Skip to Content

Tomato Plant Wilting – Causes & Remedies

Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown fruits all around the world. They can be used in many different dishes and are easy to preserve, especially when made into sauces. If you are new to growing tomatoes or you are simply struggling this year, know that you’re not the only one. Tomato plants can easily wilt and die if they aren’t properly cared for. They can grow as far as producing a small harvest and then showing signs of death. Now, to address the big question here, you’re probably wondering, why are my tomato plants wilting?

The most common reason for tomato plants wilting is simply that they aren’t being watered enough or receiving inadequate sunlight. There is also the possibility they were planted in too cool climates, transplanted improperly, lacking certain nutrients, or being attacked by pests or a disease of some kind. There are many causes of tomato plant wilting. 

Continue reading to diagnose why your tomato plants have been wilting, how to make them healthy again, and ways to prevent future tomato plants from wilting.

Causes, Solutions, and Preventions Of Tomato Wilting

Inadequate Watering

This is the most common reason for wilting. Before you stress and overcomplicate wilted tomato plants, consider that you have not watered them enough. Tomato plants need at least 2 inches of water per week. You must water them regularly if they aren’t receiving that through rainfall.

On the other hand, you can also overwater. If you exceed 2 inches of water per week, your tomato plants may not be able to handle the excess moisture. Water can pool towards the roots and end up rotting them, causing wilt. 

Improper transplanting

If you started your tomato seeds indoors, they have been used to a warmer climate. They can go into shock if they are quickly planted outside and not acclimated to the colder temperatures.

Before planting your tomato seedlings outside into the garden or a container, leave them under a sheltered outdoor area for a week to get them used to the outdoor climate. Aside from climate shock, It can be easy to damage roots when transplanting seedlings; they must be handled delicately. 

Sun Stress

Sun stress is a part of the transplanting process. If your tomatoes are placed into direct sunlight once planted into the ground, they can become hardened, another form of transplant shock. Sun stress will manifest itself through making your tomato leaves droopy.

To avoid sun stress, place your tomatoes outside in a sunny spot for only two hours at a time per day. This will gradually get your tomatoes used to the sun before they are planted in the ground. Repeat this process for a couple of weeks. 

Cold temperature Damage

Tomato plants thrive in warmer weather. If they are planted too early in the season, there can be a risk of frost or cold temperature damage. Overnight temperatures must be above 50 degrees for tomato plants to survive outside without wilting.

Start your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last predicted frost date. That way, they will be planted outside right when the weather is ready to cooperate with warmer temperatures for the growing season. 

Bad Neighboring Plants

Some plants shouldn’t be planted or already growing near your tomato plants. For example, a walnut tree is not a good neighbor to a tomato plant. Walnut trees produce a substance called juglone.

Several other plants are also sensitive to juglone, but tomatoes will unfortunately wilt and eventually die if they are exposed to it. Even if a walnut tree leaf lands near a tomato plant, it can release juglone. The entire tree will typically possess it, so you can never be too careful when planting tomatoes in close proximity to them. 

Another plant that should not be near your tomatoes is sunflowers; unless properly cared for. The shells of the sunflower seeds are toxic to many plants. If the seeds aren’t properly harvested before they begin to fall, they will end up in the soil and kill tomatoes.

The seeds must be harvested before they fall. On the other end of the spectrum, sunflowers help tomato plants. Insects like aphids, which are dangerous to tomatoes, are attracted to sunflowers. Instead of going for your tomato plants, they will want the sunflowers.

Sunflowers help deter pests from your tomato plants. Overall, if you remove the seeds before they fall into the soil near your tomato plants, the sunflowers can benefit them. 

Pests-

Many different pests can cause tomato plants to wilt. A popular tomato-damaging pest is a tiny caterpillar called a stalk borer. They will burrow their way into the stem of the tomato plant and slowly eat away at them, causing wilting.

They ruin your plant’s chances of getting adequate nutrients and water, sometimes causing death. Some plants may still be able to produce some fruit, but they need really good care. 

The other culprit pest that can cause bad wilting is a root-knot nematode. Rather than attacking the stem, these pests go for the roots. They can damage the roots to the point that they can’t absorb water. Water will pool as a result and eventually rot out the roots, causing the plants to wilt.

Not only are root-knot nematodes impossible to get rid of, but It is hard to recover from the damage they cause. 

Aphids are another pest that can attack your tomato plants. They are tiny, green-colored insects that spend their time sucking the sap out of plants. They make your tomato leaves very sticky, attracting other bugs, such as ants. Aphids can cause enough damage to your tomato plants that they will wilt and can eventually die.

