How to fix wilting tomato plants
Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow well, as long as you’re prepared to notice quickly if something is wrong. As well as pests and diseases, tomato yield and quality can be affected by nutrient deficiencies, irregular watering, poor pollination and many other issues. This article will cover the main causes of wilting or drooping in tomato plants, and guide you on the road to plant recovery! Tomato plants can wilt and droop for many reasons. Some are more serious issues caused by disease, while others are absolutely nothing to worry about.
What are the main causes for wilted tomato leaves?
- Root damage during transplanting. If you did not use the entire root bundle when transplanting, but instead dug up the plant from a growing container, some of the secondary roots were likely lost. The reduced root system means there’s less capture area for water to get into the plant system. This problem can fix itself in a few days, and you should notice the plant improving day by day.
- Sun stress. Sun stress occurs when the plants have not been hardened. Many people find their recently transplanted plants to be droopy after their first day out in the sun. Hardening is the process of getting your plant used to the sun, by placing the container in the sun for a few hours each day before transplanting.
- Watering inconsistencies. Another reason could be that after transplanting, you water with the same amount of water you did before. The soil is likely drying out a lot quicker due to the heat of the sun and the outdoor environment. Therefore your tomatoes, or your plant, does not have access to sufficient water. More on watering inconsistencies below.
- Insufficient pollination. Consider how easy it is for pollinating insects to reach your crops. Tomatoes are self-fertile, which means each flower can pollinate itself. Nevertheless, the presence of bees and/or wind dramatically improves pollination by nudging the flowers just enough to help dislodge the pollen from the stamens. If you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse or polytunnel, it may be worth opening up the doors and vents to allow bees to get in, but this will also help create a good through-flow of air, keeping your plants cooler and reducing the risk of disease.
- Excessive heat. Excessive heat can cause of wilting and curling tomato leaves. Heat can cause tomato leaves to curl up as a way of reducing the surface area exposed to the sun, which helps to minimise the amount of moisture lost through the foliage. While watering may seem like the obvious fix to a plant that has had too much sun, it could actually do more harm than good. Once a heatwave passes, the problem should fix itself so do not water your tomatoes excessively. In prolonged periods of hot weather, it’s best to use shade cloth to help keep the plant from dropping its flowers and stop the leaves from curling.
- Over-pruning. Not every gardener chooses to prune their tomato plants, but if you do – make sure you’re not over-doing it! Going OTT with the pruning results in stress – causing the leaves to curl. As mentioned above, tomato plants are susceptible to heat damage, and constantly cutting back the plant will expose it to the sun. Focus on pinching off the suckers between the main and lateral stems rather than cutting back the entire plant. If you have over-pruned your tomato plant and it is now stressed – simply leave it alone and the stress will resolve itself.
More information on watering inconsistencies.
- Under-watering: If you notice a droop, and thin, dry, paper leaves, then the droop is likely due to under-watering. To confirm, check to see if the soil is dry 1-2 inches below the surface. If it is – give it some water! Under-watering often happens if you are growing a new variety of planting in a new environment, or new soil. As long as under-watering isn’t a regular occurrence you should be fine!
- Over-watering: Your plants can also droop if there is too much water. In this case, the leaves would appear droopy but completely hydrated, not dry or paper-like. Again, check the soil – if it’s wet to the touch an inch or two below the surface, allow it to dry out.
You can easily avoid under and over watering by using one of our WaterMate products. The WaterMate waters for you, using a combination of timer and environmental data to give your plants the right amount of irrigation – no more super dry or super soggy plants! Out with the watering can and in with the hose, nozzles and drippers. WaterMate comes in two ready-to-fit kits, the mini for small greenhouses, and the pro for larger greenhouses and polytunnels. Both of our WaterMate products can also be used across your garden, flower beds and pots too if you prefer!
Is it possible to overcome tomato wilt?
The answer to this is, if it’s caused by an environmental factor – yes, you can recover your plant. However, if the plant is wilting because of a pathogen, it is unfortunately, almost always necessary to uproot and destroy the plant.