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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Saving Container Tomatoes: Frost, Stress & Purple Stems - Foliar Feeding

Saving Container Tomatoes: Frost, Stress & Purple Stems
Foliar Feeding for the Win

Tomatoes are resilient. The container tomatoes I am growing on my deck were hit by a late frost that damaged many of their leaves and even growing stems. The frost broke a 100 year record. There was direct damage from the frost but the cold in itself stressed the plants. Following that frost we had temperatures that were up and down and varied by nearly 30 degrees. More stress was placed on the plants from fluctuating temperatures. Towards the end of May and beginning of June we even hit 90 degrees.

One of the responses to this general stress was significant purpling of the leaf stems and productions stems. Some tomatoes got it worse than others. Some tomatoes looked generally stunted compared to other tomato's growth. Purpling of tomato plants typically has to do with phosphorous. There could be a lack of phosphorous in the ground or in this case, I believe, stress made it more difficult for the tomato's systems to pull in nutrients. I knew may container soil was tended and managed as I had for 10 years of great tomato growth. The difference... this extraordinarily stressful month of May.

I had to make a decision to either pull the stunted weaker looking tomatoes or treat them. The video highlights the problems showing the frost damage, purple stems and the recovery of the tomatoes after about 1 week of treatment. I did not have to pull and replace any of the tomatoes.

The treatment was giving the tomatoes a foliar feeding every day for a week. The green color returned. The weather normalized and the combination of both factors relieved the stress. The tomatoes greened up and started growing nicely.

The key is to NOT over fertilizer your tomatoes when something is wrong and you know they are fed. I used 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer that had phosphorous.  I poured about 1 cup over the leaves daily. Miracle Gro or organic fertilizer alternatives that focus on 'easy' foliar uptake is needed for this treatment. The theory is that the tomatoes had a hard time, due all the stress, using their roots to get what the needed. Providing nutrients over the leaves gave the tomatoes some help. A boost.

This type of feeding won't over fertilize or damage your plants. If you were to use full concentrations in the soil, on top of having container soil that was fully fertilized you could potentially harm the plant in various ways. If the tomatoes don't perk up in about 7-10 days, using this type of treatment, then you probably need to consider replacing them.

The frost hit May 3rd. I waited 3 weeks for them to recovery on their own. I started the daily foliar feedings toward the end of May with hope they would perk up.

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