Tomato spots - bacterial?

Asked June 17, 2019, 9:03 AM EDT

Good morning,

I'm hoping you can help me figure out if my tomatoes are doomed from a bacterial infection or if this is just something I can manage without getting rid of them.

First, my garden is new and was created through sheet mulching with about 5" of compost and 3-4 inches of a topsoil/compost mixture; no additional fertilizer worked in. I planted tomato seeds outside on May 20 and interspersed the row with two types of tomatoes (Roma and cherry) and two types of peppers. The other side of the row has cucumbers that are doing great. I don't think I watered the row enough and only added straw mulch on 7. I watered the plants from the top until June 14 when we installed a drip irrigation system.

The seedlings seem slow to grow and as of June 4 had lots of brown spots on the first leaves and only 1 true leaf in all the seedlings that had germinated. Today there are quite a few tomato plants with tiny true leaves but I did pull many that had first leaves with brown spots. In some cases the leaves withered or curled. On some seedlings, the affected leaves fell right off when I picked the seedlings. Most seemed to have decent roots. The peppers also seem slow to grow and I've only seen one true leaf in all the seedlings, but they don't have the brown spots. I've attached photos.

The important thing is that I'm managing the garden with organic processes, so I don't plan to use synthetic fertilizers or other treatments.

One more question - I haven't yet sent the soil away for testing. Is it too late to do that?

Thanks for all your help.

Howard County Maryland

3 Responses

It is not too late to do soil testing and that is a good idea.
Here is our soil testing page which contains all the information you need, including a video on how to take a good sample and a list of regional labs that your can mail your sample to for analysis:

To grow good ripe tomatoes and peppers, in Maryland (they want warm soil) we generally recommend either starting seed indoors 6-8 weeks before planting stocky transplants outdoors once the soil has warmed, or by purchasing transplants. (See our planting dates calendar and specific crop info pages here: )

Your seedlings are stressed and may limp along for a while and it will be difficult to get a full crop. They should be spaced with 2 feet between plants and they may not bear until late August into September.
If you have the room you may want to allow some of these to grow, but suggest you also buy some transplants as well.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders and they will want/need fertilization. There are organic fertilizers you can use, and they are marked with a star in this publication:

Our Tomato info page:
Our Pepper info page:

Good luck.



Thank you! So just to be sure, you don't think they have anything bacterial going on with the spots and the leaves falling off? If it's a disease I just don't want it spreading.

Thanks again,


Hi- we cannot tell from the photos if the leaf spots are a disease symptom. There are a number of foliar tomato diseases. If you decide to baby your tomato seedlings rather than replace with purchased transplants, please monitor the plants for diseases. Good luck.