Here in the Southeast where summer temps can get quite high accompanied by stifling humidity, it’s not uncommon to have plants that are wilting on hot afternoons. Wilt on tomatoes, peppers and a few other crops is common, especially when the searing afternoon sun reaches them daily. Occasionally, they recover as temperatures cool later in the day, but this isn’t always the case.
Treating for Wilt When Watering is Not the Solution
Obviously, if plants have dried out, you might need to water them. If soil is dry three inches (7.6 cm.) down, for instance, water is definitely needed. That said, don’t disrupt your normal watering schedule. If you determine the plant needs water, do it when daytime temperatures cool. Don’t water while sun is hitting the plant.
Sometimes, watering isn’t the answer at all. You may experience plants that are wilting for other reasons, and more water will not correct the issue. In some cases, water might be the problem. Plants that are overwatered and planted in soil that does not drain properly may be waterlogged and suffocating. This can happen after an extended rain event or if the plant is watered too heavily.
Eventually, the soil will dry out and the plant will recover. You can possibly amend soil with compost if the plant is young and appears to be recovering. Learn from this experience and always plant into well-draining soil. Waterlogged plants may experience diseases like root rot or a wilt that results from splashing water. Plants affected by wilt may be fungal or bacterial and enter the plant’s vascular system. There it attacks vascular walls, blocking growing tissue, which creates drying leaves, branches and stems.
Fertilization may be the problem as well. Too little fertilization can encourage plants to wilt, as can too much. Think back on your fertilization schedule this season. Again, amend your soil with good compost before planting to provide natural nutrients.
How to Combat Wilt in the Garden
There are numerous forms of wilt. Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt are among the common culprits and carry pathogens that create a long-term problem in the soil. Usually, bottom leaves will start to yellow in addition to the wilting. If left untreated, it spreads to susceptible neighboring crops.
Once these pathogens establish themselves in soil, they can persist for three to five years, even after problem plants are removed. Most often it affects the tomato, potato, eggplant, and pepper plants. Wilt can affect some berries and the branches of fruit trees too.
It’s a gardening issue I have faced and know all too well. Treating for wilt in the garden isn’t impossible, however. Here are some things I’ve learned to help combat issues with wilt: