Tomato Blight: How to Identify and Treat Early Blight in Tomatoes

Tomato blight, in its different forms, is a disease that attacks a plant’s foliage, stems, and even fruit.

Early blight (one form of tomato blight) is caused by a fungus, Alternaria solani, which over-winters in the soil and infected plants. Affected plants underproduce. Leaves may drop, leaving fruit open to sunscald.

Early blight’s Latin name is sometimes confused with a form of tomato rot, alternaria, a different tomato problem altogether. To muddle matters further, early blight is occasionally mistaken for Septoria leaf spot because the two diseases infect tomatoes at the same time.

What does early blight look like?

Photo: University of Minnesota Extension

  • Dark, concentric spots (brown to black), ¼ - ½” in diameter, form on lower leaves and stems. Early blight is marked by tell-tale rings.
  • Fruit can also be affected; spots often begin near stem of fruit
  • Lower leaves turn yellow and drop

When does early blight affect plants?

  • It's most evident during early- to mid-season
  • It’s most common in humid weather
  • It often strikes after a period of heavy rainfall

How do you control and treat early blight?

  • The best control measure for tomato blight is prevention (see below).
  • Remove and destroy infected leaves (be sure to wash your hands afterwards).
  • Treat organically with copper spray

    , which you can purchase online, at the hardware store, or home improvement center. Follow label directions. You can apply until the leaves are dripping, once a week and after each rain.

  • Once blight is present and progresses, it becomes more resistant to biofungicide and fungicide. Treat it as soon as possible and on a schedule.
  • Treat organically with a biofungicide like Serenade

    to lessen symptoms. Follow label instructions. Or apply a fungicide such as chlorothalonil (sold as Fungonil)

    , Mancozeb

    fungicide, or Daconil

    at the first sign of blight when fruit sets (as a preventative measure) or when conditions indicate a strong potential for it to develop. Follow label directions. Re-apply every 7-10 days or after rain. Other diseases (such as late blight, Septoria leaf spot, and gray leaf spot) can be controlled by these biofungicides and fungicides, so application is multi-purpose.

    (Garden sprayers are available at

    and Gardens Alive!

    , along with a good selection of sprayers at

How do you prevent early blight?

  • Rotate crops. Early blight remains active for a year. Spores can be dormant in the soil for several years.
  • Plant disease-resistant hybrids to strengthen your plant’s chances of being blight-free.
  • Plant tomatoes in a raised bed to improve drainage and prevent diseases from spreading.
  • