Tomato Leaves Turning Yellow

Oh dear.

My tomatoes have been doing so well (all but one Brandywine, which for some reason has never taken off the way the other seven tomato plants have.)

They’re tall, lush, green, producing lots of flowers and lots of fruits, some of which are ready to eat now!

About two weeks ago I noticed some of the lower leaves on a few of the tomato plants were turning yellow.  No dark spots, no wilting, just turning yellow.  I thought they might just be getting shaded out down there and I removed them.

Unfortunately more leaves and leaf stems have been turning yellow, and now I’m starting to worry.  It’s not happening to all of the plants, just a few.  And it’s only happening in the lower leaves, although it’s starting to creep up.  The rest of the plant still looks lush and green and healthy…I’m not sure what to think.

I’ve dressed them with some compost hoping to provide some extra fertilizer for them but it may be time to bust out some fish or seaweed fertilizer.  My friend Bev wondered if they might not be getting enough sunlight.  That may be an issue since everything in the yard is receiving much less sun now that the fig trees have filled out.  These containers are on wheels and could be moved, but it sure would be a pain in the butt – they are HEAVY – and I’d lose the cucumbers that are climbing up the fence.  I am REALLY hoping this is just a lack of nitrogen issue, which I can hopefully remedy. (Bev also mentioned an epsom salt “tea” of sorts to add magnesium, which I’m going to look into.)

I took these “emergency” photos this morning with my phone…not the best pictures, but enough to show what’s happening.  Have you ever seen this or do you have suggestions as to what it might be / what I could do to help?

this tomato shares a large self-watering container (holes in the bottom for drainage) with a pepper and two cucumbers.  The cucumber leaves are ALSO turning yellow.

the aerial view

Another top view.

Same tomato.  You can see how the yellowing is traveling up.

This is an heirloom called ‘Mortgage Lifter.’   It has been thriving and is taller than me (and I’m 6′ barefoot!).  Now its leaves are beginning to turn yellow too – and this one has some dried edges.

Here it is again.  The rest of the plant still looks very healthy.  It hasn’t produced a lot of fruit yet, maybe just 3 or 4, but they are enormous.  I really don’t want to lose any of the tomato plants and have really been looking forward to this particular plant’s fruits.

This is the other tomato that is afflicted with the “yellow leaf syndrome.”  It’s a Roma and it had been doing well until the last week or two when the yellowing began.

This is the same plant.  The plant next to it has not shown signs of yellowing.  Yet.  And I hope it won’t!

These plants all generally get the same amount of sun, and as I mentioned before it’s been less than what they are used to as the fig trees have filled out.  There is still a lot of bright light and some direct sunlight – it’s not like they are suddenly in shade, it’s just more filtered light.

We’ve had a lot of really hot weather, and I’ve stayed on a regular schedule of watering pretty much every other day.  All containers have drainage holes.  All potting mixes were mixed with a lot of compost when I planted the containers.

Up until putting an extra dressing of compost around the base of each plant earlier this week, I have not fertilized them.

I have not seen any pests or evidence of pests other than a few aphids, which I have stayed on top – gently spraying them off with water seems to have worked.

Other than the few times I’ve sprayed off the aphids, I’m careful when I water the plants to water the SOIL and not have it splash back up onto the stem or leaves.

I really hope it’s just a matter of nutrients and that it’s not too late for me to help!  The plants with the most yellow are the first photos of the tomato that shares a container with 2 cucumbers and a pepper…perhaps it’s just too many plants competing for nutrients in on pot?

Whatever it is, I’m hoping to turn it around and save my tomatoes!

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39 thoughts on “Tomato Leaves Turning Yellow

  1. Yours look so much better than mine. It’s been so hot here that none of my tomato plants are producing. I’ve had summers by now that I’m usually canning them.

    • Hi Tracy, sorry to hear your tomatoes aren’t doing well this season! Weird weather everywhere this year. I hope they’ll perk up soon.

  2. Hi Aimee-

    I found this diagnostic tool for tomato troubles. Maybe something will strike a chord here.

    http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/DiagnosticKeys/TomLeaf/TomLeafKey.html

    I think it’s a good thing that the yellowing is not accompanied by round dark spots and shriveling, or lesions on the fruit. You would have a more serious problem then.

    From your photos, the overall impression I get is that the tomatoes are unhappy with their position and soil. If you have multiple crops in one pot, the nutrients will be used up faster than with just one crop per pot. With each irrigation, nutrients wash out the bottom of the container. The plants may be saying they are at capacity for production with the nutrition at hand. Tomatoes also need 6 hours or more of strong sun daily to produce a good crop – think full blast sun, heat, and ample air circulation.

    Brandywines and Mortgage Lifters are huge fruits at harvest. I have grown both. They may not be as well-suited to growing in pots as some other types. I have heard of “patio tomatoes” especially bred for growth in pots. I have never tried them, though. Tiny, currant tomatoes may be another possibility for future consideration. This link shows photos and info for Sweet Pea Currant Tomatoes and Patio F Hybrid Tomatoes plus other small fruited types:

    http://www.tomatogrowers.com/small.htm

    I always mulch the base of my tomato seedlings immediately upon planting to prevent any soil splash back onto stems and foliage. Diseases can be transmitted through heavy rains or hoses splashing against soil. Mulch will also help preserve soil moisture thereby encouraging microbial activity in the vicinity.

