University of Maryland Extension

Early Blight - Vegetables

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Yellow Spots on the Bottom Leaves of Tomato Plants

tomato plant with early blight

Early blight infections begin as small brown spots on older leaves that quickly enlarge. A yellow halo usually surrounds the lesions. The lesions develop a "bulls-eye" pattern of concentric rings that can be seen with a hand lens. Individual lesions enlarge and coalesce and can kill entire leaves. The disease can also move to stems and fruits and produce dark lesions.

This is a very common foliar disease of tomato plants that can result in defoliation and reduced yields. It can also infect eggplant. The fungus overwinters in soil and plant debris and can also be transmitted on seed and transplants. Early blight is typically splashed by rainfall onto lower leaves early in the season.

When leaves die, fruits become more vulnerable to sunscald. Infected, dead leaves may stick to fruits. The disease can spread during wet or dry weather but is favored by rainfall and heavy dews. The disease spores are wind-blown, allowing the disease to spread through a garden or neighborhood.

early blight on tomato fruit
Early blight symptoms on fruit

early blight lesions with yellow spots
Lesions with yellow halo on foliage

close up of lesion
Closeup of lesion with bulls-eye pattern

Management

  1. Provide adequate spacing to increase air circulation and remove all suckers that emerge from the plant base
  2. Monitor transplants carefully for signs of this disease.
  3. Keep plants well mulched to minimize soil splashing.
  4. Water your plants around their base. Avoid wetting foliage.
  5. Prune off the lowest 3-4 leaf branches once plants are well-established and starting to develop fruits.
  6. Remove infected leaves during the growing season and remove all infected plant parts at the end of the season.
  7. Apply a synthetic fungicide or an organic fungicide (fixed copper) according to label directions, early in the season, when symptoms appear to slow the spread of the disease. This may be helpful where the disease causes severe blighting each year leading to reduced yields.
  8. Diseased plant parts can be shredded and composted if "hot composting" techniques are used (pile temperatures should exceed 120° F throughout and piles should be turned two to three times).

advanced early blight on tomato plant
Late stage symptoms on tomato plant

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