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odd deformation of tomato leaves; virus?

 
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Quite a few of my tomato plants have got odd, straplike or twisted leaves, but there is no discoloration. Is this a virus? It is not herbicide damage; there has been no herbicide use nearby or in past years. See pictures below. The plants did go through a period of heat/drought stress shortly before they were planted out.
Tomato-problem-1.jpg
[Thumbnail for Tomato-problem-1.jpg]
tomato-problem-2.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-2.jpg]
tomato-problem-6.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-6.jpg]
 
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Gilbert,

Those tomatoes look to me like they desperately need to get out of their little pots and put in good, fertile soil.  I can believe that heat stress/drying out would curl up the leaves like that.  Also, that potting mix in the little pots looks almost non-existent.  I imagine this would only worsen a low-moisture situation.

Get those in the ground, give them some good fertility and I bet that they clear up.  But I do suggest that you do it soon before the plants turn from light-green/yellowish to having dry, brown edges.

Good luck and please let me know how things work out.

Eric
 
Gilbert Fritz
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The plants are in the ground; the pots are collars to keep cutworms off.

 
Eric Hanson
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Gilbert,

I see now.  I am sorry I didn’t recognize them as having been planted.

That said, they look a little dry, have they had adequate water?  Also, how long have they been in the ground?  Mine typically start showing growth by the end of their 1st week in the ground.

If they have been in the ground more than a week, have had access to water and nutrients, then I would start thinking about some type of disease perhaps.  If they are diseased, I would remove them immediately.

Eric
 
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What sort of amendments are in the soil? Is there any chance that some persistent chemical may be involved? I've seen plants look like this when they went into compost that had come from a municipal facility that used grass clippings from fields that were sprayed for broadleaf weeds.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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They did get very dry one day in the soil blocks before they were planted, but since then I've been watering heavily and it has rained. They've been in the ground about a week. I'm not worried by the lack of growth, but by the odd leaf forms.

I've thought about the persistent herbicides, but I think not. I used some commercial compost which I also used to start the tomato plants in; if it was contaminated, it would have shown up a month ago in the seedling stage.

The leaves have only recently started looking strange.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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More photos. Some of them have normal looking and diseased looking plants in the same frame, for comparison.
tomato-problem-3.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-3.jpg]
tomato-problem-4.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-4.jpg]
tomato-problem-5.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-5.jpg]
 
Gilbert Fritz
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The odd leaf shapes really look like cucumber mosaic virus, but there is no yellowing or mottling.
 
Eric Hanson
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Gilbert,

It may have a virus, but perhaps we could rule out some other possibilities first.

Tomatoes are really nitrogen hungry plants and the light green/yellow color almost looks like it needs nitrogen.  Potassium deficiency also sometimes presents itself by a generally sickly appearance.

Could you possibly add some fast acting fertilizer to check for these nutrients?  In my opinion, the best nutrient quick fix is urine diluted 50:50 with water.  Even if you only fertilized one or two, you would have a basis for comparison.

If nutrient deficiency is the culprit, then the solution is obvious.  I think that manure is one of the best all-round fertilizers.  For nitrogen deficiency, try blood meal.  It is organic, fairly fast acting and lasts a fairly long time.  For phosphorus deficiency, try either bone meal (fast acting and my personal favorite) or rock phosphate (much slower acting but very long acting, maybe not the best for a test though).  For potassium deficiency, try green sand.  All this being said, I doubt that you have a phosphorus deficiency.  I once planted tomatoes in phosphorus deficient “soil” and the leaves turned sickly and purple.  Bone meal changed that in a matter of days.  

Plain old urine is cheap, easy and should give you answers very quickly.  My technique (which you can use, modify or ignore at your discretion) is to pee in a cat litter container until it is about 1/2 full.  The cap keeps the odor completely at bay and the wide mouth is easy for filling.  At the approximate 1/2 way point, I fill the rest up with water, take out and apply.

All of this assumes a nutrient deficiency and urine is a surprisingly great fertilizer, having the major nutrients in the appropriate proportion that they are needed.  If you do this test and the problems don’t resolve, then a virus or other pathogen seems much more likely in which case I would want to get the plants out so as to not spread disease.

These are all the steps that I would take and if it were me I would do it immediately so as to confirm or rule out nutrient deficiency.  But as it is your garden, do whatever you think appropriate.  I do hope these suggestions help and please keep us updated, I for one really want to know how this works out.

Eric
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I've given them quite a bit of nitrogen, in the form of soy meal tilled in before planting and with fish emulsion applied at planting time.

Also, the plants are not as light colored as they look in the photo; they are actually a fairly dark green.
 
Eric Hanson
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Gilbert,

Ok, so that sounds like it should rule out nitrogen and I imagine potassium as well.  The fish emulsion is plenty rich in nitrogen especially, but is also a pretty complete fertilizer.  So we will rule out nutrients from here on.

I don’t know if this would apply, but believe it or not, tomatoes are not especially thirsty plants.  You would think so given the juicy fruit, but actually no.  You said that you watered them heavily and it has rained.  Is it possible that they have had too much water?  This could manifest in two ways.  First, the plants could just plain be overwatered.  Yours don’t really look like they are drowning.  The second manifestation could be in roots that are starting to rot OR disease could be taking hold.  From the picture, your soil looks like clay.  Is that right (I also thought the leaves were pale green so I might not have the best view)?  Clay really likes to hold on to water and then dry brick hard.  Do any of these possibilities sound likely?  If so, then you could stop watering and cover with mulch.  Mulch is great!  Among its benefits, it regulates soil moisture, helping soils be neither too wet or too dry.

But if we rule out water as the culprit and nutrients are not the problem either, then disease seems to rise to the top.  IF they are diseased, I would want to get them out immediately.  I would almost be tempted to excavate some soil (about 1 scoop full) and solarize in the hopes of killing off whatever disease was there.

I am afraid that is about all I can conjure up right now.  I really hope that your tomatoes survive, thrive.  Are any other plants acting strangely?  That might help guide you.

I am really interested in what is going on with your tomatoes.  Please do keep me informed.

Eric
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Eric,

It is possible, I suppose, but I've never seen this type of damage on underwatered plants. Further, I'm leaning away from any cultural factors, since the tomatoes affected are in three different beds with different sun exposures, watering, and soil types. One of the soils is heavy and clayish, the other is an old pit full of compost. The tomatoes are also of many different types.

No other plants currently seem to be affected, with the possible exception of pepper plants in my greenhouse . . . which could be a possible source for a virus disease.

Here is a somewhat better picture, though it is still showing a lighter color than in reality.
tomato-problems-8.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problems-8.jpg]
 
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Hi, the symptom looks like herbicide poisoning to me. Tomato is extremely susceptible to the aminopyralid type of herbicide like grazon with a concentration as low as one part per billion.  

I encountered the deformed leaves problem this year too. My husband bought me a truck load of horse manure that has been composted for 4 years. I mixed it 50/50 with my home made compost and planted all kinds of veggies. The corns grow without any problem. Most of other dicots are fine too, including various squashes, buckwheat, dill, crown daisy and pok choy. The only tomato transplant is very sensitive and showed symptons within days in the new growth. I took a sucker from the sick plant and rooted it in the good soil, the new leaves look normal. I still keep the sick plant to see how it grows. It has flowered but the fruits look more pointy so far.

If it is due to very low dose of herbicide contamination, maybe your plants will grow out of it.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I've thought about the herbicide problem, but I just can't figure out how it would have happened. I used various composts to make potting mix for the plants, but they looked fine before I planted them out. Some of the beds where the damage is showing up didn't have any compost applied. Also, the damage is spotty; almost all the plants have a few damaged stems, but other stems on the same plant are fine, and if they were taking it up from the ground that shouldn't be the case.

I'd be more inclined to imagine spray drift, but they are a long way in from property lines, and we're in an urban area where spray drift would tend to be more localized. Plants nearer the only neighbor who could be responsible are not affected.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I sent a sample in to the extension service for testing, not sure how long that will be. Today I'll start checking on the tomatoes that I distributed to others in the area . . .
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Whatever the problem is, it is spreading and rapidly getting worse. The tomato plants are looking like space aliens. No other plants are affected, and a few tomato plants still look normal, scattered among the damaged ones. Broadleaf plants much closer to the neighbor's fence are looking just fine, and I don't see any 2 4-d type damage on their side of the fence.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I just checked two other properties where I'd planted tomatoes from my greenhouse; both had the problem, to different degrees. So spray drift is out. Either contaminated compost or virus. Would the contaminated compost take more than a month to show up?
 
Phil Stevens
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Gilbert, have you checked some deformed leaves under magnification? This could be the work of chewing or sucking insects or mites. Although it looks to at least a couple of us like classic herbicide response, you do seem to have ruled that out and there are bugs like psyllids that can really do a number on tomato plants.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Good point, a farm near here was wiped out by psyllids last year. I'll do that.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Checked the leaves with a hand lens. No critters to be found.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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The leaf deformations come in all sorts of shapes, along with an overall stunting.

tomato-problem-12.jpg
[Thumbnail for tomato-problem-12.jpg]
Tomato-problem-13.jpg
[Thumbnail for Tomato-problem-13.jpg]
 
Gilbert Fritz
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The last set of pictures are finally the right color.
 
May Lotito
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Hi, Gilbert,  I can feel your frustration. Hopefully you will find the cause and save your plants.

I looked at my garden journal, my plant started the symptom on mid May, 2-3 weeks after transplanting. Before that the weather was still cool and tomato was slow growing anyway.

I'd like to suggest you to take a cutting and root it in water, which will only take a week. Then plant it in new commercial potting mix. If it is due to viral infection, the new growth will likely still look wired. Herbicides that act by binding to cell wall will not be mobile thus the new growth will be healthy and you save your precious plant.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I'd like to suggest you to take a cutting and root it in water, which will only take a week. Then plant it in new commercial potting mix. If it is due to viral infection, the new growth will likely still look wired. Herbicides that act by binding to cell wall will not be mobile thus the new growth will be healthy and you save your precious plant.



Great idea! Thanks, I'll try it.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Maybe herbicide damage would be less obvious under greenhouse conditions?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I just put two cuttings in water.

Also good to know that your plants didn't show obvious symptoms for several weeks.
 
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Had it many years ago in plants mulched with curbside bags of leaves that might have contained herbicide then again this year in a few plants mulched with 4 year old arborist chips.  There is certainly some spraying in the area, but it is only 3 plants on the end of a row, all one variety, and not in the adjacent variety.  So it could still be herbicide or virus, if the healthy variety is more resistant to either.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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The testing lab checked for common viruses, including CMV, and came up negative. They think it is probably herbicide residue in the compost. I'm running a bioassay to check for sure; if it is contaminated, I'll notify the compost company.
 
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Solanaceae are really vulnerable to broad leaf herbicides.  Around here, it is nearly impossible to find manure, compost, or straw that is not herbicide contaminated.  I don't bring anything on site anymore unless I can leave it to compost down for three years.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Yep, I'm feeling the same way. I think Fall leaves from untreated lawns are still OK, but anything else is probably too risky at this point.
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