The Doctor is In?

Bob, the other horticulture agent here, brought me a box of Epsom salt this morning for our ailing tomato plants. The box helpfully comes with instructions on using it for sore feet or as a laxative (!), but not for tomatoes. A quick Google search led me to an article about using Epsom salt as a foliar feeder, rather than just mixing it into the soil. Apparently it works more quickly that way. (A foliar feeder means that I can spray a solution on the leaves, and it will be absorbed that way.)

The recommended rate was 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt per cup of water. I dug up a spray bottle and mixed up my solution. (Quick side note: Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate. Magnesium and sulfur combined into a “salt” form. Salts, particularly sulfur can have a nasty side effect of scorching or burning plants in hot weather. This could be interesting.)

Anyway, the worst case scenario is that the spray could scorch the leaves, probably putting an end to our tomato experiment for this year. The best case scenario is that the spray results in some improvement of symptoms on the plants. Of course, between that would be no visible effects of either kind. No harm done, but no problem solved either.

I would expect to see some change in a couple of days. I’ll keep you posted!

P.S. – I also sent 2 plants to the K-State Plant Pathology Diagnostic Clinic. We don’t think they’ll find anything, but who knows!

About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on April 27, 2010, in Plant Problems & Diseases, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The yellow and green pattern on your tomato leaves really is striking, isn’t it? Could make a very interesting fabric pattern too, good idea.

    In What’s Wrong With My Plant (And How Do I Fix It?), an innovative new book from Timber Press, I would turn to Chapter Two – Leaves, and begin my CSI investigation there. (BTW, I am the co-author of the book).

    Working my way through the visual diagnostic system on pages 31 and 32, I conclude that the problem is a nutrient deficiency because the veins on the older leaves stay green while the interveinal areas become chlorotic. This indicates a magnesium or nitrogen deficiency.

    These symptoms do not indicate a virus, fungus, or bacteria. It’ll be interesting to see how they do after the epsom salts treatment (i.e. the addition of magnesium). Hopefully they’ll perk up and turn green fairly quickly. The plants are not diseased so you don’t have to worry about transmitting some vile pathogen to the rest of your garden.

    I and my co-author, Kathryn Wadsworth, are Master Gardener instructors from Washington State, and appreciate your on-going efforts to help home gardeners.

    • So far haven’t seen much improvement with the Epsom salt treatment. Hopefully they’ll look better after getting into some real soil next week!

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