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All tomato, squash and eggplant leaves are yellowing

Camarillo, CA

Thank you for your time in advance whom ever may replay:

I live in Camarillo, CA. which is in Southern California. I am zone 8a according to the USDA. According to the Sunset Guide I am zone 23. I am attempting to be all organic as well. I grew all my veggies from seed indoors 2 months ago. The heirloom plants are as follows: pineapple, roma, and san marzano tomatoes; crookneck, spaghetti and black beauty zucchini; Black beauty and Japanese eggplant. All of the plants I named off our yellowing on all bottom sets of leaves.

All upper sets of leaves are losing color to a faint green. With the tomatoes some leaves are whitening where all the leaves are mildly curling upwards. When I hardened off the plants I gave them about 3 weeks of increasing intervals of outdoor exposure. The indoor garage set up has a window that will hit the plants in the afternoon as well. I then planted all veggies in my 4'x10' raised beds that contain agromin 50/50 soil blend with 3 cubic feet of all organic compost soil builder tilled into all of the boxes. I have yet to see any growth from any of the tomatoes and the squash and eggplant all look like they have minimal growth. The watering schedule is every 2 days promptly at 5am where they get .25 gallons of water from a button dripper. I also used Kellog's Organic Fertilizer (4-6-3) where I placed a few pinches in the hole and then side dressed the plant after planting with a few more pinches.

From what I have read it seems to me the things that could be going wrong are:

1. Over/under watering
2. Too much fertilizer
3. Did not harden off properly
4 Weather shock which pertains to number 3...i think.

Thank you for your time,


Camarillo, CA

I do not know how to remedy this so please any insight would be beyond appreciated.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Pictures would probably help, you gave a great description, but pictures can give a better one.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Yellowing leaves usually means too much water, or too little fertilizer. Take a handful of soil, it should be like a wrung out sponge, and break apart easily when gently poked.

Camarillo, CA

Here are a few pictures of the tomato plants and the squash plants that are yellowing. I took them from my camera phone so I hope they aren't horrible to look at ;) Also, if I tilled in 3 cu. ft. of compost and added organic fertilizer do you think they are not nutrient deficient?

Thumbnail by RossRude13 Thumbnail by RossRude13 Thumbnail by RossRude13 Thumbnail by RossRude13
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I would also have guessed under-fertilized, from the general yellowing.

You said "organic", so it would be hard to OVER-fertilize. And the leaves don't really look like they have chemical "burn".

>> I also used Kellog's Organic Fertilizer (4-6-3) where I placed a few pinches in the hole and then side dressed the plant after planting with a few more pinches.

That still does not sound like OVER-fertilization.

And yet, plants that small should not need much mineral food. If indeed it is lack of nutrients, especially nitrogen, you might prove or disprove that by foliar spraying with something soluble. A teaspoon of "Miracle-Gro" froma less organic friend could be diluted and sprayed on half the leaves to see if they are yearning for minerals.

But why would they be hungry, so young and in organic soil with a tiny amount of 4-6-3?

If pH or some other soil imbalance like lack of oxygen is making minerals insoluble or roots stunted, you might need to guess the problem before remedying it.

You can pay for a pH test, buy a kit or pH paper from a drugstore, or add very fine dolomite lime to just one spot to see if that helps the closest plants. Since you live in CA, you probably have "growers's stores" nearby, with pH adjusting solutions for indoor growing or hydroponics.

Even with organ ic fertilizers, there COULD be salinization if water n ever flows all the way THROUGH the soil and out the bottom. It sounds like you water frequently. Try no water untill a few plan ts start to wilt, then keep the drippers running until water comes out the bottom (flush out any salt buildup). Is this soil left over from last year, or fresh?

Organic soil and fertilizer need oxygen and soil life to release the nutrients, so my first guess was "soil not aearated enough". Is it fine and heavy soil, or open, fast-draining and airy? Soggy?

If a finger stuck 2-3 inches deep is damp, maybe water less for a week or two, or until leaves wilt. Roots need plenty of air more than they need much water. Be very sure the drain holes are large an d not sitting flat on something that blocks them. They must n ot only let water out, but let air in.

Maybe dig around a few plants or even remov e them from your beds so you can inspect the root balls.

If the roots are tiny and not going deep, that might suggest the problem is aeration. If watering less didn't solve it, consider transfering the tiny root balls into pots briefly, so you can amend the too-heavy soil with something to open it up. Medium conifer bark, coarse grit, very coarse Perlite, expanded clay pellets ... anything to create air spaces and reduce water retention.