    Adding some regular garden soil as a top dressing, which would have elements NOT contained in compost, would fill the nutrient gap. Compost is not quite soil. Rock dust is missing and other items I used to know and have forgotten.

    For next summer, consider using garden soil mixed with compost to pot your tomatoes. Afterwards, label that soil as “spent” and use it elsewhere for perennials instead of future food crops. It can also be the “inoculant” for your compost pile, sprinkled in lightly with food scraps, leaves, or prunings.

    Aluminum foil at the base of the tomato plant would reflect more light upward. Anchor it with a rock, don’t cover up soil completely or rain won’t get in. White rocks may also work to some degree.

    Really grasping at straws here…

    • Thanks, Bev. I’m going to check out that link.

      All of my tomatoes were potted up with a mix of potting soil and compost (nearly half and half) plus a small amount of peat and in some cases some of the sandier soil from our side gardens.

      I mulched the entire top of each pot around the base of the tomato stems as soon as I planted them. Good to know that I should probably recycle this soil next year to the compost pile rather than re-use it for veggies.

      The large indeterminate tomatoes are growing in enormous half wine barrels, and they seem(ed) to be doing really well. Mortgage Lifter is nearly 7 feet tall! I *think* the barrels provide them with enough room. The one suffering the most is the one that shares space with other veggies – an experiment based on someone else having success doing it. It’s obviously not working out so well for me – ha.

      I am also growing a few “patio” varieties.

      I’m really hoping that some fertilizer will help…that I can do, but providing more sunlight is getting tricky with those darn figs! Blessing and a curse.

      I just may try your tin foil trick. It can’t hurt! Ironically, I let a “weed seed” tomato plant grow…it was a volunteer and it had gotten big before I noticed it months back in May/early June. I potted it up and put it along the garage wall to keep it separate from the others since I don’t know what it is.

      This tomato has been nearly completely shaded out by the fig (it’s practically under it) and it is NOT turning yellow! It’s unbelievable, but it is still strong, green, and healthy looking!! What gives, tomatoes?!

  3. Within the past two weeks, someone posted an excellent article on tomatoes and the fungi that cause these problems on their blog and I read it here at Blotanical. I meant to bookmark it as I am having the problem on one of mine and I forgot to. If I find it, I’ll let you know… I am hunting for it. And if anyone else remembers it, maybe you could let us both know!

  4. Any chance they’re getting too much water? Or the PH is out of whack? Either could make the nutrients in the soil unavailable to the plants. It’s hard to do much analysis remotely!

  5. Looks like you got some good links to try an diagnos your yellow issue. When I see yellow, I always wonder if there is a nutrient deficiency. Since they are in containers and you’re having to water a lot, the nutrients may be getting washed out. Good luck!

  6. Hi Aimee! Yellowing leaves at the bottom of your plant are totally normal, as the plant grows it sends the nutrients and energy to the top branches that will bear fruit, so the bottom ones just do not receive the nutrients. You actually can remove those branches. If it happens to be a fungus of some sorts you would want to remove these leaves anyway so its a good option. Hoping you don’t have dark lesions on the upper leaves?

  7. I agree with Stacy, I think its quite normal to have yellowing bottom leaves of any plant eg my okra and eggplant too. So I just remove them, so that more nutrients are send up to the newer leaves. Keep us posted about this, Im replanting my tomatoes at the moment!

  8. Be careful removing foliage. Sunscalded fruits can appear when too many leaves are lost. If there’s a chance the yellowing leaves can be greened up with added nutrition or more sunlight, cutting them off may be premature. If they are wilted and useless, removal would be no problem.

    What a dilemma!

  9. i hope the yellowing of the leaves is nothing serious. I’m so jealous that your plants are already producing tomatoes. The only plant that have tomatoes on it right now is the Sungold that Eileen gave me. I see flowers forming on my Brandywine, I can’t wait to see how big the fruit gets. Good luck!

  10. Usually yellowing on your plants is due to overwatering or overfeterlizing. I have over 1,000 tomato plants, 12 different varities and not one yellow leaf. They are in a greenhouse however.

    • Wow – I didn’t fertilize my plants at all last year except for one time where I gave them some compost tea. I think some of the tomatoes I planted last year needed bigger containers or more space. Hoping for better luck this year!

  11. I’m having the same problem with my tomatoes too!

    I made the mistake of planting 4 (yes, I was/am an inexperienced gardener) in a 1′ pot and I’ve really only ever gotten 3-4 tomatoes at a time from it. :/
    (@ 6 feet and growing, I can’t separate them from one another now without damaging the roots.)

    I thought it might be underwatering initially, and sun isn’t a problem because I live in Southeast Asia; tried all the antifungals, but now that I’ve read your post and all the comments, I think my problem might have been sheer stupidity on my part.

