Tag Archives: Tomato

Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot of tomato.
Blossom end rot of tomato.

What is blossom end rot? 

Blossom end rot is a physiological disorder of tomato in which the tissue of the blossom end of the fruit (the portion of the fruit opposite the stem) breaks down and rots, thus reducing yield.  Pepper, eggplant and vine crop (e.g., cucumber, pumpkin, squash, watermelon) fruits can also be affected.

What does blossom end rot look like? 

Blossom end rot often occurs on the first fruits formed on plants.  Initially, water-soaked spots (resembling small bruises) appear, most often on the bottoms of fruits.  On peppers these spots can resemble sunscald and can form on the sides of the fruits near the blossom end.  Spots enlarge, becoming dark brown to black, sunken and leathery.  Half the fruit may eventually be affected.  Sometimes, when a fruit is cut, the exterior will be sound, but the interior will be discolored and shrunken.  Often, bacteria and fungi invade the discolored areas, leading to further tissue decay.

What causes blossom end rot? 

Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruit.  This lack of calcium may be due to low calcium levels in the soil.  More often however, there is plenty of calcium in the soil, but its availability for uptake and transport to fruits is impaired.  Drought stress, alternating soil moisture extremes, and damage to a plant’s roots all can inhibit calcium uptake, as can waterlogged or cold soils, and high concentrations of ammonium (NH4+), potassium (K+), and magnesium (Mg++) in soil.  Movement of calcium within plants depends on active transpiration (i.e., loss of water through above-ground plant parts).  Because leaves transpire more than fruits, calcium moves more easily into leaves where it remains.  Calcium is not later redistributed from leaves to fruits.  This preferential distribution of calcium to leaves can be made worse by over-fertilizing with nitrogen which promotes excessive production of leaves.  In addition, high relative humidity OR low relative humidity in combination with hot, windy weather can limit transpiration, thus preventing calcium from reaching fruits.

How can I control blossom end rot? 

Avoid conditions where there is too much or too little water.  Water evenly and mulch the soil to retain moisture during dry periods.  Avoid practices that would damage roots (e.g., cultivating too near plants thereby cutting roots).  Use nitrate (NO3) rather than ammonium (NH4+) forms of nitrogen fertilizer.  DO NOT over-fertilize.  Have your soil tested periodically to determine if there is sufficient calcium in the soil.  If not, add calcium (e.g., bonemeal or lime).  Check the soil pH on a regular basis, particularly if you use lime as a calcium source.  Use of lime tends to increase soil pH.  A pH of about 6.5 is ideal for growing most vegetables.  Finally, grow vegetable varieties/cultivars that are tolerant of calcium deficiencies and less likely to show blossom end rot symptoms.

For more information on blossom end rot: 

Contact your county Extension agent.

Black Walnut Toxicity

What is black walnut toxicity? 

Black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) produce a toxic substance (called juglone) that prevents many plants from growing under or near them.  Related trees like butternut (J. cinerea) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) also produce juglone, but in lower concentrations than black walnut.  Juglone occurs in all parts of black walnut trees, but especially in buds, nut hulls and roots.  The toxic effects of a mature black walnut tree can extend 50 to 80 feet from the trunk of the tree, with the greatest toxicity occurring within the tree’s dripline.  In this area, plants susceptible to juglone may wilt or die; plants tolerant to juglone will grow normally.  Vegetables such as tomato, potato, eggplant and pepper, and ornamentals such as lilac, peony, rhododendron and azalea are particularly sensitive to juglone.

Wilting of eggplant due to black walnut toxicity.
Wilting of eggplant due to black walnut toxicity.

What do the effects of black walnut toxicity look like? 

