Tomato – Bacterial Wilt

Q: I need information on tomato bacterial wilt. Specifically, how to contain it, how contagious is it, what else it can affect, how I can keep from spreading it to the rest of my garden.

A: Bacterial wilt is a soil-borne disease. It is very contagious to tomatoes, pepper and eggplant that are planted in infected soil.

Bacterial wilt is a common disease of tomatoes when soils are waterlogged and temperatures are warm. This soil-borne bacteria enters the roots when they are wounded or weakened by lack of oxygen.

Plants seem to gradually wilt while remaining green. They recover somewhat overnight but wilt more severely the following day. Some say it looks like the plant has had boiling water thrown on it.

Try this garden science experiment with children: Cut a four inch section of the lower stem of the plant and put the bottom end in a glass of warm water. If cloudy bacterial ooze streams out of the cut end, bacterial wilt is present.

There is no chemical that will eradicate it from the soil. The best cure is to plant non-hosts, like corn, beans or squash, in the spot for four years.

If you can’t wait that long, try excavating a hole 24 inches wide and twelve inches deep for each tomato plant. Fill the hole with a 1:1:1 mixture of fresh garden soil, soil conditioner and coarse sand. Fill the spot where you get fresh soil with the diseased soil from your vegetable garden. The tomato plant will grow healthily for at least four months – by which time you’ll be tired of tomatoes and ready for them to die anyway.

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