Gardening Matters

For the last 20-odd years I have grown tomatoes in the same spot in my garden without trouble. Over the years I have received numerous warnings from knowledgeable people that this was not a good gardening practice and that I was toying with serious trouble in this matter.

I had no reason to doubt my friendly advice givers, but I really had very limited choice in the matter. There are only a few spots at my home that get the kind of sun required for tomatoes. And I seriously wanted big, juicy tomatoes in my garden. So I rolled the dice and, for 20-some years came up just fine.

Then, three years ago my tomato plants started dying on me. At first leaves would turn yellow, droop and eventually fall off. This drooping and dying started crawling up the vines. After awhile few healthy leaves were left and, eventually, the whole plant would die. I gave up on tomatoes that year.

The next year I excavated most of the soil from where I usually plant my tomatoes. I then replaced the old soil with fresh new organic soil from the garden store. I planted my tomatoes with great expectations only to find the same drooping, drooping and dying pattern being repeated. I gave up on that year’s tomatoes, too. I was seriously concerned that my future was going to be one big disappointment without my homegrown tomatoes.

I then did some research and determined that I had one of the dreaded tomato wilts. Either Frusarium wilt or Verticillium wilt is the most likely suspects. Both of these diseases are caused by a fungus that gets into the soil and is untreatable. These fungus diseases also affect peppers and eggplants, a couple of other favorites of mine. Once the disease gets in your soil it takes up to two years of keeping the affected area fallow to be able to replant in that area.

God forbid I should go without my tomatoes another year. I decided to build a new raised garden bed just for tomatoes, at least for a couple of years. Once my usual tomato spot is restored to health, I can switch my pole beans growing in the old bed now to the new spot and thereafter rotate my crops like I should have been doing for the last couple of decades.

The new spot has proved to be perfect for my sun-loving tomatoes. My wife and I have enjoyed abundant fresh tomatoes in salads, in caprese, on white bread sandwiches and as gazpacho. It has been a bounteous year and a most educational one. If you, like me, have very limited sun for your tomatoes, take a lesson from my disappointment and see if you can find an alternative site to enable you to rotate your ‘maters. Heck, maybe I’ll make up some bumper stickers that say, “Rotate Your ‘Maters.”

Finally, it is once again time for the Dunwoody Nature Center’s plant sale. This is one of my favorite places to buy plants for a number of reasons. The major reason is that the selections offered are great plants that you are unlikely to find at Big Box stores and most garden centers. Additionally the sales help support Dunwoody’s great gem, the Dunwoody Nature Center.

This year they are offering 14 plants, including blueberries, crepe myrtle, columbine, oakleaf hydrangea, woodland phlox and others.

Go to and look for the plant sale link on their main page. All sales and payments are done on-line. The last date to order is Sept. 23. Plants can be picked up at the Nature Center on Friday Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1.

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 35 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at

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