Tomato plant nutrient sucker?

Nashville, IN

I live in the woods and the only sunny spot at our house is our back deck. So, I have been using containers to grow my tomatoes. My mother-in-law bought me Grow Boxes this year which have been great. Anyone heard of them? Anyway, all the plants are doing wonderful except for this one...both are Yellow Pear tomatoes and were the same size when planted. It looks like the larger one is sucking all the nutrients from the smaller one. Any suggestions on what to do? Thanks!

Thumbnail by iflossu
Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Looks like the little one is struggling to survive. Is the soil evenly moist through the whole box?

If you think it is nutrient deprived you could use a foliar spray.

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

I would unearth it and see what is going on around its roots. It looks like it's dehydrated or either the roots have drowned from too much water. Something is terribly wrong.


If that is one of them boxes that you put the water down a tube and it stores the water at the bottom?
if so I have tried one of them and they drown out your plants, if not how many holes do you have at the bottom?


I just looked at the design of the box you are drowning out your plants every time rains is is going to collect at the bottom you have to get the water out, I am taking mine and making a planter out of it just by drilling 3/8 holes at the bottom, you will get a mold issue to when it is wet all the time and plants don't like mold.

Thumbnail by mikie1856
Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

There is a forum on DG dedicated specifically to self watering containers. From what I've read many people swear by them and haven't had any issues. I know many DGs that only garden using those, they have great looking plants and fantastic yeilds. I'm trying them for the frst time this year, and my plants look the same as the ones in the ground. They come with covers so the rain doesn't water them. You might want to check that forum out.

Cascade, VA(Zone 7a)

one other thought....since so many swear by the planter itself....could it be the actual planting medium that its growing in? perhaps a bit TOO moisture retentive?

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I do find it strange that one plant appears fine but not the other. This is my first year using them and the set up directions are very specific but so far my tomato plants look fine. I'm going to try growing long beans and cukes in the ones that aren't planted yet.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

You might be better off replacing the shriveled-leaf-plant with a new one. Are they still available for sale?

When you replace it, definitely check the root zone. If one side of the box is soggier than the other, maybe replace some of the potting soil on the wet side with amended mix (add screened pine bark, crushed stone, #2 granite grit or coarse Perlite).

However, it is usually a bad idea to have one container with different kinds of soil. Usually soil moisture is more uniform when the whole container has similar soil.

For next year, check the box's wicking arrangements and try to make them the same on both sides. Then fill the box with all one kind of soil, well-mixed, and not TOO fine or TOO water-retentive.

I find most "big-bag, big name" consumer-targeted potting mixes too fine, slow-draining and too water-retaining ... which is to say, poorly aerated.

technical article about Container Soils:

technical articles about water-in-soil in the field and wild:

If a bale of a professional mix is too expensive (Pro-Mix, Sunshine, Fafard, others), I would amend a mix like Miracle-Gro with 20% screened pine bark. Or crushed stone grit. Or #2 Chicken grit (granite, not seashell). Or very coarse Perlite.

Professional potting soils.

If you use screened evergreen bark, you could include some bark fines and replace 50% or even more of the expensive peaty mix. I think a good potting mix is very well aerated and hence benefits from at least 20% grit-sized grains. Say from around 1/10 inch (2.5 mm) through BB size (4.3 mm) to a little bigger (5-6 mm). Long chips and flat shreds are better than rounded grains.

Baby pea sized chunks might be a little too big. They take up volume in the root zone, in effect decreasing the size of the pot and decreasing water retention.

If the bark chips you add are a little porous and somewhat water-retentive, that's ideal. The size of the bark chunk provides openings (air gaps in the peaty mix). Holding some water [u]inside[/u] the bark allows the mix to hold water somewhere that does NOT choke off air diffusion through capillary-sized channels in the soil.

I wish I could invent (or someone would invent) puffed or popped bark. Like expanded shale and clay pellets, they might provide BOTH aeration AND water retention.

