Commenters, you rule.
When asked, you came through with theories and ideas and thoughts. Regardless of what was really happening, the consensus was clear: pull the sickly plant. Excise it from the garden before it spreads infection.
Here at the home of the Inadvertent Gardener, we heard you. Steve took to the garden early yesterday afternoon and removed the offending plant. He left it up against the side of the house so I could pay my respects when I returned home.
I should be happy about the fact that we’ve saved the other tomatoes, that we’ve ridded the garden of blight. But, in reality, I’m extremely irritated.
You see, we have planted our tomatoes underneath a black walnut tree.
For some of you, that sentence has made everything clear. For the rest of you (and me), it probably never occurred to you that the black walnut is as good as black death for tomatoes. And peppers. The peppers may be next.
Steve and I might never have put this together if our landlord, Randy, hadn’t stopped by on Monday night to cut the grass. I am not one to complain about having someone taking care of the lawn. I appreciate our landlord, and I really appreciate coming home from work to see neat edges and short blades.
However, this is the same landlord who told us to plant against the fence in our backyard. The fence that rests underneath a towering black walnut tree on the next lot.
On Monday, Steve and Randy stood out in the backyard chatting for awhile after Randy finished cutting the grass. When Steve came inside, I asked him how Randy was doing.
“Fine,” Steve said. “He did say that walnut trees are bad for the garden, though, and that’s the tree that keeps dropping stuff on our plants.”
“Weird,” I said. “If he knew that, why did he tell us to plant on that side of the yard?”
Steve shrugged, I continued fixing dinner, and we forgot about it.
Today, Steve found this:
Black walnut trees produce a toxic material (juglone) that can injure and kill solanaceous crops (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant) and other juglone-sensitive vegetables in the garden. Symptoms of walnut toxicity include stunted growth, yellowing and wilting of foliage, and death of susceptible plants. Juglone is present in all parts of the black walnut tree (fruits, leaves, branches and roots). The sources of juglone in the soil include both living and decaying plant material. Rain droplets leach juglone from the buds, leaves, and twigs. The decomposition of leaves and other plant debris by soil microorganisms also releases juglone. Living roots exude juglone into the surrounding soil. Generally, the greatest concentration of juglone in the soil exists within the dripline of walnut trees. Nothing can be done to save juglone-damaged tomato plants. Simply remove and destroy dead plants. Gardeners who have large walnut trees near their gardens should consider alternate sites. If alternate sites are unavailable, plant tomatoes and other susceptible plants 20 to 25 feet beyond the dripline of walnut trees to minimize walnut toxicity problems. Corn, beans, onions, beets, and carrots are tolerant of juglone and can be planted closer to walnut trees provided the area receives sufficient sunlight. Walnut trees that are 75 to 100 feet from the garden shouldn’t be a big threat to tomatoes and other juglone-sensitive vegetables. (Source: Iowa State University Horticulture and Home Pest News, July 22, 1992)
This explains why the tomato plant looked beautiful right before we got several days of rain, and then proceeded to wilt from the top down. This explains why the pepper plants have been oddly droopy, although they seem to be bouncing back. It even might explain why most of the tomato growth is happening lower down on the plants. All these plants were in the “dripline.”
When Steve emailed this information to me at work yesterday, I called home in an infernal bad mood. My mood turned worse when he told me that another of the tomato plants was also wilting quickly.
I went out last night to see the damage. It’s true: we’re going to be down to four tomato plants soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some more rain brings down another two or three, or even all four of the survivors. I’m starting to worry about the peppers and the eggplants, too, although at least the zucchini and its prodigious leaves might actually be helping shelter the eggplants from the infernal dripline.
There’s a good side, if that’s possible. The second plant that’s in the process of wilting is the Jetstar tomato, so it has bigger fruit. Right now, there are about four good-sized green tomatoes hanging low to the ground. If we have to pull the plant, all is not lost. “We can still pick them and make fried green tomatoes,” Steve reminded me.
That’s not a bad silver lining. Still, it’s going to take a lot more than four fried green tomatoes to alleviate my crankiness.