tomato plant with spots on the leaves and wilted leaves

'Iron Lady' tomato with early blight lesions on the leaves. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME

Updated: December 8, 2022

Tomatoes are the most popular plant grown in home vegetable gardens. Growing a good crop of tomatoes starts with a few key practices: 

  • Selecting varieties that have resistance to diseases such as early blight and Fusarium wilt
  • Testing your soil and amending it with organic matter
  • Planting when the soil has warmed
  • Giving plants adequate space to allow for good air circulation, and 
  • Providing steady soil moisture. 

Read our guide to growing tomatoes in a home garden for more details.

In Maryland, tomato plants are susceptible to several diseases, pests, and, at times, unfavorable weather conditions that can disrupt their growth, productivity, and/or eating quality. Use this picture guide (or the table below it) to identify the most common problems of tomatoes. Follow the links to learn how to manage these problems using integrated pest management and other best practices.

Symptoms on leaves - spots & blotches

Frost and cold injury

tan and brown spots on a tomato leaf
Symptoms of cold injury on tomato. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: light tan or gray blotches.
  • This is cold weather injury commonly seen in the early spring when tomatoes, a warm-season crop, experience nighttime temperatures below 35°F. 
  • Affected leaves out-grow the injury if plants are healthy and not stressed further by low temperatures.

Septoria leaf spot

brown and gray spots and yellow on tomato leaves
Septoria leaf spot symptoms. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: small, round gray spots with dark margins develop on the lower leaves, usually when the first fruits begin to form.
  • Septoria leaf spot is caused by a fungus, Septoria lycopersici. The pathogen is favored by wet weather. 
  • Fungal lesions gradually enlarge, coalesce, and cause leaves to turn yellow and die. Often co-occurs with early blight.

More about septoria leaf spot

Early blight or alternaria leaf spot

brown and yellow blotches on tomato leaves
Early blight symptoms. Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: small, irregular brown lesions, often with yellow halos, that enlarge rapidly; a “bull’s-eye” pattern appears within the lesions. Lower leaves are affected first.
  • Individual lesions enlarge and coalesce and can kill entire leaves, reducing yields. Can also infect stems and roots.
  • This is a fungal disease (caused primarily by Alternaria linariae (syn. A. tomatophila). It can spread in wet and dry weather but is favored by rainy weather. This disease often co-occurs with septoria leaf spot.

More about early blight

Bacterial diseases

tiny brown spots and yellow sections of a tomato leaf - bacterial disease
Bacterial speck lesions on tomato leaf. Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: small, dark spots (⅛ inch or less); leaf yellowing; spots coalesce and leaves turn brown and fall off. 
  • The two most common bacterial diseases of tomatoes in a home garden are bacterial spot and bacterial speck.
  • The bacteria overwinter on crop residue and are seed-borne.

More about bacterial diseases of tomato

Spider mites

tiny white or yellow spots and webbing on a tomato leaf
Symptom of spider mite feeding injury. Photo: UME Ask Extension
  • Symptoms: tiny yellow or white spots (stippling); spots can coalesce to cause yellow blotching; leaf undersides may appear dirty.
  • Spider mites can be seen on leaf undersides with the naked eye or using a hand lens.
  • Spider mites suck chlorophyll from leaf tissues, resulting in yellow discoloration.
  • Plants with severe mite damage may be further injured by insecticide sprays (including soaps and oils).

More about spider mites

Symptoms on leaves - yellowing

Fusarium wilt

yellow and brown sections of a wilted tomato leaf
Fusarium wilt symptoms on a tomato branch. Note the one-sided yellowing (chlorosis) typical of Fusarium wilt. Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: lower leaves turn yellow and then brown; leaf and stem wilting with some recovery at night.  
  • This is caused by a soilborne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum sp. lycopersici
  • When the outside of an infected stem is scraped you will see browning of the vascular tissue underneath (internal stem tissue is discolored).
  • This is the most common wilt disease of garden tomatoes in Maryland.

More about fusarium wilt

Symptoms on leaves - purple color

Low phosphorus

leaves and stems of tomato seedlings look purple
Stressed tomato transplants have a purple color on the leaf undersides and stems. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: Leaf undersides and stems appear purple in color.
  • This is very common in new tomato seedlings and transplants.
  • This is caused by a lack of phosphorus and possibly other stress factors.
  • Plants recover when roots are fully established in the garden.

