Why Are Your Tomato Plants Wilting After Transplant?


Are you the type of gardener who carefully starts tomato plants indoors from seed, and then painstakingly transplants them outside to start growing?  If so, then you know that there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your tomato plants wilt after you transplant them outside.

So, why are your tomato plants wilting after transplant?  Tomato plants can wilt after transplant for several reasons, including:

  • Lack of hardening off
  • Root damage during transplant
  • Under watering
  • Over watering
  • Over fertilizing
  • Pests and Diseases

Of course, we would like to know which of these problems is causing our tomato plants to wilt.  That way, we can treat the problem accordingly.

Let’s take a closer look at why tomato plants wilt after transplant.  We’ll also get into some steps you can take to revive a wilted tomato plant, or at least to prevent the same problem in the future.

Why Are Your Tomato Plants Wilting After Transplant?

As we already saw, there are many different reasons that your tomato plants might wilt after transplant.  One common reason is that they were not hardened off properly – let’s start there.

Tomato Plants Wilting Due to Lack of Hardening Off

Many gardeners start tomato seeds indoors to get a head start on the season.  This allows gardeners in northern zones to extend the growing season in areas where spring frosts linger late and fall frosts come early.

frost
Starting tomato seeds indoors helps to protect plants from late spring frosts while they develop.

When tomato plants started indoors are transplanted outside, they experience “the elements” for the very first time.  Instead of living in a controlled indoor environment, the tomato plants are now subject to varying amounts of sunlight, water, and wind, depending on the whims of nature.

Since the great outdoors can be harsh for young tomato plants, it really helps them to get a gradual transition into this new outdoor environment.  This is the whole purpose of “hardening off”: to help plants to acclimate to outside conditions gradually.

A greenhouse or cold frame is a good place to keep plants for a while as they get used to more sunlight and wind.  It will also keep them warmer when the nights are still cold early in the growing season.

greenhouse
A greenhouse is a good place to help tomato plants get acclimated to the weather outdoors.

If your tomato plants are still very small when you transplant them into the ground, then consider using a cloche to protect them from wind and cold.  Just be sure to remove the cloche if it is going to be hot and sunny the next day, or else you could cook your plants!

For more information, check out my article on how to protect your plants from cold and frost.

Here is one more helpful tip about transplanting and hardening off tomato plants: be sure to transplant them outdoors in the evening.  This gives them a little time to adjust before facing a full day of sunlight.

If you see your tomato plant’s leaves curling, remember that it could be due to exposure to the wind and sun that the plant is just not accustomed to.  Curling due to environmental factors is called physiological leaf roll, and is not a cause for concern in the short term.

For more information, check out my article on why tomato plants get curled leaves.

Tomato Plants Wilting Due to Damage During Transplant

Tomato plants can be damaged in several ways during transplant, and so it is possible that wilting could occur as a result of this damage.  One possibility that is easy to see upon inspection is bent or broken branches or stalks.

If a branch is bent or broken, then all of the leaves on that branch could wilt and eventually die.  If the main stalk is bent or broken, this could cause everything above the bend or break to wilt.

The plant may or may not survive – to increase its chances, make sure to give it proper support using twine along with a tomato cage (for shorter determinate varieties) or stakes (for taller indeterminate varieties).

For more information, check out my article on supporting tomato plants.

If there is no obvious damage to the branches or stalks, it is also possible that the roots were damaged during transplant.  A tomato plant with a well-established root system is easy to disturb when transplanting, even if you are extra careful.

roots
If the root system of a tomato plant is damaged during transplant, then wilting could occur.

Another common reason that root damage occurs at transplanting is overcrowded plants.  After you start your tomato seeds indoors, you should thin the plants to leave enough space between them.

For more information, check out my article on thinning seedlings.

Thinning your tomato seedlings prevents competition among plants, and also prevents the roots from getting tangled up with one another.  When the roots get tangled, it is almost inevitable that some roots will be damaged as you pull them apart to separate the plants.

Finally, remember that there is no need to brush all of the soil off of the roots when you transplant a tomato plant into the garden.  This old soil is just as good as the new soil in your garden!

Tomato Plants Wilting Due to Under Watering

Under watering is another possible reason that your tomato plants are wilting.  Without enough water, tomato plants will respond by wilting their leaves.

This serves the purpose of exposing less leaf surface area to the sun and air, which reduces water loss through evaporation.

In extreme cases, your tomato leaves may become dry or crispy, usually after wilting for a while.  Unfortunately, the plant is really in trouble at this point!

Under watering is more likely in dry, sunny climates, or if the soil in your garden is especially dry (for instance, sandy soil tends to drain quickly).  In that case, adding compost to soil and putting mulch over soil can help to retain water.

dry soil
Under watering is more likely when soil is dry and drains quickly, as with sandy soils.

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

Tomato Plants Wilting Due to Over Watering

Over watering is another possible cause of tomato plants wilting, and is possibly even more common than under watering.  Ironically, some of the symptoms are the same: wilted or dry leaves, due to the inability of the plant to absorb water.

garden hose
Be careful not to over water your tomato plants! Check the soil with your fingers for dryness before adding water, to make sure they really need it.

This happens when the plant gets root rot, due to the roots staying wet for too long.  At that point, the roots cannot absorb enough water from the soil to keep the plant going, even when the soil is wet.

If this happens to a potted tomato plant, then you might be able save it by transplanting to a pot with soil that is not so moist.  Otherwise, wait it out and avoid watering until the soil dries out a bit!

The best advice I can give is to always check the soil before watering your plants.  If the soil feels dry down to a depth of a couple of inches, then you can go ahead and water.

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

Tomato Plants Wilting Due to Over Fertilizing

Over fertilizing is another possible cause of tomato plants wilting after transplant.  If you put too much fertilizer in the hole with the tomato plant, then it could end up burning the plant and causing some wilting of the leaves.

nitrogen burn on blueberry plant
Too much fertilizer can cause brown spots on leaves, or of course, wilting of the plant.

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

Over fertilizing is more likely if you use a fast release fertilizer, and if you forget to water adequately when planting the tomatoes.  You might be better served by a slow release fertilizer – either an organic one (such as compost) or a pelletized synthetic one.

For more information, check out my article on slow release fertilizers.

Tomato Plants Wilting Due To Pests or Diseases

When a tomato plant wilts due to pests or diseases, the problem is a bit more serious.  This is mainly due to the fact that some plant diseases have no treatment.  With this in mind, the infected plant often must be removed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Some common diseases that infect tomato plants are tomato blight, fusarium wilt, and verticillium wilt.

Tomato blight also infects potatoes, and there are actually two types: early blight and late blight.  For more information, check out my article on how tomatoes get blight, and how to prevent it.

tomato early blight
Tomato blight can cause plants to wilt – here we can see late blight on a tomato plant.

Fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt are two diseases that can cause tomato plants to wilt.  The best way to avoid this problem is to choose tomato varieties that are resistant to these diseases (denoted by F and V, respectively, in gardening catalogs).

For more information, check out this article from the University of Maryland Extension on fusarium wilt on tomato plants.

Finally, there is the possibility of pests damaging your tomato plants and causing their leaves to wilt.  One such pest is the aphid, which is a small creature that multiplies quickly into many.

They can even spread between plants, so you may need to take quick action to control an infestation.  For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of aphids in your garden.

Conclusion

By now, you have a much better idea of why your tomato plants are wilting after transplant.  You also know how to treat the plant to help it recover (if possible) in those scenarios.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  If you have any questions about tomato plants wilting after transplant, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

Recent Content