Spotted wilt tops list of tomato ailments

By By Steve Strong / MSU extension service area horticulturist
June 30, 2004
Tomatoes may be the top pick for backyard vegetable gardens, but they also seem to be the crop with the most problems.
While the types of pests attacking the plants vary from year to year, gardeners can be sure that something is out to get their prized tomatoes before the growing season is done.
Spotted wilt virus appears as the disease to be reckoned with in 2004, and it can devastate an entire planting if not controlled early. TSWV (short for Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus) is a deadly pathogen spread to vegetable crops by thrips, insects that carry the disease inside their bodies as they migrate from nearby gardenias, roses, and various weed species located around the garden.
Thrips are tiny, clear colored insects that use their rasping mouthparts to scratch plant stems and suck the juice from inside. The TSWV disease is transferred into the vegetable plants during the feeding process, and once this occurs the death of those plants is only a matter of time.
Thrips and other insects prefer to feed on lush tender growth in the tops of the plants, so that is where symptoms first appear.
Small brown or blackish specks begin to form on new leaves and stems where fruit clusters are starting to grow, followed by a rapid and progressive wilting and stunting of the entire plant. There is no cure once a plant has become infected, and all related crops such as tomato, pepper, and eggplant are affected by TSWV.
Immediate removal of infected plants is recommended because the disease can be spread quickly to other plants nearby. The only real cure for TSWV is prevention of the disease by early and regular applications of an approved garden insecticide like Malathion, Cygon or Spinosad (a new and hard-to-find product sold as Spintor).
Insect sprays should be applied according to the label directions, usually somewhere between seven and 14 days depending on the amount of rainfall.
Rain has been abundant lately, and pesticides may need to be re-applied in shorter intervals for effective pest control. Fungicides that protect against common foliage diseases (early blight and bacterial spot) can also be mixed in the same sprayer.
Along with TSWV and early blight fungus, there are a number of additional tomato ailments popping up in the garden this summer.
Blossom end rot is a common sight whenever the growing season is either extremely wet or very dry, and this plant disorder is actually caused by a lack of calcium uptake in the plant during fruit ripening.
The bottom or blossom end of tomatoes becomes black and sunken as they turn from green to red, and calcium deficiency prevents the fruits from maturing firmly. Lime applied in the correct amount to garden soil before planting is the best way to avoid blossom end rot, but this late in the season about the only option is regular weekly applications of a stop-rot spray containing calcium chloride.
Check with your local garden center for products to manage blossom end rot and garden insect pests, and be sure to visit the county Extension office for plant disease diagnosis and soil testing services. The Mississippi State University Web site is www.msucares.com and contains a wealth of gardening wisdom including the vegetable Garden Tabloid, publication 1091.
Gardeners can read all about Southern blight, bacterial wilt and a host of other garden pests likely to be present along with those mentioned previously. Sadly, there is a rarely a cure available once the damage is done, but at least gardeners can figure out what they are dealing with, and prepare accordingly for the next time around. Happy Gardening.

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