Symptoms on leaves - curling & distortion

Water or heat stress

tomato leaves are curled upward
Leaf curl symptoms due to water or heat stress on tomatoes. Photo: UME Ask Extension
  • Symptoms: upward rolling of the leaves.
  • This is a common occurrence in mid-summer and is associated with high temperatures and moisture stress. 
  • Some tomato varieties, including heavily pruned determinate-type varieties, are more prone to leaf roll.
  • It does not harm plant growth or yields.

Aphids

curling leaves on a tomato plant
Leaf curl from aphid feeding. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: leaf curling, distortion, yellowing.
  • Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that may be green, pink, or black, usually found on the young growth of the plant. Check the undersides of the leaves.
  • Aphids suck plant sap and excrete sticky honeydew.
  • Naturally occurring predators such as ladybird beetles control them.

More about aphids

Herbicide damage

tomato leaves are curled as a result of herbicide exposure
Phenoxy herbicide damage on tomato leaves. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: leaves curled, twisted, strappy, distorted, stay small in size.
  • Usually occurs when weed control spray drifts onto nearby plants. Some herbicides can drift many feet from the site of application. 
  • Most common with phenoxy-type herbicides (2,4-D) which are used commonly in lawn and agricultural herbicide applications.

More about herbicide damage

Mosaic viruses

leaves of tomato plants are twisted and curling due to mosaic viruses
These tomato plants were infected with three different mosaic viruses. Photo: J. Brust, UME
  • Symptoms: leaves twisting, curling, distorted, smaller than normal in size; leaves may feel rough, and crinkled.
  • Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and tomato mosaic virus (ToMV) are two of the more common viruses that affect tomatoes.
  • Plant disease-resistant tomato varieties.

More about viruses

Symptoms on leaves - holes or chewing

Flea beetles

tiny shot holes in a tomato leaf from flea beetles
Symptoms of flea beetle feeding damage.
  • Symptoms: tiny round holes (shot holes) in the leaves.
  • Flea beetles (multiple species) are among the earliest emerging insects (late April-early May). They are tiny, 1/10 of an inch, usually shiny black or brown. Adult beetles jump away when disturbed, much like fleas.
  • One or two generations per year. Bigger pest problem of potato and eggplant.
  • Use row cover fabric or insect mesh over plants from the time of planting until flowering.

More about flea beetles

Tobacco or tomato hornworm

chewed tomato leaves may be due to tobacco hornworm feeding
A tobacco hornworm larva (Manduca sexta) chews a leaf. Photo: Eddie McGriff, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: leaves are chewed or stripped off of branches.
  • This chewing is caused by the caterpillars of the hornworm moth.
  • They are a mid to late-summer pest. Remove caterpillars by hand and discard.
  • A large percentage is controlled by a wasp parasitoid (natural enemy) 

More about tobacco hornworm

Symptoms on stems

Adventitious roots

bumps on a tomato stem are adventitious roots
Adventitious roots on a tomato stem. Photo: UME Ask Extension
  • Symptoms: Small knobs, swellings, or bumps on stems are usually harmless and caused by plant genetics (natural growth) or stressors in the environment.
  • No action needs to be taken.

Symptoms on fruits - blotches or discolored areas

Blossom end rot

brown sections on the bottom of tomatoes
Blossom end rot of tomatoes. Photo: UME
  • Symptoms: dark, leathery, sunken areas on the blossom end of the tomato, most prevalent on enlarging fruit.
  • Caused by a lack of calcium in cell walls due to environmental stress such as inconsistent or shallow watering and droughty conditions, or excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers. 
  • Keep plants well-watered and mulched. Check soil pH and amend accordingly.

More about blossom end rot

Sunscald

white or yellow section of a tomato fruit due to sunscald
Sunscald symptoms on a tomato. Photo: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: pale-colored, sunken, or blistered areas on tomato fruits exposed to full sun. 
  • Most prevalent on plants that have lost foliage due to disease or insect feeding. 
  • Causes fruits to be inedible.

