Roots, Shoots, Fruits, & Flowers: Tomato Edition

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Tomato with damage from raccoon. Photo: Missouri Bontanical Garden

Dallas, a vegetable gardener, brought in a damaged tomato and wanted to learn the cause.

As near as AHA can discern, this tomato suffered damage by a raccoon. Some possible solutions would include high fencing or a pack of dogs to prevent access to the tomato plants. Another possible treatment would be Miller’s Hot Sauce® animal repellent. This treatment has 2.5% capsaicin, the same active ingredient in chili peppers.Apparently, this 2.5% rate is very hot to any animal taking a bite. Fortunately, Miller’s Hot Sauce® is sprayed on and can be washed off prior to food preparation. As always, read the label for safe and effective use.

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Overripe tomatoes with seedlings germinating.
Photo: Keith Hawkins

Another gardener brought in a plate of store-bought tomatoes with unexpected growths.

These tomatoes started sprouting tomato seedlings about two weeks after purchase. A natural plant hormone has diminished, and seed dormancy is over. The moisture in the tomato also enables germination.Fortunately, tomatoes with sprouts are safe to eat.

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Tomatoes with blossom end rot.
Photo: LSU AgCenter

A common problem with tomatoes is a condition called “blossom end rot” or BER. Some gardeners think it is an infection, but it is really nutrient deficiency caused by the lack of calcium.

The treatment for BER is very simple to apply.Apply calcium nitrate to the soil at the rate of 1 cup per 50 feet of row or 1 level teaspoon per each plant. Apply to the root growing area of the plant avoiding direct contact with the plant. Do not apply within 2 inches of the plant stem. Water in after application. A second application 2 weeks after the initial application is recommended. Subsequent applications may be made as needed.

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Tomatoes are ripe but have a hard core inside.

Dennis sent this email about his tomatoes, “We have lovely tomato plants with lots of tomatoes. But, as they ripen they stay green on about the top third of the fruit. That part stays green and hard inside. What would be the problem?”

“Ask an Expert” at provided an answer to the issue of hard tomatoes, “Tomatoes with hard white tissue in the cross-wall and center of the fruit have a physiological disorder called internal white tissue. They often have few external symptoms. High temperatures during the ripening period are thought to trigger the symptoms. Maintaining a sufficient potassium fertilization program can reduce symptoms but may not eliminate them. Resistance to this problem varies with varieties.”

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Tomato pith necrosis.
Photo: Cornell University

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Tomato pith necrosis outside.
Photo: Dr. Raj Singh

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Dead pith inside stem of tomato. Photo: Dr Raj Singh

One gardener sent an entire tomato plant to the AgCenter’s Plant Diagnostic center (PDC). It looked similar to the image below.

Dr. Raj Singh of the PDC made this diagnosis of the tomato specimen, “Tomato pith necrosis is suspected to be causing the problem. The pith is necrotic (see images below) in the stem with profuse adventitious roots are symptoms associated with Tomato pith necrosis (TPN) disease. A bacterial microorganism was isolated from the necrotic pith tissue.”

Dr. Singh made these recommendations for managing TPN:

  • Remove and discard infected plants. Start with healthy disease free plants and avoid planting in the same spot where previous infection has occurred.
  • Improve soil drainage. Water logging conditions favor the spread and development of the disease.
  • Avoid over irrigation and water early in the morning and as infrequently as possible without causing drought stress.
  • Do not plant too deep.
  • Avoid the use of excessive amounts of nitrogen, particularly early in the season when nights are still cool.

If you want to contact Roots, Shoots, Fruits and Flowers, please send your questions and pictures to Keith Hawkins, Area Horticulture Agent (AHA), 337-463-7006 or Also, you can be on the “green thumbs” email list by emailing your request to the address above.

“This work has been supported, in part, by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Renewable Resources Extension Act Award, Accession Number 1011417.”

7/16/2019 1:59:22 PM
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