Q. My tomatoes get sick every year. It seems to start just after blooming when I have fruit. The bottom leaves seem to dry up and die. What’s wrong?
— Marilyn from Canfield
A. Everyone has the same problem with tomatoes each and every year.
The disease is early blight. It always starts at the bottom of the plant and works its way to the top.
By the time you pick your second or third time, the plants look like they have had it.
The disease becomes evident when the plant leaves start to have dots on them, then turn yellow, then turn brown from the bottom up.
The humidity helps the blight become even worse in late July into August.
What’s a gardener to do? You could spray fungicides, but you have to have a sprayer, want to use it and be on a schedule.
There are other options which you should try first. These will do a great job in reducing or nearly eliminating early blight:
Stake tomatoes, and leave space between them. The increased air flow and sunlight penetration will help dry leaves quickly in the morning, reducing the ability of the fungus to grow. You can also remove lower limbs so they do not touch the ground. This will improve air circulation under the plant.
Clip off the infected leaves. Remove these from the garden area to prevent reinfection farther up the plant when the rain splashes off the leaves.
Mulch your tomatoes with newspapers, covered with a mulch material of your choice, to prevent the splashing effect of the soil up onto the plant.
To read more on control methods for this disease, go to: http://go.osu.edu/tomatodisease
Eric Barrett is the Ohio State University Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the extension Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon to submit your questions.