Poughkeepsie, NY(Zone 6a)

I agree with Rick, test soil PH. Sounds like UNDER fertilization.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Looks like they are really hungary? Not growing and that yellow color. I would fertilize by drenching the soil and pouring on the plants. I would mix some Epsom salts in the fertilizer too. I would do all the things that are suggested above but fertilizing now couldn't hurt.

Camarillo, CA

Thank you for the replies everyone. I appreciate the concern :) SO @ Rick starting with replying to your questions I will list in order they were asked.

The soil was purchased from Agromin, a 50/50 soil blend ( ), and is new as of 1.5 months ago. I am under the impression that 50/50 is in reference, just off the top of my head, the ratio of sand and fine particulate matter to compost. One could imagine that something with 50% sand might, once watered through out the months, will experience a drop in soil height due to the fine grained content. Meaning it seems a bit dense lol. Once you posted I checked the soil today and it is the off day for the 2 day watering cycle and when i put my finger in the soil only a small amount of soil stuck to my finger. The soil was still damp just not drenched. This raises a question. The theme thus far seems that there is a direct link to the amount of nutrients and water exchange. Seems that Perlite provides several attributes in soil quality. So here's the question...Would you recommend that I add Perlite to all raised beds regardless of my issue(s)? Also, I will reduce the watering cycle and follow your instructions and reply with the results. As for the removal of a plant, may I try the above remedies or experiments and then use the removal approach? Or do I have nothing to lose? You mentioned drain holes. Do you mean a "x" diameter pipe placed in the raised bed with holes drilled in it filled with a drainage medium? Or do yo mean holes depressed with fingers?

INFO over looked:

**While growing these plants indoors I used a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer once every 2 weeks. Average time indoors was 8 weeks-ish. I don't know if that will have an effect on your opinion of UNDER fertilizing.

**Compost was worked in and watered every 2 days for 2 weeks before planting in fear of nitrogen burn.

@lisac By adding Epsom salts/fertilizer when salinization might be an issue there will be no conflict or negative effect?

@Everyone- I will be purchasing a soil testing kit this next week. I will post the results once it has been administrated.

AGAIN thank you for your help and support. One must know the frustration felt while growing their own food ;)

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Epsom salts are Magnesium not Na. They are in the form of a salt.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

'drainage holes'

Just anything that lets water run out the bottom so that spaces between soil particles can fill with air, and then air can diffuse in and CO2 can diffuse out through the open spaces to reach the roots.

I was still thinking "container" instead of "raised bed". So in stead of asking about drainage holes, let me ask what the bed sits on. Can water drain down and away, for example through sand? Or does the bed sit on heavy c lay or concrete? When you over-water, can water come out through cracks or holes in the wall? Or is the raised bed sealed tight like a swimming pool? What are the walls?

With compost, probably most CO2 in the soil will come from microbial decomposition of the compost. You need to let the CO2 out just like you need to let O2 in.

If water and fine soil mix leave few air chanels, the soil microb es will quc kly con sume all the O2 and start fermenting. Root hairs will die quickly, and roots that are m ore than an inch or two deep will suffocate and die. Then the fermenting microbes will release enoguh alchol, acids and ketones to kill the rest of roots ... IF air can't get in freely.

If you have enoguh plants that you can spare even one or two, it is worth digging around one to m ake sure the roots ARE OK. If you dig around with a spoon and do NOT encounter roots, pull that puppy out and eyeball whatever roots are there. You can lawys drop it back into the hole. If you dig around and roots are everywhere (near the surface), then you have to decide whether to sacrifice one plant to see if roots are ON LY neaqr the surface.

Is there any gap BETWEEN plants where you dig down without harming anything? If the roots are goinbg deep and look happy, ign ore what I said about O2 and Co2, and don't worry much about drainage either. Just give them a few days periodically where the soil is NOT soggy everywhere.

>> i put my finger in the soil only a small amount of soil stuck to my finger. The soil was still damp just not drenched.

It sounds like soil is damp enough. And PROBABLY not too damp near the surface.

But is it "open" enough for roots to get air when they dive deep? That is, are there small air spaces and channels (voids)? Or, is the mix fine enough that tiny particles fill open spaces, so that any open spaces are so small that capillary attraction will hold a water film that fills the open space?

If water never drains out the bottom, even when you overwater, I question whether it is open eno0guh to0 drain freeely. BUT, that is an obsession of mine.

I think gaps may need to be as large as 1/2 mm or at least 1/5 mm to assure that water drains OUT and air can enter in. I'm not sure of the exact size, but the mix has to "look open". If you squeeze a handfull and water runs out, I would worry. But others seem able to work with fine-grained, peaty mixes.

Camarillo, CA

Again thank you for your replies.

