water, even if you are watering frequently.  In this scenario, you may be watering at the wrong time or in the wrong way.  Let’s take a look at how you can water your plants to keep them perfectly hydrated.

When to Water Your Tomato Plants

There is no exact schedule for watering that will always work.  The need for water depends on your climate, the weather, and your soil.

As mentioned above, there is no substitute for checking the soil by hand to see how dry it is.  To prevent your tomato plants from going too long without water, check the soil every day, and water as needed.

To prevent over watering, check the weather forecast.  If you are expecting rain in the next day or so, then you can go without watering your plants, even if the soil is dry.

If a thunderstorm with lots of rain is coming, don’t water your plants!

To prevent your plants from drying out, make sure to water at the right time of day: in the morning.  At this time, the air will be cooler, and the sun will be low in the sky.

This will prevent the water from evaporating into the air before it has a chance to soak into the soil.  Also, make sure to water deeply in the morning, so that the water goes down a few inches into the ground.

If you use shallow watering a few times during the day, most of it will evaporate before it can soak into the ground, leaving your plants thirsty during the hottest parts of the day.

How to Water Your Tomato Plants

There are several methods you can choose to water your plants, some of which can be useful if you are short on time or will be away on vacation.

Hose and Bucket

You may need to use a hose if your city does not allow sprinklers during water restrictions in the summer.  If you use this method, go up and down your row of plants, stopping at each plant long enough so that the water gets down into the soil.

If your soil is very dry, the water may not sink in right away, and some of it will run off if you water too much at once.  In that case, go up and down the row repeatedly, adding a little water to each plant on every pass you make.

A hose is a classic method of watering your garden.

If your hose doesn’t reach the garden, I would recommend buying an extension to make it reach.  Of course, you can also use a bucket to haul your water if you want.

One advantage of using a bucket or watering can is that you can give each plant the same amount of water every time, to prevent over watering or under watering.

Sprinkler

A sprinkler is a great way to water a small or large garden if you don’t have much time.  Just remember to make a note of when you turn on the sprinkler, and turn it off promptly when you are done.

A sprinkler cuts down on the time you need to spend watering your garden.

If you forget about the sprinkler overnight, you could end up over watering a large section of your garden.  Combine this with an unexpected rainstorm, and you could be looking at some serious root rot in your garden!

Drip Irrigation Hose

In drip irrigation, you run a hose through your garden, near your plants.  As water runs through the hose, it slowly drips out from nozzles or sprinklers placed at intervals along the length of the hose.

Like a sprinkler, this method allows you to water many plants at once without spending much time.  However, it wastes less water than a sprinkler system.

Bottle Drip System

If you have some plastic bottles lying around, you can make your own bottle drip system to keep your plants watered.  This is helpful if you will be away for a holiday weekend, and there is no one else around to water your plants.

First, find some bottles to use – screw top covers work best, since they stay securely on the bottle.  Next, drill some small holes into the cover of the bottle.  Then, fill the bottle with water, and replace the cover.

Make sure to drill enough holes into the caps of your water bottles to use a bottle drip system.

Finally, turn the bottle over and put the top a few inches down into the soil, near the plant.  Be careful not to go too close, since you don’t want to harm the root system of the plant.

The bottle will slowly release water into the soil.  The faster the soil dries out, the faster the bottle will empty.

If you put a few bottles around each plant, you may have enough water to last for a long weekend, unless the weather is extremely dry and hot.

Soil Conditions

The type of soil you have in your garden can also affect how quickly water soaks into the soil, how much water runs off, and how long it retains water.

If your soil is sandy, then it contains larger particles, and cannot hold as much water as other soils.  However, sandy soil drains better than other types of soil.  If your garden is sandy, then it will be difficult to over water, and easy to under water your plants.

If your soil is clay, then it contains smaller particles, and can hold the most water out of the three soil types.  However, clay soil drains poorly.  If your garden is clay, then it will easy to over water, and difficult to under water your plants.

Clay soil holds moisture well, but doesn’t want to let it go, leading to poor drainage.

If your soil is loam, then it will hold more water than sandy soil, but less water than clay soil.  Loam soil drains better than clay soil, but not as well as sandy soil.  If your garden soil is loam, then you have a well-balanced soil.

For more information, check out this article from Agvise Laboratories about water holding capacity of various soil types.

In order to improve your soil, add organic material, such as compost or manure.   Just make sure that the material is broken down before adding it to your garden. For more information, check out my article on how to make compost.

Compost adds organic material and nutrients to the soil, and helps to retain moisture.

Adding this organic material will improve the soil’s ability to hold water, and will also improve drainage.  If you have a problem with soil drying out too quickly, even after watering frequently, you can try to use mulch on top of the soil to help retain water.

For more information, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.

Tomato Plant Wilted Due to Pests

If you are confident that watering is not causing your plants to wilt, then you should look for any apparent pests on the plant.  A couple of common pests that affect tomato plants are aphids and cutworms.

Aphids are small and can be green, brown, black, grey, or other colors.  They are often found on the underside of leaves.  They suck juice out of leaves and stems, weakening the plant.

Aphids can multiply quickly and spread from plant to plant, so watch out!

Ladybugs eat aphids, so you can buy some ladybugs and release them into your garden if you have a problem. For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of aphids.

Cutworms wrap themselves around the stem of a plant and start to chew through it.  Although they prefer young, tender plants, they can weaken more established ones as well.  For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of cutworms.

Tomato Plant Wilted Due to Fungal Diseases

If there are no obvious signs of pests on your wilting tomato plants, then you should consider the possibility of a fungal disease.  This can happen if the leaves of the plants stay wet, or if tomato plants are grown in the same area for many years in a row.

Verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt are two fungal infections that can infect tomatoes and cause wilting leaves.  There is no way to cure this disease, so any infected plants should be removed from your garden.

Don’t put the infected plants in your compost pile, since the disease can survive over the winter.  You may need to sterilize your soil where the infected plants were growing.  For more information, check out my article on how to sterilize your soil.

To prevent these diseases in the future, choose tomato varieties that are resistant to fungal infection.  Also, use crop rotation in your garden – that is, don’t plant the same crop in the same place every year.

Instead, use a 2, 3, or even 4 year rotation schedule.  This will help to prevent disease, but it will also prevent nutrient deficiencies and soil depletion.

Conclusion

Often, tomato plants are wilted due to too much or too little water, or just because it is a hot, dry day.  There are cases where diseases or pests can be to blame, but you should always eliminate the more common, obvious causes first.

I hope this article was helpful.  If you have any questions or advice of your own, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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