Many take great enjoyment in growing tomatoes in their home garden. There is something special about growing tomato plants and reaping the benefits of eating a fresh, home-grown tomato. Unfortunately, many home gardeners run into disease problems when growing tomatoes. Once a tomato plant shows symptoms of tomato problems like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes and other diseases, there is not much that can be done. However, there are some things that you can do before you start growing tomatoes that will help reduce tomato diseases from occurring.

There are many tomato varieties out there to pick from. There is not one perfect variety of tomato for the home garden. Picking a variety to grow is based more on personal preference. Many home gardeners who have grown different varieties every year have learned what varieties provide the type and taste of tomato they prefer.

Even though there are a lot of tomato varieties to select from, there are some things to think about and look for when selecting varieties. Selecting tomato varieties with disease resistance will help in reducing some disease problems that are often dealt with when growing tomatoes. Resistance to a disease does not necessarily mean that the variety will be completely immune, but a resistant variety will help at least reduce the severity of the disease.

Tomato varieties have abbreviations included on the plant label or variety description. Each letter or abbreviation represents what disease the variety is resistant to. Here is what the abbreviations of the most common diseases stand for:

V = Verticillium wilt

F = Fusarium wilt

N = Root-knot nematode

TSWV = Tomato spotted wilt virus

When selecting varieties, you would want to look for resistance to diseases that you have had problems with in the past. For example, if you had problems with tomatoes getting one of the wilt diseases, select varieties that have a V and/or F. If trying to remember what abbreviation goes with which tomato disease is too much trouble, at least remember that the more abbreviations or letters that are with a variety, the better luck you will have in dealing with past disease problems.

Along with selecting disease resistant varieties, remember not to plant your tomato plants in the same spot that you did last year. If you encountered disease problems in the past years and continue the plant your tomatoes in the same spot, diseases will build up in the soil year after year, which will only escalate the problems each year. If you have had a history of tomato disease problems in the area where you plant tomatoes and have nowhere else to plant the tomatoes, consider planting tomatoes in containers. Planting in containers will eliminate the risk of planting tomatoes in soils with soil-borne diseases.

Got gardening questions? We can help! Contact the Wayne County Extension Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, email at or stopping by the Wayne County Extension Office at the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive.

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Upcoming Wayne County Extension gardening programs

• The Lawn Care Basics workshop will be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 15 at the Wayne County Extension Office, the Maxwell Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive. The workshop will cover how you can successfully care for your lawn. Learn about site preparation, grass selection, seeding, lawn maintenance and common pest problems. Registration fee is $5. Pre-registration is not required. Arrive a few minutes early to register.

• Visit the Farm Credit Farmers Market, located behind the Maxwell Center. The market is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Save the dates for our annual Garden Festival and Plant Sale! This year’s festival will be a two-day event, so come early for the best selection of plants. The festival will be open Friday, May 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, May 4, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The festival will be located at the Farm Credit Farmers Market, behind the Maxwell Center. A large variety of plants, crafts and raffles will be for sale along with Master Gardener volunteers being on hand to answer your gardening questions. Be sure to visit the Farm Credit Farmers Market during the event along with a food demonstration from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 3. Beekeepers of the Neuse will have local honey for sale both days.

Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.