I like the idea that a perfect filed soil has 50% "open space".
Container soils should have at least 50% pore space, up to 85%!
Water-retaining ability should be large enough that you don't have to water too often for your taste, but 10-30% open AIR space is necessary for roots to breath.

Some open pores are small enough to fill with, and hold, capillary water. That's "field capacity" if we're outdoors and not in pots.

However, to support plant life, some open pores must be large enough that water drains OUT of them due to gravity, and leaves enough open AIR space behind.

Large soil grains like sand and grit have large pores (the spaces between grains). They drain well and leave behind large air channels so they are well aerated but hold little water. You might have to water them every day or more often.

Small soil grains like silt and clay have tiny pores - small enough to fill with and hold capillary water that gravity can't remove. Those soils tend to drown roots. But you don't have to water them as often, especially after the plants die.

Mixtures of small particles like peat powder or very fine sand, with coarse particles like grit, bark nuggets, Perlite or gravel aren't very stable. Over time, the fine particles will "wash out" of the upper layers and fill the pores in the lower layers.

Fibrous particles like peat wash out slower than rounded grains like silt and fine sand. Clay has flat particles but they are TINY and would wash out very quickly if they weren't so sticky. Still, they do leach out ("elluviate") and clog the bottom of the pot.

So amended mixtures might need to be tilled or "fluffed" every year to restore their pore structure.

When just watered, the ideal "50% open space" in a coarse-grain soil might be reduced to 20% air space and 30% capillary water. That still "breaths" just fine.

After a heavy watering that saturates the container, enough water must immediately drain out to create at least 10% - 20% open AIR space or oxygen can't diffuse down to the roots, and they will drown, die and then rot.

A potting mix that is mostly peat has only VERY TINY open spaces. When watered, the capillary film of water is thick enough to fill ALL those tiny open spaces, excluding air. Drown, die, rot.

Some openings (pores, voids, channels, gaps) need to be wider than twice the width of a capillary water film so that the channel has an OPEN air channel that lets air diffuse into the soil, even when the sides of the channels are fully coated with capillary water.

That's what I mean by "opening up" a peaty potting mix. Enough grit-sized particles in the mix let some of them lean on other large particles and create voids between and underneath them. As long as peat dust does not filter into those gaps and fill them, each gap serves as a speedway for air to diffuse into. Enough gaps, and air can diffuse from one void to another fast enough to keep your roots breathing until the plant has sucked out enough water to thin out the capillary films and open up more thin channels.

This message was edited Jun 3, 2014 4:57 PM

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Rick has included a lot of very good information about soils.
Very important concepts.

The 'instructions' included with almost any garden product may be rather detailed and specific, or can be pretty vague and ambiguous.
I would sure look into what the soil is doing around both the plants that are thriving, and the plants that are not, see if you can find something obvious like 'Hey, this container is soggy wet over here, and barely moist over there'.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks very much, Diana. I think that a lot of people wear out their "page down" key when they see a long post from me, either because they already know it, or don;t want to turn a hobby into a science project.

Of course that's appropriate!

But I really appreciate someone saying a post is valuable, even if you already knew everything I said.

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

You guys all say overwatered, but the plant iitself looks like something more than uneven watering could be goin on- do remove that plant, but as well as moisture in that area, check your roots to see if the plant itself has been attacked by any viruses, or bugs which could have come in at planting time. My smartphone isn't giving me great visuals, but I dont see yellowing I would expect...

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Diseased or damaged roots!

Good idea, that could explain why one thrived and the other is trying to die.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I don't think it's possible to over water in those types of containers...that's the whole idea. I'd have already yanked it. Let's face it not every plant survives or thrives when planted out even in ground. I would like to see what's going on in the root zone.

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

In the third post, I suggested that you dig it up and look to see what is going on. Then everyone speculated about what might be going on. The only way to know is to look and see. That was 10 days ago!

This message was edited Jun 11, 2014 10:16 PM

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Yes you did Steady- wonder what got done/found...

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Lol I was trying to get back to that point, since it's the only way of really knowing what's going on. I think iflossu is gone....

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