8 Reasons Tomato Plants are Dying and How to Save Them

It is quite unfortunate to raise a tomato plant then suddenly it start to wilt and die before producing the fruits. A tomato plant can die prematurely due to lack of water, viral and fungal infections, lack of nutrients, overwatering, inadequate light, pests, and toxicity in the soil.

However, a dying tomato plant can be revived by watering adequately, providing it with a balanced fertilizer, exposing it to at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day, mulching, controlling the weeds around the plant, pruning the excess foliage, and managing diseases.

Tomato plant dying

Why is my Tomato Plants Dying?

Wilting and dying is an indication that there is something wrong with your garden. Simple reasons like insufficient water to more serious ones like diseases can cause your plants to wilt and die. Some of the other reasons include:

1. Lack of water

Lack of enough soil moisture content is among the main causes of tomato plant death. The plant requires at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week either from rainfall or manual watering. It is very important to keep your soil moisture content in check especially when the weather is dry.

How you water your tomatoes determines their overall health. Watering on the foliage in the evening is detrimental. It encourages the growth of fungal diseases that may attack and kill your plants. Use drip irrigation to deliver water at the base of your plants near the roots.

If your garden is fitted with overhead water sprinklers, be sure to water your tomatoes in the morning to reduce the chances of foliar disease. The sunlight will help to dry up the water droplets of the leaves of your plants.

It’s also worth noting that, overwatered tomato plants are also likely to die as a result of root rot. Excess water in the soil stops roots from receiving oxygen and this makes them suffocate and die. Additionally, fungi that cause root rot thrive in waterlogged soils.

2. Tomato spotted wilt virus

Viral infections like the tomato spotted wilt can also cause your plants to die. Tomato spotted wilt virus is characterized by stunted growth, bronzing of the foliage, wilting, brown or green spots on the fruits, and death of the plant. This infection can affect tomato plants either in the open field or in a greenhouse.

Like any other viral infection, this condition has no treatment. However, it can be managed by uprooting and burning the affected plants to prevent spreading to other healthy plants within your garden. This infection can also be mitigated by planting resistant tomato varieties

3. Fungal wilt diseases

If your tomatoes are receiving adequate water but still seem to be wilting, then they may be suffering from a fungal wilt disease. Tomatoes and other vegetables that belong to a nightshade family like potatoes, eggplant, and pepper are prone to Verticillium or Fusarium wilt.

Both Verticillium and Fusarium wilt can overwinter as fungal spores in the soil and debris of the plants from the previous season. This can affect the plants that are grown in the next season. Verticillium and Fusarium enter into the plant through the root system. They grow and move into the vascular system.

They block and prevent movements of water and nutrients within the plant hence resulting in the yellowing of leaves, wilting, and eventually death of the whole tomato plant.

The affected plants are also characterized by brown streaking inside the vascular tissues. The initial symptoms are wilting of the leaves that recover at night. As the disease progresses, the infected plants no longer recover at night and finally, they die.

It is difficult to treat your plants from both Verticillium and Fusarium wilt. However, this infection can be prevented by watering your plants correctly, practicing rotation cropping, removing the previous plant debris from the garden before planting the next season, and planting resistant tomato varieties.

4. Tomato bacterial wilt

Tomato bacterial wilt is another culprit that can cause your plants to die. This disease is less common although it can still affect your tomato plants. It is difficult to identify this infection in its initial stages. You will start to observe the first symptoms when the plant is already wilting and dying.

The affected plants become dark, watery, and hollow inside the stem. Since it is difficult to control this infection, you can prevent its spread to other healthy plants by uprooting and destroying the affected plants.

5. Lack of nutrients

Can you survive without eating a balanced diet? This also applies to plants, they cannot be healthy without balanced nutrients in the soil. When your tomato plants are lucking nutrients in the soil, they will have stunted growth, yellow leaves, falling blossoms, low fruit production, and eventually death of the whole plant.

For your tomato plants to be healthy, they require the correct amount of Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Tomato plants are also heavy feeders, they require fertilizer application after every 2 weeks. Be sure to use a balanced fertilizer.

6. Lack of light

Tomato plants can become stunted and eventually die if they are planted in an area that does not receive light or lacks sunlight. Tomato plants require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to remain healthy.

If you are practicing indoor tomato gardening, ensure your plants are next to a large window that allows light in. Alternatively, you can provide artificial lights, use reflection mirrors, or paint the walls with bright colors that reflect light on the plants.

