For every stake planted in the name of a good tomato crop, a successful growth might not happen, or might at least be disturbed. It can be frustrating not to reap the efforts of your labor. And when it comes to tomatoes, there are some specific reasons why.
Tomato hornworm can be particularly damaging to tomatoes.
"They will eat any part of the tomato plant including stems, leaves and ripe or green fruit," said Charles Phillips, the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Columbia County Extension Services.
The insects are often found clinging to the underside of a branch near the trunk. Although this is their favorite place to be, sometimes they can be difficult to spot because of their coloration.
"Sometimes, you don't even know they're there," Phillips said.
However, "if you notice a worm with white, spiky things on its tail, leave it alone at this stage," Phillips said. "The eggs of the insect are at the larval stage at this point. And you don't want to disturb it."
When not in the larval stage, the best way to control the worm is to "hand pick them," Phillips said.
There are also a few insecticides that will help to keep the worm from completely destroying a plant.
"Sevin dust is one of the best," Phillips said.
But for those who prefer a more natural approach to keeping the critters at bay, "plant some basil around or right along with the tomato plants," Phillips said. "The herb repels the moth that lays the eggs of the tomato hornworm."
Aside from the creepy-crawly hornworm, there are common physiological conditions that can be equally as devastating to a tomato plant.
"If you notice a large and round, brown or black spot on the blossom end of a tomato, then you've probably got blossom-end rot," said Bill Adams, an avid gardener who volunteers at the Richmond County Extension Office.
The condition often occurs when soil moisture is inconsistent, and the moisture levels in the fruit cause a calcium deficiency, even if the soil already contains plenty of calcium. Too much nitrogen fertilizer and excessive rain or irrigation combined with periods of drought are usually the culprits.
To prevent a reoccurrence of this disorder, "apply a calcium chloride spray on a 7-to-10-day schedule," Adams said. "It normally takes 3 or 4 applications."
"Mulching the area may also help to keep water levels consistent," Phillips said.
When things really heat up in the summer, daytime temperatures above 90 degrees and night temperatures above 75, it's very common for tomato plants to develop a condition called blossom drop.
"This is where the blossoms drop, but no fruit forms," Adams explained.
If this does occur, don't abandon the plant.
"Keep taking care of the plant, and when things cool down, if they do, your plant will likely reward you," he said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.