    I will try the Epsom salts, though… :)

  12. Oh wow, that does sound like a lot of tomatoes packed into a small space. I’d say give them some regular doses of a fish/kelp emulsion – diluted in water to water them with, and also to spray the leaves with. (Always dilute it according to package instructions.)

    I hope you can save them! And hey – even experienced gardeners make mistakes all the time. Now you know they like to have more room, and next year you can give them each their own pot – as large as possible. Good luck!!

  13. Strange that mine are doin the same this early, I planted mine in march.. I always put fetilizer in the dirt first, black cow manure, lime and minerals eaxch year, then till it all up 4 in. deep.. Usually I would say too much fertilizer mix, BUT….it has rained alot this year 2012 tus far around rockingham nc.,AVERAGE IS UP …yet it has been hot and humid.. MIne are part sun and shade, full near evenings..Tomatoes are growing, plants are about average 3fet tall…only the bottom leaves are yellow.. So I wonder heat? or too much power in the soil.. due actually i have replaced 3 that didnt make it..So, if they make tomatoes earlky, then I will up root them about middle of june and replant for late crop in september..You would thunk with all this rain, flooding them at times, it would wash away most fertilizer strength…But that sun will bake the ground draw out the watwer and turn the leaves also.. So my guess is, to much strenght in the soil, or heat..not the sunlight itself.. Thick mulch around them may prevent heat uplifting thru the palnts.,,The ground gets hot, bakes heat rises.. tobbacca does the same if u dont grop out the bottom leaves soon.,, Actually pepper plants and cucummbers are great.. my caYENNE IS HOTER THAN JALAPENA….ZUCCINNI IS FINE SUASH TOO.. But Im love tomatoes..this year us making good, last year was bad.. I had 22 plants,(2011) made maybe half a bushel,( NO RAIN) year before..2010, 12 plants aND MADE 4 BUSHELS.. Mild rain.,,so far this year.., 3 inches in 2 months,., So Im gonna say heat turn them yellow., and/or possibly too much fertilizer strength,,

    • Oh yes, removing th eleaves on the b ottom will only allow the rest to turn.,,.dont remove them, allow to fall off on their own..mulch keeps the ground wet aroud the plants.,.blocks the heat from rising up thru the pants as much.,,

  14. I think it is blight. I have been having that problem for three years. Each time, I toss the plant along with all the container soil and wash it out with bleach, rinse and dry it in the sun before starting fresh. I think tomato blight is a fungus. Self-watering containers do not seem to help, but planting super hardy hybrids like Juliet in raised beds instead of containers has been the only successful solution for me. I wish I’d stuck with it this year.

  15. I am having the same problem but my tomatos are in wine barrels with no holes( I know I should of but my brother told me not to) I did put plastic bottles in one of the For drainage
    They are if full sun all day and it gets hot. Thinking they are not getting enough water. When i dig down about 8″ it is damp to dry. I have not mulched bit I think I will. What nutritions should I try?

  16. A tomato receiving insufficient nutrients or sunlight will continue to grow, set blossoms and may fruit, but once it starts running short of nutrients, existing fruits will demand an ever-increasing share of whatever resources are available, future fruits will be fewer and undersized.

    With the pot size shown, potting soil doesn’t have enough nutrients to support fruiting tomatoes through an entire season. When it starts starving for nitrogen, a tomato will sacrifice those leaves low on the plant or those receiving the least sunlight, in order to grow in areas receiving the most sun. When it does, the leaves being sacrificed convert chlorophyll back into its constituents and “suck” it back toward the steams- the same phenomenon seen with hardwood trees in the fall.

    If you catch it while the leaves are merely light green, adding nutrients to the soil can reverse the process. Once a leaf has yellow spots, that leaf is a goner, but the rest of the plant can be “saved”.

    From what you posted, it appears to be an imbalance between available nitrogen and potassium. To correct a nitrogen insufficiency quickly, water thoroughly, then apply 1 cup urine diluted with 1 quart water (sounds gross, but it’s cheap, available, and it works). After 2-3 days, apply a water-soluble tomato-specific fertilizer every 2 weeks as long the stems in the strongest sunlight continue to grow longer.

    Check out this article: http://www.mgofmc.org/fertilizers.html

  17. I had this problem last year on a single cherry style tomato, it turned out to be a fungus, and I was able to save it with spraying. If you look at the yellowing leaves, there are tiny brown spots. I am again getting this problem again. Its hurting my brandywine also this year…So it is in the soil I think.

  18. Hey Aimee, Did you ever figure out what was wrong with your tomatoes? Mine are doing the same thing this year, but I think they’re a bit further along–some of the yellowed leaves have also curled up and wilted. Just curious if you came to a conclusion!

  19. My mortgage lifter is doing the same thing! Serendiputous, actually, to stumble on your post when I searched! I have been growing tomatoes since I could walk, in NJ and CA, but am new to Denver’s weather and soil. The mortgage hasn’t set any fruit, and is wilting from the bottom up, regardless of removing yellowing branches/added nutes/plenty of growing room/sunlight/h2o. I assumed this varietal just didnt like the clay content/altitude/weather. He’s 6′ tall, with beautiful flowers, but that’s not why I grew him.

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