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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:

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Below are some of UGA Extension's most broadly useful resources for those involved in agriculture on the farm, in schools, and around the home.

Production Agriculture:
Statewide Variety Testing
Statewide Variety Testing Which varieties should you plant? The variety testing team does the work and research for farmers.
UGA Weather Network
UGA Weather Network Reliable weather information for agricultural and environmental applications, including soil temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and more.
Pesticide Safety Education
Pesticide Safety Education Everything you need to achieve certification and maintain the knowledge to safely and effectively make use of restricted-use and all other types of pesticides.
Sustainable Agriculture A collection of resources for those interested in production and marketing practices that are profitable, environmentally sound, and that improve the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and the community.
Ag Budgets and Economics Resources for production economics, farm management, marketing, situation and outlook, risk management, financial management, farm policy, labor, and taxation.
Farmgate Value Report
Farmgate Value Report Annual county-level reports documenting the value of all food and fiber commodities grown in the state.
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Home & Garden:
Soil Testing
Soil Testing Ensure that your soil is productive! Get your soil tested to determine the amount and kind of nutrients that should be added for the best growth.
Pest Management
Pest Management Recommendations for pest control around homes, on pets, in the home garden, and more.
Household Water Quality
Household Water Quality Water quality has an immediate and a prolonged effect on the health of your household. This publication series contains basic information about home water quality and treatment.
Home Garden Publication Series
Home Garden Publication Series Topics include garden planning, soil preparation, weed control, pollination, disease and insect control, harvesting, and preserving.
Georgia Green Industry Professional Development The UGA Center for Urban Agriculture offers professional training and certifications for the Georgia Certified Landscape Professional, Georgia Certified Plant Professional exam and Super Crew employee training series.
Soil Testing
Georgia Green Landscape Stewards The Georgia Green Landscape Stewards program provides fact-based information to help businesses and residences in Georgia implement sustainable green practices in their landscape.
Community and School Gardens This Community and School Gardens blog is designed to help community and school gardeners succeed by connecting them to UGA Extension and other research-based resources.
Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources Whether you'd like to help protect the environment, teach your students how to avoid chronic diseases with healthy food and physical activity, or train food handlers in your cafeteria, University of Georgia Extension can help.
Extension Publications
  • Vegetable Garden Calendar (C 943) The recommendations in this circular are based on long-term average dates of the last killing frost in the spring and first killing frost in the fall. Every year does not conform to the "average," so you should use your own judgment about advancing or delaying the time for each job, depending on weather conditions.
  • Native Plants for Georgia Part I: Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines (B 987) This publication focuses on native trees, shrubs and woody vines for Georgia. It is not our intent to describe all native species — just those available in the nursery trade and those that the authors feel have potential for nursery production and landscape use. Rare or endangered species are not described. Information on each plant is provided according to the following categories: Common Name(s)/Botanical Name/Family, Characteristics, Landscape Uses, Size, Zones and Habitat.
  • Conversion Tables, Formulas and Suggested Guidelines for Horticultural Use (B 931) Pesticide and fertilizer recommendations are often made on a pounds per acre and tons per acre basis. While these may be applicable to field production of many crops, orchardists, nurserymen and greenhouse operators often must convert these recommendations to smaller areas, such as row feet, square feet, or even per tree or per pot. Thus pints, cups, ounces, tablespoons and teaspoons are the common units of measure. The conversion is frequently complicated by metric units of measure. This publication is designed to aid growers in making these calculations and conversions, and also provides other data useful in the management, planning and operation of horticultural enterprises.
View other publications on Fruit, Vegetable & Ornamental Production View other publications on Turfgrass View other publications on Weeds, Diseases & Pests