More about sunscald

Stink bug feeding damage

irregular cloudy-white spot on a tomato
Stink bug feeding causes a “cloudy spot” on tomato fruits. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: superficial spots and blotches, white on young fruit or yellow on mature fruit.
  • This is feeding damage caused by stink bugs. The nymphs and adults insert their piercing mouthparts and suck plant sap from fruits, leaves, buds, or blossoms of the plant.
  • Cloudy spots in the fruit can be cut out. This does not affect eating quality

More about stink bugs

Anthracnose

dark black spot and white fungal grow on a tomato
Advanced symptoms of anthracnose on tomato fruit. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: circular sunken spots with darkened centers, usually on overripe fruits.
  • Anthracnose disease is caused by more than a dozen species of fungus in the genus Colletotrichum.
  • The fungi overwinter in seeds, soil, and plant residues.
  • Pick fruits before they ripen fully.

More about anthracnose

Symptoms on fruits - misshapen or cracked

Catfacing

misshapen tomato with brown sections
Catface of tomato. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: tomatoes are misshapen, often with deep crevices or holes and scarring in the blossom end.
  • This is common in home gardens, most often on the early fruit clusters of large-fruited cultivars.  
  • The cause is thought to be exposure to cool temperatures (below 50° F) before or after transplanting.

More about catfacing

 Growth cracks or rainchecking

tomatoes with cracks at the top
Radial cracking symptoms on tomatoes. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
  • Symptoms: cracks radiating outward or in concentric rings around the top of the fruit; small cracks on the fruit surface.
  • This is a common weather-related condition caused by fluctuations in soil moisture, persistent rainfall, and heavy dews.
  • Pick fruits before they ripen fully.

More about cracking

Zippering

small brown scar on a ripe tomato
Zippering of tomato. Photo: UME
  • Symptoms: dry, brown scars resembling zippers extend from the stem to the blossom end of fruits. 
  • This occurs when flower parts stick to the developing fruit. Cool weather and plant genetics are considered to be contributing factors as well.
  • This is superficial and does not affect yields or eating quality.

Symptoms on whole plant - wilting

Fusarium wilt

yellow and wilted section of a tomato plant
Fusarium wilt. Foliar yellowing (chlorosis) is often on one side of the plant. Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: lower leaves turn yellow to brown; leaf and stem wilting with some recovery at night.  
  • This is caused by a soil-borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum sp. lycopersici
  • When the outside of an infected stem is scraped you will see browning of the vascular tissue underneath (internal stem tissue is discolored).
  • This is the most common wilt disease of garden tomatoes in Maryland.
  • Use resistant varieties, rotate to a new garden area, or grow plants in containers.

More about fusarium wilt

Southern blight

wilted tomato plant
Plant wilting symptoms due to Southern blight. Photo: Rebecca A. Melanson, Mississippi State University Extension, Bugwood.org
  • Symptoms: wilting and the collapse of individual stems or entire plants. Lower stems turn dark brown. 
  • Southern blight is caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii, which can infect a wide range of vegetable crops and herbs. 
  • White strands of fungal mycelium and small tan, round sclerotia (resembling seeds) may be found at the base of the stem.

More about southern blight

Table: Problems of garden tomatoes

This text table includes the most common problems of tomatoes described above, as well as minor, occasional problems of lesser significance.

Symptoms on Leaves and Stems Details Possible Causes Frequency 
Leaf Spots Small, brown lesions with yellow halos that rapidly enlarge; “bull’s-eye” pattern within lesions. Lower leaves affected first

Early blight

Very common
  Small, round tan/gray spots with dark margins on lower leaves Septoria leaf spot Very common
  Tiny, dark brown circular spots that develop yellow rings (halos) Bacterial diseases Occasional
  Dark, raised spots on upper surfaces caused by excessive moisture Edema Occasional
Leaf/stem blotches and blights Advanced symptoms of various fungal and bacterial diseases See above Occasional
  Dark brown blotches on leaf tips and margins that enlarge rapidly, producing a water-soaked appearance Late blight Not common; requires cool, wet weather
  Brown-black cankers on the lower stem, followed by plant wilting Southern blight Occasional
Leaf Yellowing Lower leaves yellowing and stems wilting, internal stem tissue discolored

Fusarium wilt

Verticillium wilt

Fusarium wilt is more common than Verticillium
  Tiny yellow spots (stippling); leaves may appear dirty on the undersides Spider mites Common in hot dry weather
  Interveinal yellowing: potassium, iron, magnesium, or manganese.

