How did I kill my tomato plants?

There’s certainly never a dull moment when you attempt to grow your own fruit and vegetables, especially on Piglet’s plot! One minute they are all fine and the next…

Tomato plants before feed
Tomato plants before feed

Before we returned to France I went to our local plant and hardware shop to buy liquid fertilizer for my fruit and vegetables. After performing various charades my efforts were rewarded with the usual Portuguese shrug from the shop assistant. I finally made him understand “I need food for my vegetables – liquid “food” which I dilute”.  I carefully listed, in Portuguese, all my fruit and vegetables and he assured me an organic fertiliser called BrioSint was the correct product.

The shop assistant wrote down the dosage, one tampa per 10 litres of water, and I was all set.

I diluted the fertilizer as per his instructions and fed all my fruit and veg.  On my next visit to the same shop a few weeks later I double-checked I’d understood his instructions  with the shop assistant who could speak English. “No, I should not be watering the plants I should be spraying the leaves and I would soon have “muito grande lettuce, spinach. peppers, bom tomates etc”.

Mutter, mutter…mutter

I found a new spray bottle, made up the feed and sprayed the leaves as directed. I then went to France for a couple of weeks secure in the knowledge all my fruit and veg were fed and my friends would take care of the watering.

A month later
A month later

When I returned to Portugal the leaves on my tomato plants had turned yellow and were beginning to curl. The tomatoes were also a strange green. Perhaps they’d been over watered I thought? However, on closer inspection I noticed the veins on the tomato plant leaves were almost purple. I returned to the shop clutching the product and sample leaves.

Mutter, mutter…mutter

I struck lucky, the guy who spoke English served me. Yes, it was definitely the correct product and yes I did spray it on the leaves. However, he blamed the demise of my tomatoes on the cold. I accepted this and returned home.

Mutter, mutter…mutter

It was then I spotted a self-seeded tomato plant growing beside my compost heap which had escaped the fertiliser. It was perfectly healthy so the notion of it being too cold, was a red herring in my opinion.

Self-seeded tomato growing by the compost heap
Self-seeded tomato growing by the compost heap

Now on a mission, I returned to the shop with more samples of dying tomato leaves, plus a healthy one to stress my point. Poor guy, you could almost see him groan when he saw me walk into the shop. After an hour queuing in sweltering heat, it was my turn to be served and I related the story, showed him the dying leaves and the a sample leaf from the healthy tomato plant. Exasperated, he shrugged his shoulders.

There's definitely something wrong, but what?
There’s definately something wrong, but what?

He was at a loss as to the problem. When I expressed my doubts as to spraying the leaves, he again confirmed this was correct. He asked if I’d sprayed them in sunlight? Maybe, I don’t know. He never mentioned this before!

The guy in the queue behind me came to my rescue, thought I’d probably over fertilized and advised me to water the plant in future rather than spray the leaves. It’s strange though, because the other plants I’d sprayed such as the peppers and strawberries were fine.

Mutter, mutter …mutter

I returned home to watch and wait. Hopefully with no additional feed the problem would resolve itself. However, it was not to be.

The veins are tinged with purple and blue
The veins are tinged with purple and blue

The edges of the leaves started to turn blue so I decided to destroy all the tomato plants and start again.

Groan, curse…mutter, mutter…mutter!

I related my tale of woe to a friend who felt so sorry for me, he donated several of his tomato plants and seedlings. Bless him!

Did I kill my tomato plants? Any suggestions as to the cause gratefully received!

Update 17/06/12
I think my tomatoes may have had Curly Top Disease which can occur on Coastal Tomatoes and Peppers.

Related Posts:
Growing fruit and vegetables in pots – April 2012


66 thoughts on “How did I kill my tomato plants?

Add yours

  1. Most of the organic container gardeners here in India use neem oil, or chili garlic solution, for spraying , again many pests.
    In case you have time, you can visit my blog at http//


  2. Hi Piglet,

    It was lovely to read your blog – I share your sympathy about your poor tomato plants!

    Now the diagnosis:

    1) The second picture shows significant yellowing of leaves which is an obvious indicator of a loss of chlorophyll, the green plant pigment – this is called Chlorosis and is likely to have been caused by lack of Nitrogen, which may have been caused either from incorrect spraying of fertiliser of the inability of roots (if watered) to absorb the nutrients due to excessive watering (resulting in anoxia or lack of oxygen), which prevents the roots from ‘breathing’ normally.

    2) The 4th and 5th picture show the leaves and veins turning bluish purple.
    When plants become stressed (like water or nutrient stress), they produce a stress pigment called ‘anthocyanin’ in response to the stress. This pigment is purple in colour and hence the colouration in your leaves.