Plants sensitive to juglone may be stunted, have yellow or brown, twisted leaves, exhibit wilting of some or all plant parts, and die over time.  Often, the vascular (i.e., water-conducting) tissue of affected plants will be discolored.  Symptoms may occur rapidly, even within a few days after sensitive species are transplanted into a walnut tree’s root zone.  Alternatively, some plants may survive for years near a young walnut tree but then wilt and die as the tree increases in size.  Black walnut toxicity can be confused with wilts caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens (e.g., see UW Plant Disease Facts D0121, Verticillium Wilt of Trees and Shrubs, and D0122, Verticillium Wilt of Vegetables), herbicide injury (see UW Plant Disease Facts D0060, Herbicide Damage), or drought.

How do I avoid problems with black walnut toxicity? 

There is no cure for a plant affected by walnut toxicity.  Removing a walnut tree may not be practical, as the tree could be the focal point in a landscape.  In addition, even if a walnut tree is removed, juglones will not immediately be eliminated, because it is next to impossible to remove all root pieces from the soil and remaining pieces may continue to exude toxins for several years as they decay.

When establishing a garden around a walnut tree, try to plant species that are tolerant to juglone (see table on the reverse side).  If you are growing sensitive species near a walnut tree, transplant them elsewhere in your garden.  If you must grow sensitive plants near a black walnut, keep beds free of walnut leaves and hulls, and remove walnut seedlings as they appear.  Grow shallow rooted woody and herbaceous plants, and improve drainage to help diminish the effects of juglone.  Alternatively, consider building raised beds with wood, stone, or concrete barriers that limit root growth through and under the beds.

When disposing of bark and wood from a walnut tree, do not use these materials for mulch.

The information in the following table is intended to provide guidance in selecting plants to grow near walnut trees.  Inclusion of plants in this table is based on observation, not on formal testing.  In addition, the plant lists in this table are by no means exhaustive.  Oftentimes the juglone sensitivity or tolerance of specific plants has never been observed or documented.  Finally, sources often disagree on whether particular plants (e.g., columbine, lily, narcissus, tulip) are juglone sensitive or tolerant.  Some varieties may be susceptible while others may be tolerant.  Most plant species with conflicting information regarding their sensitivity or tolerance to juglone have not been included in the table.

  Sensitive to Juglone Tolerant of Juglone
Vegetables asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, pepper, potato, rhubarb, tomato beans, beet, carrot, corn, melon, onion, parsnip, squash
Flowers autumn crocus, chrysanthemum, forget-me-not, petunia, peonies aster, astilbe, bee balm, begonia, black-eyed Susan, bluebell, calendula, crocus, daylily, ferns, grape hyacinth, some hosta varieties, hollyhock, impatiens, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Jacob’s ladder, marigold, morning glory, pansy, phlox, Siberian iris, squill, sweet woodruff, trillium, zinnia
Trees alder, apple and crabapple, basswood, pine, spruce, silver maple, white birch black locust, catalpa, Eastern redbud, hackberry, Canadian hemlock, hickory, most maples, oaks, pagoda dogwood, poplar, red cedar
Shrubs and Vines azalea, blackberry (and most berries other than black raspberry), cotoneaster, hydrangea, lilac, mountain laurel, potentilla, privet, rhododendron, yew arborvitae, bittersweet, black raspberry, clematis, currant, forsythia, euonymus, greenbrier, most honeysuckle, pachysandra, rose-of-Sharon, sumac, most viburnum, Virginia creeper, wild grape, wild rose, willow, witch hazel
Field Crops and Grasses alfalfa, tobacco fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, soybean, timothy, wheat, white clover

For more information on black walnut toxicity: 

See UW Bulletin A3182, Walnut and Butternut Toxicity (available at https://learningstore.extension.wisc.edu/), or contact your County Extension agent.

Bacterial Soft Rot

What is bacterial soft rot? 

