Agriculture & Natural Resources
Southern Bacterial Wilt on Tomato Plants
Recently, Bibb County Extension has received several calls and actual samples of tomato plants that have rapidly wilted. The leaves have shown no spots or yellowing and the soil in which they are growing hasn’t been dry. In a matter of a few days a healthy plant with lots of green fruit has literally collapsed.
Unfortunately, tomato plants are vulnerable to several wilt diseases but the one described above is Southern Bacterial Wilt. This devastating disease, which is favored by hot weather and wet conditions, is caused by the soil-borne bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum. It also affects other vegetables in the nightshade family, including pepper, eggplant, and Irish potatoes, as well as a broad range of weeds and ornamental plants, such as petunias, sunflowers, and geraniums.
The bacteria are introduced through contaminated transplants, water, or tools. They enter the plant through its roots. As the bacteria multiply in the plant, they clog the water-conducting tissue, depriving the plant of needed water.
Often the first symptom is the wilting of a young leaf which seems to "recover" overnight, only to wilt again—along with more leaves—the next afternoon when hot temperatures increase the need for water uptake. Then the whole plant becomes permanently wilted and death occurs.
If you suspect that this disease has caused the demise of a tomato plant, you can check by cutting the stem at the base of the plant and observing brown discoloration inside. Another indicator can be seen by suspending a piece of a freshly-cut stem into a glass of water. Often within several minutes, a milky ooze will streak into the water.
There neither is a cure nor chemical control for this disease. To make matters worse, the bacteria persist in the soil for years. Affected plants should be immediately removed from the garden and destroyed. Do not compost them. Refrain from planting not only tomatoes, but any other nightshade vegetables in that area of the garden for at least four years.
For more information on wilt diseases of tomato, see this link: https://site.extension.uga.edu/effinghamanr/2021/06/why-are-my-tomatoes-wilting/.
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