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First time container gardener - Plants dying from bottom up

16 years ago

This fall is my first try at growing tomatoes, and I was really excited because my new apartment has a southwestern facing balcony. I had heard that fall tomatoes do really well here in Houston so I thought I would give it a try. I read as much as I could at this forum and also the book 'Bountiful Container', as well as talking to the people at my local nursery and followed as much of the advice as I could piece together.

I planted three nice looking plants the last week of July, two Celebrity and one Yellow Pear and was assured by the nursery that they would do well in the fall. I planted them in large-ish (approx 4 gallon) plastic pots with good drainage (half inch of rock at the bottom) and Miracle Grow potting soil. Subsequently I have watered regularly, fertilized with Miracle Grow tomato food every 10-14 days and obsessed over the fate of my babies. The plants took off nicely, with the Yellow Pear appearing to grow very quickly. After about 4 weeks, that is when the problems started.

On my Yellow Pear plant, lower branches started to wither, turn yellow and then brown and dried out. New growth at the top was still going gangbusters, but the lower branches were completely dying off. I took samples to the nursery and they told me I was probably overwatering and heat (it is very hot in Houston in August), so I tried to cut back on watering and put the plants where they were in partial shade for some of the day. This did not seem to help one bit, and the brown dying branches kept getting higher and higher, but the top of the plant continued to put on fruit and new growth. And about three weeks ago, the same thing started happening to my Celebrity plants.

Basically, as you can see from the pictures, I have tall-ish spindly tomato plants with no growth on the lower 12-18 inches of the stalk and very healthy looking foliage on top. Of course, every day, more and more gets brown and dies, and I imagine that if nothing can be done, the entire plants will be dead within a couple of weeks.

What has happened? What have I done wrong? Can anything be done to save my plants?

I was thinking that maybe my containers weren't big enought and that they were dying because they didn't have enough soil, but based on my searches here, they should be doing ok. Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!

Thanks in advance...


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