Purchase tomato varieties that are known for being resistant to pests, such as Galapagos tomatoes. Purchasing seedlings from reputable sources can ensure you are getting quality plants that aren’t already infested with pests or infected by diseases.

Also, planting tomatoes in containers off of the ground can lessen the chances of them being attacked by pests. Prevention is the best technique for ensuring that pests or insects don’t damage your tomato plants. 

Diseases and Infections

Name/Type of DiseaseAboutPrevention/Solutions
Verticillium Wilt (Fungal Infection)This is a fungal infection that begins in the soil and eventually moves to the actual plant. This infection spreads through the roots of the tomato plants. It best develops in soil that is moist and around 75 degrees fahrenheit, which is typically in the spring. If your tomato plant is infected, you will notice that older leaves begin wilt and turn to a yellow/brown color. They will eventually Die. Unfortunately there are no treatments that will remove verticillium wilt from tomato plants, but there are some prevention techniques. Make sure to practice crop rotation. Do not plant your tomatoes in the same soil every year, there could be fungus/disease residing in it. Also, purchase tomato varieties with the Letter “V” in their label. This will ensure they are resistant to verticillium wilt. 
Tomato Spotted Wilt VirusThis virus will manifest itself through brown or purple spots and wilted leaves. The virus is spread through tiny insects called thrips. If a tomato plant is infected by this disease, it most likely won’t yield any fruit, and if it does, it will be deformed.There is no way to kill this virus, but there are ways to prevent it. Make sure to weed your garden consistently so there’s less chances of thrips having something to live in. Thrips are also repelled by silver mulch, placing a layer of it in your garden will keep them away.  Also, buy seeds from a company with a good reputation that specifically sells seeds with a virus free guarantee. Lastly, remove any infected plants to prevent the disease from spreading elsewhere. 
Bacterial WiltThis is a less common disease that is seen in warm and tropical environments, like coastal areas. It is caused by a soil-borne bacteria called Bacterium R. It prevents the plant’s vascular system from getting nutrients, causing it to eventually die. Wilting of the plant is the main sign. Once again, there is no way to treat plants that are already infected by bacterial wilt. However, you can prevent it fairly easily. Practice crop rotation, ensuring healthy soil, and take advantage of container gardening in areas more prone to bacterial wilt. Fresh soil in a container lifted off the ground will ensure healthy tomatoes that are less likely to be infected by bacterial wilt. 
Southern Blight (Fungal Disease)When tomato plants are consistently exposed to hot and dry weather, they can develop southern blight from a random warm rain. The fungus of this disease typically lives in the top 2-3 inches of the soil. It appears in wilted leaves and a white fungus at the line of the soil that looks kind of like mold. It can be deadly and can quickly infect a large amount of tomato plants all at once.Once a plant is infected, it will most likely die. If you remove an infected plant as soon as it shows symptoms, you may be able to save the other plants. To prevent southern blight, make sure to stake your plants to keep them off the soil and also distance the plants from each other. Make sure to plant tomatoes in a different spot every year to practice proper crop rotation. You need to keep the soil as healthy as possible.
Fusarium Wilt (Fungal Infection)Fusarium wilt is a fungal infection that commonly infects tomato plants. It causes yellowing and wilting of tomato leaves. The fungus thrives under the soil and attacks the roots of the ground. The Fusarium oxysporum fungus can actually live for years in the soil and remain there to infect future crops.  It is very difficult for your plants to produce a large amount of fruit if they have been infected by fusarium wilt. There’s really no treatment, only prevention methods. Try planting tomatoes in containers or raised gardens. It will ensure drainage and create a dryer environment that fungus won’t typically grow in. 

Wilting in Different Growing Stages

Just like full-grown tomato plants, seedlings can also wilt if they don’t receive proper care. This can include under or overwatering, a lack of sun, or disease from old and infected soil. As a seedling is big enough in size to be transferred to the garden and planted, it can also wilt.

The most common cause of this is transplant shock, as described in the upper part of this article. Throughout a tomato plant’s adult life, it has a chance of being improperly cared for, attacked by pests, or being infected by a disease. Needless to say, a tomato plant can wilt at any growing stage or part of its life. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is very common for tomato plants to wilt and look sickened in one way or another. It is common because many different environmental or accidental factors can cause tomato plants to wilt. If you are experiencing wilt and you can’t prevent or tackle it, refer to the list at the beginning of this article. It explains almost every possibility as to why your tomato plants are wilting.

Follow the advice to prevent and solve wilting issues, and hopefully, you will start to see a change. If you have to do a trial and error process to figure out what is causing your tomato plants to wilt, then go for it. Don’t give up until you have found the reason and solution.

Even if you don’t have issues with wilting this growing season, at least you will be prepared to prevent it for the next. Best of luck to all of you tomato growers out there.