Bacterial soft rot describes a group of diseases that cause more crop loss worldwide than any other bacterial disease.  Bacterial soft rots damage succulent plant parts such as fruits, tubers, stems and bulbs of plants in nearly every plant family.  Soft rots commonly affect vegetables such as potato, carrot, tomato, cucurbits (e.g., cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins), and cruciferous crops (e.g., cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy).  These diseases can occur on crops in the field as well as on harvested crops in storage.  Rot can occur over a wide temperature range (with the worst decay between 70 and 80°F) and is particularly severe when oxygen is limited.

Bacterial soft rots cause the collapse of plant parts such as potato tubers. (Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison/Extension Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic)
Bacterial soft rots cause the collapse of plant parts such as potato tubers. (Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison/Extension Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic)

What does bacterial soft rot look like? 

Soft rot bacteria degrade pectate molecules that bind plant cells together, thus causing plant structure to fall apart.  Woody tissues are not susceptible.  Initially, bacterial soft rots cause water-soaked spots.  These spots enlarge over time and become sunken and soft.  Interior tissues beneath the spots become mushy and discolored, with the discoloration ranging anywhere from cream to black.  Seepage from affected areas is common.  Soft rots are known for a strong, disagreeable odor that accompanies the breakdown of plant tissue.

Where does bacterial soft rot come from? 

Soft rots are caused by several bacteria, most commonly species of Pectobacterium [particularly Pectobacterium carotovorum (previously called Erwinia carotovora)], Dickeya species [particularly Dickeya dadantii (previously called Erwinia chrysanthemi)], and certain species of Pseudomonas, Bacillus and Clostridium.  These bacteria can enter plants through wounds caused by tools, insects, and severe weather such as hail, as well as through natural openings.  The bacteria can be spread from plant to plant by insects, on contaminated tools, or by movement of infested plant debris, soil, or contaminated water.  Bacterial soft rots tend to be more of a problem during wet weather and can be more severe when plants lack sufficient calcium.

How do I save a plant with bacterial soft rot? 

Once soft rot bacteria have infected plant tissue, there are no treatments.  Immediately remove and discard infected plants or plant parts.  DO NOT bury or compost this material.

How do I avoid problems with bacterial soft rot in the future?  

Avoiding wet conditions is key for managing soft rot.  Plant vegetables in well- drained soils, and control watering times and amounts, making sure plants are watered adequately (but not excessively) and uniformly.  DO NOT crowd plants; wider spacing will promote more rapid drying of plants and soil.  Make sure that soil fertility (particularly soil calcium) is optimal for the vegetables that you are growing based on a soil nutrient test.  Add calcium (e.g., bone meal) at planting as needed.

Use soft rot-resistant vegetables in rotation with susceptible vegetables.  Corn, snap beans and beets are vegetables that are not considered susceptible to soft rot.  When growing broccoli, avoid varieties with flat/concave heads that trap moisture and promote soft rot.  Instead, select varieties with domed heads where water readily drains away.

Avoid damaging vegetables when weeding and during harvest.  Minimize any handling of soft-rotted plants, but if you must handle such plants (e.g., to remove them from the garden), wash your hands afterwards with soap and water.  Decontaminate garden tools before and after use by treating them for at least 30 seconds with 10% bleach or preferably (because of its less corrosive properties), 70% alcohol.  Rubbing alcohol and many spray disinfectants typically contain approximately 70% alcohol.  Also, keep insects that can wound vegetables such as cabbage maggot under control (see University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1030, Cabbage Maggot, for details).

Harvest only during dry conditions.  Closely inspect vegetables from infected gardens that will go into long-term storage, and be sure not to store any diseased vegetables.  Cure vegetables where appropriate prior to storage.  Store vegetables in a cool, dry, well-aerated place to suppress bacterial growth.

At the end of the growing season, remove any infested plant debris remaining in your garden, and destroy the material by burning (where allowed by local ordinance) or landfilling it.  If soft rot is a serious, recurring problem in an area in your garden, DO NOT grow susceptible crops in that area for a minimum of three years.

For more information on bacterial soft rot: 

Contact your county Extension agent.