Older leaves first, then newer leaves: nitrogen
Nutrient deficiency Occasional
Purple leaves Primarily on transplants (leaf undersides) Phosphorous deficiency Common
Leaf curling/distortion Small, soft, pink or green insects on young growth Aphids Common
  Lower leaves curl upward first Water stress Common
  Lower leaf curling upward during hot weather Varietal characteristics or heat stress Common
  Damage on new growth. Leaves become narrow, twisted, crinkled, curled, or finely divided Herbicide damage (2,4-D,  glyphosate, dicamba, and others) Occasional
  Mottled, deformed leaves; stunted plants Mosaic viruses Occasional
Leaf and stem browning Leaves brown and die; lesions extend to stems Early blight Very common
  Wilting precedes browning Fusarium wilt Occasional
Stems/entire plant wilts Wilting of lower branches first; plants recover at night; discolored stem tissue Fusarium wilt Occasional
  Similar to fusarium Verticillium wilt Uncommon
  Dark canker forms at the soil line followed by plant collapse Southern blight Occasional
  Newer growth wilts Drought stress Occasional
  Roots deprived of oxygen Standing water Occasional
Leaves with holes Tiny holes in the shothole pattern. Small, shiny dark insects that jump when disturbed Flea beetle Occasional
Leaves chewed Mid to late summer pest; very large with red or black “horn”; strip foliage off branches Hornworms Common
  Gray or black caterpillars;  feed on young or mature plants at night Cutworms Occasional
Nubby growths on stems Varietal characteristic; aerial roots Adventitious roots Occasional
Symptoms on Blossoms/Fruit Details Possible Causes Frequency 
Failure to flower or fruit Unusually tall, lush plants Excessive nitrogen or limited sunlight Occasional
  Poor pollination/aborted fruits with temperature extremes High or low temperatures Occasional
Large holes chewed in fruit Chew or scrape green fruit Hornworms Common
  Climb onto mature plants to feed on fruit Cutworms and armyworms Occasional
  Bore deeply into young, green fruit; fruits ripen prematurely; secondary rots often develop Tomato fruit worm Occasional
  Pecked, torn, or chewed fruits; often one “strike” per fruit; more noticeable during drought Animals (birds, squirrels, groundhogs, deer) Common
Spots on fruit Tiny spots or flecks on fruits Bacterial speck Occasional
  Small raised brown spots; larger than bacterial speck lesions Bacterial spot Occasional
  Yellow or white spots or blotches beneath fruit skin Stink bug Common
  Dark, leathery lesions may be shrunken; a “bull’s eye” pattern may be visible; usually at the stem end Early blight Very common
  Soft rot; circular, brown/black, shrunken lesions on ripening fruit. Produces salmon-color spore mass Anthracnose Very common
  Olive-green to black, oily-looking lesions; wet rots develop under favorable conditions Late blight Not common
Large discolored areas on fruit Dark, leathery lesions on the fruit bottom. Most prevalent on enlarging fruit Blossom-end rot Very common
  Light colored; becomes soft. Typically on surfaces exposed to full sunlight due to defoliation Sunscald Common
  Varietal characteristic; often affects large-fruited varieties Green shoulder Occasional
Internal discoloration Excessive white tissue inside fruits Low potassium levels in fruits; environmental stress

Internal discoloration

Tomato ripening problems

Occasional
Failure to ripen/slow ripening   Low sunlight, plant crowding, excessive nitrogen, insufficient ripening time, high temperatures Occasional
Uneven ripening Especially on large-fruited and plum-type varieties, late in the growing season Varietal characteristics, cold temperatures, or reduced light Common
Distortion/malformed fruit Damage most common on the first cluster of fruits Cool temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Catfacing

 

Common
Cracking Concentric and radial cracks on ripe fruit. Also small horizontal cracks (rain checking) Excessive moisture, excessive nitrogen fertilization after fruits form; Cracking Common
Symptoms on Whole Plant Details Possible Causes Frequency 
Wilting Plant wilts from the bottom up and recovers at night Fusarium wilt Common
  Dark canker forms at the soil line followed by plant collapse Southern blight Occasional
  Plants are stunted and wilted Root-knot nematodes Uncommon

Additional resources

Tomato Disease Fact Sheets and Diagnostic Videos | NC State University

Compiled by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. Reviewed by Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, Vegetables/Fruits, University of Maryland Extension, 11/2022

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.