    The Plan:
    Of course, you’ll have to start again but monitor how the plant is responding to both watering and fertilisers – tomato plants are particularly sensitive to both but if you get the mix right, you’ll have a booming crop in no time!

    I have written about some of this and more in my blog, if you have a moment to spare…

    Best wishes,



  3. I read this last week, and reckoned you had enough advice!
    Anyhow, we grow tomatoes in our garden in Jo’burg and sometimes the leaves also go yellow. I don’t use any fertilizer and the only nutrients the plants get are from the compost we dig into the soil all over the place.
    The soil quality is so-so and in places clayish.
    As we bury all our old veggies, the plants tend to self seed( all over the place!) so some plants survive better than others – where the soil is better.
    I’m a great believe in au naturale and if it can’t survive with only water and old veggie matter then it wasn’t supposed to!
    We mostly grow the small cocktail tomatoes and they seem to do okay most of the time.

    My wife grows orchids and she says the pots could be contaminated. (She disinfects pots before transplanting)


  4. Can I just say despite all the so-called complications, that growing tomatoes is quite simple growing in containers if you stick to some basic rules.
    Have your plants in a a big enough pot, never let the pot dry out but water a little but often so you do not wash out nutrients, there is only a limited amount in the compost. Have your pot standing in a dish so it can take up water from the bottom and has a little reserve, which the compost will soak up after you have watered.

    Make sure you feed at least once a week with a standard tomato feed and nip out the growing tip when the plant is about 5ft high,
    Try not to over analyse problems or you might get even more confused, most problems are caused by over or under watering, or plants being in to small a pot which becomes full of roots so there is no compost left to store the nutrients.
    De-shoot cordon style tomatoes, leave the shoots on bush style ones.



    1. Hi Steve, you are absolutely right. However, I’ve found simple problems are magnified by the fact I am unable to speak the language well enough when reading bottles and compost etc Sometimes my frustration does get the better of me 🙂

      The basics you offer are spot on, and I hold my hands up I did try and cut corners with the size of the pots I was using. A hard lesson. Still I continue to learn. In the UK I just bought grow bags, slit 3 holes and planted the tomatoes in there. Toms grew well.

      I am learning something new every day and one day my knowledge will match match my enthusiasm. Everything is hunky dory when things go right, but when things go wrong it’s having the know how to put them right. 🙂 And I’ve been well tested!

      Thanks for all your help it’s really appreciated 🙂


    1. Hi Granny, I also met up with someone in Portugal today who reads my blog and grows all her veg in pots and she also had some great advice!
      I am going to experiment and see what the outcome is…


  5. Hi,
    I’m sorry to hear you lost your plant. How very nice of your friend to give you some plants and I hope you can find out what happened


  6. There’s nothing so frustrating as an unanswered question!

    Maybe next time you could try a test – spray the leaves of one but not the other, and see what happens.


    1. Hi Tilly, I am going to mark up several pots and try different fertilizers and see which works best. Someone has just kindly given me some miracle grow, which is not available here unfortunately. We will see how I get on.


  7. Shame about your toms PiP. I’ve learnt that if you stick your tomato plants in a grow bag or ground with compost, not a pot, and use bog standard tomato feed (it’s not necessary to get top notch fertilizer at all) regularly they should be fine. The thing about buying compost is that the main difference between the cheap and the expensive stuff is the cheaper variety doesn’t hold the nutrients as long as the dearer stuff so you need to feed them more often. Having said that, I’ve been told by a gardening fanatic that the best thing to use is horse manure.

    Another thing worth bearing in mind is the term “organic” which average Joe Public thinks is a good thing, they’re helping mother nature and protecting the planet, blah blah. In truth manufacturer’s of organic products still use chemical junk on their goods, the difference is they don’t use as much or use different stuff.

    Out of interest what is a “tampa”?


    1. Hi Dave, sorry a tampa is the lid of the container. You’re right about the compost. I’ve been studying the nutrients each bag contains. I’ve also learned expensive does not always equate to the best. The challenge is to grow them in pots, rather than in my poor sandy soil with other competing plants.

      All this organic stuff is doing my head in! But I’m learning gradually 🙂


  8. Just a quick mention on fluffy white bugs, which I think you might mean white fly. I plant marigolds in the poly-tunnel which stops the white fly going on the tomatoes. So plant some near your outdoor toms.
    Have not had to use any chemicals since. You can also use washing up liquid in water which also helps.
    Mini Clara
    You are right about the purple veins, but a lack of other nutrients and a poor root system will stop the plants up-take of phosphorous.

    There is a search button on my blog which will help you find information about most things that are in my posts.