7. Tomato plant pests

Various tomato plant pests can cause stunted growth, wilting, and even death of the whole plant. They commonly attack the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Some of the common pests include aphids, root-knot nematodes, stalk borers, thrips, hornworms, whiteflies, leaf miners, flea beetles, rodents, fruit worms, and slugs among others.

Some of the pests like stalk borer normally affect plants that are in a nightshade family including tomatoes. When in the larva stage, they bore holes in the stem of the plant hence making it wilt and die. However, if the plants are well-maintained they can survive the attack.

Small pests like aphids can be controlled biologically by introducing other insects that feed on them. You can pick larger pests and kill them. Also, remove the plants that die and destroy them to prevent the pest from moving to other healthy tomatoes.

8. Toxicity in the soil

Have you inter-cropped your tomatoes with other plants like the black walnut, sunflower, butternut trees, or tree of heaven? Such plants produce toxic materials known as Juglone that can cause wilting and death of plants that belong to a nightshade family like tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, and potatoes.

Plants affected by juglone are characterized by stunted growth, yellowing of leaves, wilting, and eventually death of the whole plant. Both living and decaying walnut plants contain juglone. There is little you can do to prevent the effects of juglone on your plants. Consider a site that is not near the walnut trees when intending to plant tomatoes.

9. Tomato blight

Late and early tomato blight are fungal infections that can kill tomato plants in weeks. Blight can affect almost all parts of the plant including the leaves, stems, and fruits. These fungal conditions thrive in damp conditions and can be controlled using organic fungicides. Good ventilation and spacing of the tomatoes can help prevent tomato blight.

How to Save a Dying Tomato Plant

When your tomato plants are wilting and dying, the next thing that comes to mind is how to save them. The following tips can help to fix the problem.

  • Supply your tomato plants with adequate water. Provide your tomato plants with at least 1 inch of water per week. Inadequate water especially when the weather is dry can cause wilting or even death of the entire plant. Use drip irrigation to deliver the water at the base of the plant. Watering on the foliage encourages the growth of fungal diseases.
  • Provide at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Plants use sunlight in the process of photosynthesis to provide energy that they use. A tomato plant requires at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to remain healthy and produce high yields. If your plants are planted indoors in pots, move them to an area that is receiving enough sunlight.
  • Check the drainage of the soil in your garden. Tomato plants thrive well in soil that is loose and well-drained. When planted in an area that has compact soil with poor drainage, they are likely to suffer from root rot and other fungal infections. Adding humus of compost manure can help to improve the drainage of the soil.
  • Give your plants adequate space. Thinning may be necessary if your plants are planted closely. Crowded plants compete for nutrients, sunlight, and water and also prohibit free air circulation. The space between staked tomato plants should be at least 2 feet.
  • Control weeds around your tomatoes. Weeds may compete with your tomato plants for natural resources like water, nutrients, and sunlight. They may also harbor pests and diseases that may attack your plants. However, be gentle when uprooting the weeds next to your plants to prevent disturbance on the roots.
  • Cover the base of your plants with a mulch. Mulching helps to preserve the soil moisture content by reducing the rate of evaporation. This helps to save on the amount of water that you use for irrigation. However, do not use dried weeds that contain seeds for mulching. They may germinate and grow into weeds.
  • Prune the foliage near the ground. Pruning the excess foliage helps to promote free air circulation within the plant. The foliage touching the ground can also act as a transportation medium for soil-borne pests and diseases.
  • Provide adequate fertilizer. Tomato plants are heavy feeders they require fertilizer application every 2 weeks. However, you are supposed to go slow on nitrogen and increase phosphorus and potassium when the plants are near flowering. Conducting a simple soil test can also help to determine the exact nutrient that is lacking in the soil.

Final Thoughts

A tomato plant can wilt and die due to poor watering, lack of nutrients, viral and fungal infections, poor lighting, and pests. However, it can be revived by proper management skills like supplying it with adequate water and fertilizers, controlling pests and diseases, mulching, and pruning.


Lerner, B.R. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet, HO-26-W, “Tomatoes.”

Whealy, K. Compiler. Seed Savers Exchange. 2005. Garden Seed Inventory, Sixth Edition, an Inventory of Seed Catalogs Listing All Non-hybrid Vegetable Seeds Available in the United States and Canada.

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