Tomato AOEMy hybrid tomatoes usually grow well enough, but every time I try to grow an heirloom variety, the plants turn yellow and die. My neighbor says they fail because of diseases in the soil. What can I do to prevent these problems? I would love to be able to grow ‘Brandywine’ at least once! 

Marie Colella
Atlanta, Georgia

Tomatoes that grow well for a while and then show noticeable yellow color as they wilt are usually infected with one or more strains of fusarium fungi, a common and persistent problem in soils in warm climates. Other soilborne pathogens, such as verticillium wilt or root knot nematodes, may also be involved.

Whatever the specific problems, your hybrid tomatoes probably grow well because they provide genetic resistance, while most heirloom varieties are susceptible. There are two solutions: Grow heirlooms in containers filled with bagged potting soil, or graft tomatoes to combine the flavor of heirloom varieties with the disease-resistance of hybrids.

Containers are an easy solution if you are working with purchased seedlings, but if you start your own seeds, you may be surprised at how simple it is to graft tomato seedlings when they are about 6 inches tall. With a successful tomato graft, you get the disease resistance and vigor of a hybrid root system, but with fruit characteristics of great-tasting heirlooms. Even first-timers can expect at least half of their first tomato grafts to succeed. With practice, you will seldom lose a plant.

Your rootstock can be any hybrid that provides good resistance to the disease problems at hand. In your case, I would choose a variety with VFFN after the variety name for rootstock. This means the variety is resistant to verticillium, two races of fusarium, and rootknot nematodes. Exemplary varieties include ‘Bella Rosa’ VFFNA, ‘First Prize’ VFFNT, and ‘Goliath’ VFFNT.

Will with Teaming with Nature
6/5/2010 12:28:56 PM

While I appreciate the content provided here, the article suggested that only two solutions exist to cope with common fungal issues for tomato growing. I am no expert in tomato growing, but have had huge success using compost tea (specifically actively aerated compost tea) to support the immunity of the tomato plants so they are better equipped to resist fusarium as well as other fungal issues. Last year I conducted a side by side test trial growing heirloom tomatoes using compost tea and not using compost tea. You can watch the video I made by following this link. You can also find other videos on the benefits of compost tea on my youtube channel, Teaming with Nature I'm here to help. Feel free to contact me at To health! Will

Mary Reynolds
6/4/2010 1:37:13 PM

Is it possible that the plants only need bone meal? I had some tomato turn yellow last year and by adding bone meal they turned dark green and produced a lot!

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