  9. So sorry about the toms. I thought purple veins were a sign of phosphorous deficiency.
    I get rid of the fluffy white bugs with alcohol. Someone suggested whisky was good but I would rather keep that for myself, so I give the affected areas a wipe with white spirit. Which works wonders.


    1. Hi MC I checked
      and also
      Interesting and scary. MAkes me realise growing veg is more scientific!
      I went to another horticultural place today and the fluffy bugs Ihave the lady called cochonilha. She only knew the name in Portuguese unforuntately.
      I bought some jollop for the bugs today. Don’t like using chemicals but sometimes drastic action is called for!


      1. Hi, aren’t “cochonilhas” called mealybugs in english? Ladybugs (joaninhas in portuguese) love to feed on them.


        1. Thanks Fernada, you have saved me some research. I asked the lady in the shop and she did not know. Fair enough she only knew the Portuguese.

          I’ve hardly seen any Ladybugs in my garden…and only one worm!


  10. Sorry about your tomatoes, they do look sick, but it looks like you have got some really good advice in the comments.
    Good luck, and let us know how you go with the new plants.


  11. I’m no expert by any means. My husband is the one who buys and plants the tomatoes. He buys Early Girls. The few things he tells me is that tomatoes like heat from the sun and lots of water. Our plants got hammered last July and it stunted their growth production by 6-8 weeks. I had lotsa green tomatoes into November. Sorry about your plants 😦


  12. PiP, I wish I had some sage advice for you and your tomato plants. Alas, what I have to share is, again, my appreciation for your wonderful writing, wry sense of humor, and capacity to write a story that both makes me sigh with sympathy/empathy for you, and makes me laugh. I hope to re-enter the blogging world again. I have missed it so. Life has continued to be very challenging, but I do hope be a regular again here. Good luck with your new plants. Maybe the old ones just became too lonely for you when you were gone!


  13. Plant some over by the compost heap . . . they seem to like the growing conditions there.

    I’ve used organic tomato spikes to feed my plants. Don’t know if you could find them in Portugal


  14. Oh dear, PiP…so sad about the tomato plants. 😦
    When we lived in Connecticut with those 100 blueberry bushes, I used to pay my children 1 penny per bad bug that they brushed off the leaves into a cup of water.
    Glad you had a knight in shining armour (or in overalls, perhaps) who supplied you with more plants. Best of luck!!!! Sounds like the “king of tomoatoes” might have great tips for you on his site.


  15. Gosh, PiP, I’m sorry that you had to destroy all your tomato plants. I’m still fighting “bichos” on one of my decorative plants. They’re tiny, fuzzy, white bugs that look like bits of cotton. Somehow, they arrived on my 17th floor balcony and are almost impossible to get rid of. Chemicals are tricky. I’ve almost killed the plant, but the bugs are still surviving!


  16. Bon Dia Carole
    I will take the pictures off your site and create a post, which should be easy enough. We fed our tomatoes in Portugal with a mixture made up from large commercial bags of fertiliser. My last few post mentions feed so there is plenty of advice there.
    Standard plant feed has not enough potash, but it will do, I will explain all in the post.
    I also started a book years ago about my life in Portugal called ‘Rei Dos Tomates’ the tomato king, which was my nick name there, could be a year in the making though as I have to finish the follow up to Vantastic France.
    might need some help with the Portuguese words in the book sometime!


  17. Well I have donned Mr TK’s cape and will try an rescue your poor tomato’s.
    however it could be a long comment, would you mind if I stole the post and added it to my blog so It will help everyone in the same situation.
    But first a quick answer; The problem is the pot, it is too full of roots to hold nutrients in the compost, plant it in a large pot or in the soil. Foliar are OK but too much is wasted, and the plant hardly takes them up in the quantity it needs I am not a fan of them.
    The colour change is lack of nutrients, your plant is totally starved, hence the green one growing in the soil next to it.

    Also what variety is it! It looks a cordon type, so needs the shoots taken off.
    I can add lots more tit bits if I do a post on my blog.
    Steve aka Rei dos Tomates


    1. Hi Steve,
      Thank you so much! I’ve just planted 4 plants in the raised bed and I’m sorting out some much larger pots for the rest of the seedlings. I’m really surprised about the nutrients, but what you say makes sense. When you were in Portugal what product did you use to feed your tomatoes?

      You are welcome to use this idea for a post on your blog especially if it will help other people, and if you need some photographs I am more than happy to supply these.

      Carole the tomato murderer


  18. Hi Piglet, I have the same problem with my tomatoes although the veins don’t go red. The leaves go yellow and wither. I have not fed them either, maybe that’s the problem


    1. Thanks for that link I subscribed to his blog too. It was real interesting and very helpful how he figured out Pip’s tomato problems. 🙂


Please share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: