What's Wrong with my 'Maters?!

Ah c’mon, I’ve put so much time and effort in to these plants, it’s way too late to start over, but my tomatoes look terrible. What’s happening with them, Pete?

This and other complaints are common for the helpful folks at your local Ace Hardware store to hear this time of year. It can be truly frustrating. Here are some common problems and fixes.

I have wasps all over my tomatoes. I don’t dare go near them. Why?

Wasps eat bugs. (Yes, they actually have a purpose in nature, who knew!) If you have wasps, the root trouble is that you probably have aphids or other very small, crawling, sucking insects invading your tomatoes. Use an insecticidal soap spray to kill the insects and hang a wasp trap to contain the wasps.

The wasps could also be eating on the other main tomato pest, the tomato hornworm. If you come across a large caterpillar that’s green and basically blends right in to your tomato plant, that’s a tomato hornworm. These crawling guys are not dangerous to you, but they are to the plants. They’ll devour them as they are basically in a 24-7 all-they-can-eat tomato plant buffet. Control them with by picking them off by hand (ew!), applying a botanical Bt (BacillusThuringiensis) or Sevin dust.

My plants look healthy, there are lots of tomatoes, but they all look terrible on the bottom. The fruit is turning brown.

You’ve got blossom rot. What causes this? Many factors, and unfortunately it can be just nature itself. The tomato plants just cannot get enough calcium from the soil as they are likely growing too fast, it’s too hot, the plants have been overwatered or even just over cared for. Adding calcium to the soil and using a product like Bonide Rot-Stop may help. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers and use fertilizer high in phosphate instead.

The skin of my tomatoes is cracking.

Not to worry, they’re still edible. This usually happens as a growth spurt, especially near the time when they’re ripe. Cherry tomatoes are especially prone to this, pick them when they’re ripe, and don’t leave them on the vine too long.

The leaves are all turning yellow and the plant looks like it’s dying.

If it’s happening now, it’s a problem, if it’s happening in a month, it’s just the plant shutting down for the season. Causes can include soil insects, or blight, but, at this time of year, there’s not too much that can be done practically for them. Best head to the farmer’s market to get your tomatoes. I once lived in year-round growing climate. I had tomato plants that grew to 8 feet tall, loaded with fruit. In mid-November, they just gave up. Time to start over with new plants.

Feel free to ask our helpful folks more about your tomatoes if you need to. Take a picture of your dilemma, bring it in to your local Ace, and tell them Pete Moss sent you!