Are you worried about some of your tomato plants that are falling over? If so, you’re not alone. Many gardeners see this problem and wonder what is going on.
So, why are your tomato plants falling over? Tomato seedlings may look like they are falling over due to damping off (fungus) or lack of light. More mature tomato plants may fall over due to transplant shock or lack of support.
Of course, it would be nice to know which of these things is making your tomato plants fall over.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of these causes and how to tell which one is making your tomato plants fall over. We’ll also get into ways to solve the problem.
Let’s get started.
Why Are My Tomato Plants Falling Over?
There are many possible reasons that your tomato plants are falling over:
- For seedlings (young, small tomato plants), the most likely causes are damping off or lack of light.
- For more mature tomato plants, the most likely causes are transplant shock and lack of support.
Let’s start with an explanation of damping off, when it happens, and what causes it.
According to Wikipedia, damping off is a plant disease that weakens or kills seedlings. Damping off is caused by fungus, and is more common in wet and cool soil.
Look for the following signs to tell if your tomato seedlings have damping off:
- Thin, tough, wiry stem
- Spotted leaves
- Grey mold on stems or leaves
- Rotten roots
How to Prevent Damping Off
To prevent damping off, take the following steps:
- Use sterile soil – don’t reuse garden soil, since it may have soil-borne diseases from previous years. Instead, buy clean potting mix to start your seeds.
- Keep soil warm and moist – damping off is more likely to happen in cold soil. Cold or dry soil also delays seedling germination. Your best bet to avoid damping off is to keep the soil warm and moist to encourage fast germination. You can learn more about the ideal conditions to germinate tomato seeds in my article here.
- Quarantine plants – if any seedling starts to look sick, pull it out to separate it from the other seedlings. This will prevent the spread of any disease between plants.
Lack of Light
Maybe your seedlings don’t show any signs of damping off. In that case, a lack of light may be the reason they are falling over.
After seeds germinate and seedlings emerge, they need light to continue growing. Seedlings will do what is necessary to get enough light.
If light is stronger in one direction, a seedling will lean over and grow towards the light. This can give it a bent over appearance, making it look like the seedling is falling over.
If the light source is far above the seedling, it will grow tall and thin to reach up and get closer to the light.
If you keep your seedlings in an area where they don’t get enough sunlight, they will start to get leggy (tall, thin, and spindly). Even if you put them under a grow light, they will grow leggy if the light is too far above them.
To avoid tall and leggy tomato plants that may bend over or fall over, give them consistent light. Put them in a window sill on a south-facing side of your house.
If that isn’t possible (or if it doesn’t give enough sunlight), use grow lights instead. Make sure to put the tomatoes close enough to the grow light.
If your tomato plants are just past the transplant stage, then they may be suffering from transplant shock. If the shock is severe enough, some of your plants may fall over.
Transplant shock can happen for several reasons:
- Root Damage – this often happens during transplant if seedlings grew close together and got their roots tangled up. It can also happen if you leave transplants out in the sun with their roots exposed while they wait to be planted.
- Lack of Hardening Off – if you didn’t harden off your plants, then they might be in for a shock when they go outside. The change in temperature, moisture, wind, and so forth can be too much for them to handle all at once.
How to Prevent Transplant Shock
To prevent transplant shock, all it takes is a little care when transplanting your tomatoes to the great outdoors.
First, give your plants enough space so that their roots don’t get tangled in the first place. Another option is to use a seed tray with individual cells, one for each seedling.
This will prevent the roots from getting damaged during transplant. It will also reduce the chances of disease spreading between plants.
Also, harden off your plants by introducing them to the outdoors gradually. Start off by giving them more exposure to sunlight, wind, and outdoor conditions over time.
A greenhouse or cold frame is one way to give plants an easier transition to the outdoors. For more ideas, check out my article on hardening off seedlings.
Finally, when you transplant your tomato plants into the ground, keep their roots out of the sun. Keep them in their containers until right before you plant them.
Lack of Support
If your tomato plants are falling over long after transplant, then it is probably due to a lack of support. As tomato plants grow taller, they get heavy as they produce more vines, leaves, and fruit.
Eventually, this extra weight wants to fall in one direction. Without support, the tomato plant will bend over and start to crawl along the ground (its natural inclination!)
This can give soil-borne diseases a chance to infect your plants. To avoid this, you will need to support your tomato plants (and possibly prune them).
How to Keep Tomatoes from Falling Over
To keep your tomato plants from falling over, you will need to provide support. Depending on the variety, it might also make sense to prune them, so let’s start there.
Prune Tomato Vines
As tomato plants grow, they will produce more suckers (young branches). These suckers will later grow into large branches with leaves.
These branches may also produce flowers and fruit. Either way, they add extra weight to the plant.
They can also make it more difficult to manage the plant, to harvest the fruit, and to support the vines. You can prune your tomato plants to avoid this problem.
Generally, you should only prune indeterminate tomato varieties. Leave determinate tomato varieties alone.
You can tell which type of tomato plants you have by checking the seed catalog or packet. You can learn more about how to prune tomato suckers in my article here.
Your tomato plants will need support, whether you prune them or not. You can use stakes, cages, or trellises for this purpose.
There are lots of ways to support tomato plants. The method you use will depend on the type you are growing (how tall they get and their growth habit).
Stakes are one good way to support tomato plants. They are often used to support taller indeterminate tomato varieties, which tend to grow tall like vines.
However, you can use shorter stakes as support for indeterminate varieties as well. You can find tomato stakes made of wood (including bamboo), metal, or plastic.
It is a good idea to drive the stakes into the ground before transplanting your tomatoes. Put the stakes right next to the spot where the plant will go.
That way, you will avoid harming the roots of an established plant by driving in the stakes later in the season.
If you already planted your tomatoes and have no stakes, don’t worry. You can use a tripod or teepee to give your plants support.
Drive 3 or 4 stakes into the ground around the plant. The stakes should be at an angle, and they should come together above the plant.
Tie the stakes together with rope or twine to keep them steady.
According to the Penn State University Extension, you can also use the “Florida Weave” method of supporting your tomatoes with stakes. Drive stakes into the ground in a row, right next to the row of tomatoes.
Then, run a length of rope, twine, or wire between the stakes at varying heights (every 6 to 12 inches of height).
Cages are another way to support tomato plants. Cages are often shorter than stakes, and they surround the whole tomato plant.
A cage will support a tomato plant no matter which way it decides to lean. Tomato cages are more often used to support determinate tomato varieties, since they are shorter and tend to grow wide like bushes.
You can buy (or make) tomato cages out of metal, plastic, or wood. If you build a custom tomato cage, you can make it as tall or wide as you want.
A trellis is another option for supporting tomato plants. In addition to supporting plants, a trellis can give a nice look to your yard, garden, or patio.
You can put a trellis on the side of your house or against one wall of a pergola. If you use a wide trellis, you might be able to support several tomato plants at once.
Now you have a better idea of why your tomato plants are falling over. You also know some steps you can take to fix the problem or prevent it in the future.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.