Tomato Mosaic Virus Symptoms: Managing Tomato Mosaic Virus

By Amy Grant

Your glorious tomatoes can become inflicted with any number of diseases, not to mention insect infestations. Some of the symptoms mimic those found in other maladies, such as nutritional defects. To further complicate the issue, some tomato plant problems are both disease and insect related. One of these is tomato mosaic virus. What is tomato mosaic virus and what causes tomato mosaic virus?

What is Tomato Mosaic Virus?

Tomato mosaic virus symptoms can be found at any stage of growth and all parts of the plant may be infected. Tomato mosaic virus symptoms are seen as a general mottling or mosaic appearance on foliage. When the plant is severely affected, leaves may look akin to ferns with raised dark green regions. Leaves may also become stunted.

Infected plants may have a severe reduction in fruit set and those that do set may be dotted with yellow blotches and necrotic spots while the interior of the fruit is brown. Stems, petioles, leaves and fruit may all show signs of infection.

Mosaic virus infects a large number of plants in addition to tomatoes. A few of the more common ones include:

As mentioned above, mosaic virus symptoms mimic those caused by other plant diseases as well as herbicide or air pollution damage and mineral deficiencies. While this viral disease rarely kills the plant, it lowers the quantity and quality of the fruit. So what causes tomato mosaic virus and are there any methods for treating tomato mosaic virus?

Tomato Mosaic Virus Control

This viral disease is able to overwinter on perennial weeds and is then spread by several insects including aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies and cucumber beetles. Both cuttings and divisions from infected plants will be infected. Some plants are more susceptible than others and symptoms can be exacerbated by favorable environmental conditions.

The disease is spread into the plant via small wounds caused by mechanical injury, insect chewing, and grafting. Leftover plant debris is the most common contagion. Tobacco of any sort can also transmit the virus by contaminating hands.

Treating mosaic virus is difficult and there are no chemical controls like there are for fungal diseases. Tomato mosaic virus has been found to survive for up to 50 years in desiccated plant detritus! So tomato mosaic virus control then leans less on eliminating the disease and more on reducing and eliminating the virus sources and insect infestations.

Sanitation is the most important application to practice when controlling tobacco mosaic virus. Don’t smoke when transplanting and wash hands frequently and thoroughly or change into clean gloves. Tools should be boiled for 5 minutes and then washed with a strong detergent. Bleaching doesn’t work for viral decontamination. Destroy any seedlings that appear stunted or distorted and then decontaminate tools and hands.

If you just can’t bear to destroy an entire plant that might be infected, remove any yellowing or mottled leaves and destroy them. Again, decontaminate anything that may have touched them.

Keep plants healthy by feeding them and maintaining a consistent watering schedule so they don’t get stressed. Keep the area around the tomatoes weeded and free of plant detritus to minimize areas the disease can harbor. Control insects as well to lessen the changes of contamination and treat the plants gently when using machinery or equipment around them to lessen injury that acts as a vector for disease.

If you have had a case of mosaic virus, at the end of the season, clean the entire area thoroughly. Remove any sign of the plants and burn them. Don’t plant tomatoes, cucumbers or other plants that are susceptible to mosaic virus in that same area again.

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