Tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum) tease you with lush early growth, but their susceptibility to a wide range of fungal diseases, and sensitivities to climate and nutrient issues can leave you wondering what happened to an expected bumper crop. There are two types of blight that threaten tomatoes — early and late — but Epsom salts are not an effective treatment for either.
Know Your Tomato Blights
Early and late blight are two fungal diseases of that affect tomatoes and other vegetables in the same family — particularly potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). Early blight produces small brown spots on older leaves and large sunken spots and concentric rings on fruit, which often drop from infected plants. The disease is most likely to when the weather is cool and humid after a rain. Late blight is more prevalent and more serious. Plants affected with the Phytophthora infestans fungus that cause late blight can lose all their leaves within two weeks, and fruit turns brown and hard from the top down. Ideal conditions for late blight are temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with 90 percent humidity.
Treat Blight Right
Planting blight-resistant cultivars, spacing plants so foliage doesn’t touch and avoiding wetting foliage helps avoid either blight. In the case of early blight, removing infected leaves and stems can help stave off the disease long enough to get a crop. An antifungal with the active ingredient chlorothalonil is most effective against early blight, while one with famoxadone/cymoxanil works against late blight. Both types of blight overwinter in plant debris and soil. Change where you plant tomatoes and potatoes from year to year — not following one with the other — to break the cycle of blight.
About Epsom Salts
Named for the city in England where the naturally occuring compound was discovered, Epsom salts are chemically known as magnesium sulfate and are 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur. Epsom salts readily dissolve in water to become immediately available to plants in the soil. Magnesium sulfate has long been used as a fertilizer and has been thought to improve seed germination, growth and production of chlorophyll. Later practices use the product only after a soil test shows a magnesium deficiency.
Epsom Salts for Tomatoes
While Epsom salts don’t fight blight, when older leaves on tomato plants turn yellow while the veins remain green, the macronutrient may be just what the doctor ordered. Mottled yellow leaves that eventually turn brown and drop off are a sign of magnesium deficiency in tomatoes. Applying a foliar spray of 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts per foot of height of the tomato plants dissolved in 1 gallon of water can help alleviate symptoms.
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