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Tomato leaf issue - help!

We planted several heirloom tomatoes that are growing like gangbusters - almost 6 feet tall already! But 2 of the plants in particular started to brown around the edges as if they'd been burnt with a match..then the leaves turned yellow, and then the entire branch of leaves... There are some long (1/2-1 inch) oblong spots on the stems, so I'm thinking it might be some type of speck? But there are no real spots anywhere else - just burned edges, and then dead branches. The fruit seems unaffected. I'm in Los Angeles, so it's hot and dry, and we've been watering every 3 days or so... I'm a gardening newbie, so any help is appreciated.

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  1. Seem like it might be 'salt burn' or over fertilizing.

    1. There are myriad fungal diseases that affect tomatoes and many look similar. Take a couple of leaves in a closed Ziploc-type bag to your local knowledgeable garden center (not a big box store) or ask your local agricultural extension service for guidance.

      1. It might be verticillium wilt...I would have guessed soil nutrition deficiency but the stem spots bother me.

        If it's this, there's not a lot you can do, except to make sure to buy disease resistant strains (with V or F after the name, meaning they resist a couple of kinds of wilt).

        Now, that said, I'm in the Northeast....if you have a garden center you frequent with wise folks working there, pluck off a leaf and bring it to them (or snap a pic) and describe what's going on. It's been rainy and cool til recently in Mass...unlike LA!

        1. Ah, heirlooms, overrated. I had the same thing happen a couple years ago with the rainy weather and some sorta blight that migrated from the soil. 6 feet tall? Bene!

          5 Replies
          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            Most heirloom tomatoes have little disease resistance and may not grow vigorously. However, hope is on the horizon. You can now buy a few types of heirlooms like Brandywine grafted onto very strong vf resistant rootstocks. These were pricey ($10 pots) at RCSS in Ontario, but it's easy to find grafting instructions on the web. Not difficult, just finicky. I am going to do some next year as a late winter indoor project to get the seedlings going.

            1. re: jayt90

              Yeah I saw a story about that from the NYTimes, interesting

              1. re: jayt90

                I have four tomato plants in containers on my deck. One is a grafted Mighty Mato San Marzano--by far outshining all other tomato plants, planted in the same soil, purchased at the same time from the same place.


                Rock on, Mighty Matos!

                1. re: jayt90

                  I'm a newbie gardener, but I love most heirlooms, so i've got three grafted varieties going this year -- one Mortgage Lifter, one Black Krim, and one Roma. The first two are growing like gangbusters, and I've even got one fruit on the Krim (I got a late start due to a cold spring).

                  So far my plants are doing quite well.

                  1. re: JonParker

                    I'm jealous. Black Krim tomatoes are edible art. So gorgeous.

                    I have two baby plum tomatoes (actually more grape tomato sized) that are struggling to ripen on the vine (Tinkerbell); so far, this is the only fruit on four plants, but I'm hopeful that things will pop once we get some sun. The wet weather in the NE has devastated my little garden.

                1. re: sparrowgrass

                  That is a great vegetable garden resource! Thank you for posting.


                2. I'm south of you in SoCal, and we've found that many varieties of tomatoes struggle here, either with the hot, dry winds, crummy soil, or whatever. I've had hunks of leaves die off, but it seldom seems to affect the crop output. You could certainly take a few leaf samples to a reliable nursery (Anderson or Armstrong in my area).

                  That said, I've given up on heirlooms--they've been too finicky for my tastes.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: pine time

                    The first time I grew Black Krims (heirlooms), I got the best, biggest tomatoes I'd ever grown. Sweet, spicy, even a little bit salty, and very, very rich flavor. I've not been overly successful with tomatoes otherwise, living in southern AZ and I work for a living besides,, so I can't be there all day every day to nurse them along. I haven't had such good luck since except for cherry tomatoes, which do the best here (less surface area for the sun to torment), especially not in pots, for some reason. And I use bigger pots for tomatoes than anybody. Still too hot, I'm thinking. The heirlooms really don't have the kind of disease resistance that the hybrids do, but boy do they taste good if you get lucky with a crop of them!

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      I got exactly 2 tomatoes on my 6' heirloom plants! So, back to hybrids for me. Yeah, we get "hot pots" with our SoCal sun, too--right now, one of the tomatoes is in a half-barrel-sized black pot, and it needs beaucoup water daily. However, I 'harvested' 8 tomatoes this morning. Yum, pass the salt shaker.

                  2. Thanks for the replies, all- for anyone else that may stumble upon this thread, it seems to be Bacterial Canker:

                    Though it also looks like each plant has its own disease - one has canker, one has verticillium wilt, one septoria or speck... sigh. I really do prefer the taste and color you can get in heirloom varieties, but I'm quickly learning why farmers have been hybridizing for years...

                    1. I'm also in the Los Angeles area and had the same issue with my tomatoes. They all withered away. I got a few small tomatoes before they died but nothing spectacular. I had the same issue last year, so I moved the plants to another area this year but the same thing happened.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: boogiebaby

                        Can you give a few specifics about what happened before they died? Might be able to give some hints.

                        The only ones I've had trouble with are the heirlooms--for regular tomatoes, it's safer to buy VNFT resistant varieties. I don't always do that, but I plant up to 4-5 different varieties so that if 1-2 fail, I'll still get some 'maters!

                      2. Sometimes we get blight on our tomato in SoCal. You can spray on some Serenade for that. It's organic... It doesn't make it go away, but it helps to stop the spread, and we keep getting great fruit.