So the soil test came up; N was non-existent, P was just below adequate as well as the K. Its been 96 degrees F for the past few days and the soil seems well moisturized 4" down while on its original watering cycle. Today is the last day of the rotation so it waters again tomorrow? Or do I let it dry out? The pH is perfect. So I am assuming I have to fertilize ;) I have a fish emulsion, the all purpose kellog's, blood meal and bone meal. What should I do?

They are raised beds. 4'x10'x12" cedar. The ground under the beds are well tilled and composted. The bottom of the boxes are lined with 1/2 " hardware cloth. When I watered the beds before I planted thoroughly the water would come out the bottoms.

For the tomatoes, ALL are losing their lower sets of leaves but only SOME show new growth on the top. The leaves that are dying are shriveling up and turning a darker brown. The squash plants are not wilting and yellow further.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> When I watered the beds before I planted thoroughly the water would come out the bottoms.

OK, everything I said about drainage, overwatering and aeration is probably irrelevant.

>> N was non-existent, P was just below adequate as well as the K.
>> For the tomatoes, ALL are losing their lower sets of leaves ...
>> The leaves that are dying are shriveling up and turning a darker brown.

They need N baaaad.

Of what you listed, top-dress with blood meal because they need it fast.
Give them some fish emulsion also, because you also need P and K.

I don't know how much organic fertilizer it is safe to apply at one time.

If I had leaves actuaqlly dieing, and n o growth excpet for SOME top growth, I would give them some soluble chemical fertilizer, and foilar spray, as being better for them than being almost completly starved to death.

Is it practical to foliar-spray fish emulsion or blood meal? You can't risk gun king up or killing the rem aining live loeafs.

>> blood meal

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Sometimes tomato plants loss their leaves even under perfect conditions. But if the N is nonexistent you need to add it now, if your plants are going to stand a chance. I think blood meal is a good amendment but it takes a while to break down and become avaliable to the plants and these need it now!

I recommend using a fertilizer with a high first #. You really need to get nitrogen to the plants, however too much N will make beautiful foliage normally tomatoes and their relatives need a fertilizer with a high middle # for roots and blooms but until you get the N up to a normal level I don't think anything else really matters.

You can go to any garden center and tell them what your looking for and they should be able to help you. A high first # and low to 0 with the second and 3rd #s. I would use it on the plants and the soil around them if it's liquid. Don't apply it during the heat of the day or when its sunny.

Are you ok with the fire?

Camarillo, CA

Again thank you for the replies.

Thank you for your concern about the fires. There are two mountains that run parallel in this town. I live on the one that wasnt on fire. Several friends evacuated but they did not lose any of their homes.

May I say I love this site. So many people with so much good knowledge.

@lisac- When I was asking about the salinization and the conflicts of the salts, I guess I was asking about the actual chemistry behind it. I understand they are different salts. I have a degree in chemistry so I understand all too well lol...I just dont have a strong grasp on soil chemistry yet. I think I should of stated that and then reworded what I was asking. I know that Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ and Cl- contribute to salinization. So by adding Epsom salts wont that contribute to the issue of salinization? If not do you know why? I have no clue lol.

So since I have the fish emulsions and the blood meal so I think I will go that route. Stop me if I am wrong. Im going to add the fish emulsions before I add the blood meal. I will water in the a.m. with the fish emulsions and then side dress the following day or two with the blood meal. When I dress with blood meal I will water heavy and set back my watering timers a few days so I dont drown them. Sound good?

Also I had a question about the Perlite. Should I add it regardless bc I do not have any in the boxes at the moment?

AGAIN thank you so much for everyone input. The headache is receding ;)

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Ross my education is in Biology and Chemistry but I can not answer your question. Lol At this point I think N is the most important. If I was doing it I would side dress with blood meal then fertilize with fish emulsion at the same time. No idea why but that's what I would do.

I'm from the San Fernado Valley so I even know what mountains you are talking about. I use to have a rental condo by the Marine Base. Small world.

Please keep us posted on your progress hopefully others will have a better grasp of soil chemisty.

Camarillo, CA

@lisac I think at this point you are correct my friend. Ive read and asked about administrating fish emulsions and blood meal at the same time and everything says its okay.

I am so thankful for this community that has been established here. Everyone is so open armed with their experiences. Whomever Dave is I say thank you for establishing this site and allowing people such as ourselves to relay information to one another. Sustainability is in my near future.

On a side note I found a man online that has the same problem as I with the agromin 50/50 soil being extremely N deficient. His remedy was wrong but at least I know from his mistake. I have emailed him.

I will post pictures soon with my progress.

@Rickcorey- The amount of info that you have provided and the time you have spent responding to my issue has been beyond over the top. I tip my hat to you and lisac as well. Additional info shall follow shortly.

