“BLOSSOM END ROT” is a very common problem that can be prevented.  The cause is lack of calcium going to the fruit because of moisture stress and/or over fertilization. Calcium dissolves in water and moves through the plant in the vascular system.  Under moisture stress from irregular watering, the calcium goes to the leaves and thus is deficient in the fruit causing blossom end rot. It can occur even in gardens where there is abundant calcium in the soil. Most gardens in Southeast and South Central Nebraska have sufficient calcium in the soil and additional applications, either to the soil or on the leaves (foliar), does not help stop the problem. Blossom end rot in tomatoes usually occurs on the first fruits of the season and may be seen on other fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, peppers, and eggplants. Rapid plant growth from over fertilization with nitrogen, and moisture stress from irregular watering are the two major causes why calcium does not go to the fruit.  

          In summary, the first step in the prevention of blossom end rot and other plant diseases is “DO NOT OVER FERTILIZE!!!” Also, if you have too much nitrogen in relation to phosphorous, you may have beautiful big tomato plants but very few tomatoes. Nitrogen makes your foliage grow, and phosphorous is good for flowering and fruiting.

          The second cause of Blossom End Rot is irregular watering, especially during periods of fruit set, fruit development and rapid plant growth. Tomatoes need 1 inch of water per week during hot windy weather. One-half inch of water applied twice a week is better than one watering per week. Maintaining uniformly adequate soil moisture throughout the season is important.

          The third way to prevent not only blossom end rot but tomato blight is through the use of mulch.  Mulch can be straw, dry grass, leaf clippings that have been run through a mower, compost, or 4 to 6 pages of newspaper. I spread out newspapers, 4 to 6 pages deep around and between my plants and then put straw, compost or soil over the top to hold them down. This mulch helps to conserve moisture and prevent the soil from drying out rapidly. Mulch also helps prevent the disease pathogens that are in the soil from splashing up onto the leaves.

          To prevent diseases in your tomato plants do not water overhead with a sprinkler. I put a soaker hose under the newspapers or mulch. If you have to overhead water, do not water after 2:00 pm in the afternoon. Many disease pathogens are in the soil. A drop of water on the leaf most of the evening helps the pathogen inoculate the plant. Therefore, water early so the plant leaf is dry going into the evening. You can’t prevent the rain but you can decrease the amount of disease by good watering practices. And, as mentioned above, mulch helps prevent disease pathogens from splashing up onto the leaf.

          The fourth tip in growing tomatoes is to purchase disease resistant varieties. When you go to the Garden Center and purchase tomato plants, do you pay attention to all the information on the tag? Do you know what all those letters and words mean? Some of the strange words and letters on the tag include:

·        VFNT: A plant tag may have one letter, two letters, or all four letters. These letters are not college degrees but do indicate disease organisms that hybrid tomatoes have been bred to resist. The V stands for Verticilium Wilt; the F means the plant is resistant to Fusarium Wilt; the N stands for nematode resistance; and the T for Tobacco Mosaic resistance. Remember, they are disease resistant not disease proof.

·        DETERMINATE AND INDETERMINATE: Determinate tomato plants are usually shorter and do very well in containers. The major characteristic of determinate varieties is the fact that they usually have a big flush of fruit and then a few fruit the rest of the season. If you like to can or freeze most of your tomatoes all at once, then look for determinate varieties. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes start setting on fruit and they continue until frost. These varieties are usually taller and need to be staked or contained in a cage

          Tip #5-Don’t plant tomatoes too early. Soil temperature, not air temperature is the major consideration. If the soil temperature is too cold, the plants will just sit, and if it is rainy, may start to rot.

          Tip #6-Grow your plants in good cages. I made my own cages from concrete reinforcing fence. The fencing comes five feet tall and I cut pieces about six feet long and bend them into a circle. These have lasted me for years. My plants get very tall so I pound pieces of rebar about 5 feet long into the ground to support the cages.

          Tip #7-Plant deep.  Tomatoes can be planted very deep and the hairs on the stem will develop roots. I strip all but the top leaves off my transplants and then put the plant so they are just above the soil line.

     The last tip is to be sure and prune. When my tomatoes are about 3 feet to 4

feet tall, I trim off the lower 8 inches to 10 inches of stems and leaves. This allows for good air flow up through the plants and helps to prevent disease. In addition you may need to go in during the month of July and do some pruning. Don’t be afraid to prune and thin out your plant so you have good air flow and large juicy tomatoes. Cutting off those stems is hard for me to do, especially when they have blooms or even small tomatoes. But I know it is good for the plant. As I mentioned many pathogens need a drop of water on the leaf and if you do not have good circulation, the leaf will not dry off. Also, make sure you do not plant your tomatoes too close together. Powdery mildew, leaf blight, and other diseases love damp wet conditions when there is poor air flow. Plants need good air circulation.

          If you get a good abundant crop, as I usually do, please share with the Food Bank, or some other food distribution group. Or start a “Harvest Table for Missions” at your house of worship. Go the second mile and put in one or two extra plants just for sharing with an elderly neighbor, the Food Bank, or your Mission Table.

Copyright 2008