This message was edited May 6, 2013 10:49 AM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thank you, thank you! It's a pleasure speculating about a plant problem someone ELSE has! It's more painful when it's my own plants I'm killing off.

My fear is that the plants may die or be more severely hurt than they are already, if they have to wait several more days for nitrogen (and P and K, and maybe Fe and SO4). But it's your call, and eveyrthing that we do in a garden is an experiment we can learn from . You may teach us all that plants CAN starve for days or weeks, and still come back fine.

Me, I would foliar-spray a little Miracle-Gro.

P.S. I think you said you have lots of compost. Maybe it's breaking down slowly becuase it wasn't innoculated with sufficien t vartiety of soil microbes. You might look for some healthy, high-organic soil or tyhe cneter of a compost heap.. Top-dress a few pinches and water it in, to innoculate your mix. I forget if n atural soil was an in gredient.

I think the solubility interactions are mainly with the less-soluble ions: Fe, Phoshpate, maybe Calcium. Iron and probably some micronutirients are also very sen sitive to pH.

N and K are usually availble if present (there may be some insoluble form of K but I forget what it is).

My horseback approach (as someone who has always had clay soilo to stryggle with) is that if I don;t have freely draining soil in a container or RB, and flush some water "all the way" through the soil, my roots will probably drown before I have salinity build up. That may be a very narrow view, but it looms large in my mind: if I can't see water come out the bottom or out the cracks, Bad Things are happening.

(For an RB, my clay-o-phobia is more like "the water had better soak IN faster than it runs OFF". If a lot of water is able to soak in, it probably IS able to drain straight down or downslope, or I would see it come back up at me.)

You're probably right that almost anything soluble and ionic contributes to salinity. I mostly think about the unwnated ions that don't get taken up by plants and MUST be flushed away (Na, Cl and what else?)

Camarillo, CA


So...I administrated fish emulsions the other day to all the squash, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. The outcome is this...For the tomatoes I received immediate results. Interesting thing is I applied the solution to only half of the tomato beds. I wanted to see if the granulated fertilizer was getting ready to release since it had been about 30 days.

ALL tomatoes are doing well. If they continue to do well this week the ones I did not fertilize will be lightly dressed this weekend with fish emulsions to keep them roughly near the same nutrient levels as the others.

For the eggplant, peppers, and squash I have not had the same results. I think that I might have waited to long to address the situation. Out of the 5 squash plants one is doing wonderful. 2 are hanging in there and flowering but the other 2 are, well, almost dead. For the eggplant and peppers, neither are showing new growth but they haven't lost anymore color.

Last season my peppers did not produce heavily till the end of the season. Im guessing it is bc of my location and that the peppers love the hot conditions. We will see...

Since I saw that I might be losing some of my crop I started new veggies indoors and they are ready for transfer. Im bummed bc I have lost a month of growth to inexperience ;) But that's how it all goes, eh?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> >> N was non-existent, P was just below adequate as well as the K.
>> For the tomatoes, ALL are losing their lower sets of leaves ...
>> The leaves that are dying are shriveling up and turning a darker brown.

>> I applied the solution to only half of the tomato beds. I wanted to see if the granulated fertilizer was getting ready to release since it had been about 30 days.

>> ALL tomatoes are doing well.

Color me puzled. You didn't add any fertilizer to half the tomatoes, but they got better anyway?

I guess the soil test only detected SOLUBLE nutrients. You could be right and the time-release granules released nothing for a while. Or maybe the sopil had some swadust in it, and enough microbes to cause severe nitrogen deficiency. Or the compost in the soil was also "time delay" and all started to decompose and release nutirents simultaneously.

Or, those plants just love to play with our heads!

Thanks for letting us know.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I was puzzled by that post too. I think Rude used granules on all the tomato plants but only applied the Fish Emulsion to 1/2 of the tomatoes but now the granules are working.

Will have to wait and see...

Camarillo, CA

Oooops...didnt mean be confusing. Lisac is correct. I applied granulated fertilizer to all plants when I x'planted them. When I added fish emulsions all the tomatoes looked good in one bed and the other not so much. So I added fish emulsions to the bed that still wasnt doing so hot. I figured the fert. might be releasing and I didnt want to burn anything. They all look great now.

As for the fert. test. What the procedure called for to obtain a proper sample was to take a cup of soil and allow it to dissolve in water for 30-min to 24 hrs. Since I added the granulated fert. as a top dressing too I figured if I allowed the sample to saturate for 24 hrs I would get readings from the fert. in the soil ( given the fert. is water soluble). I waited 1 hr and then took the readings that gave me the poor results.

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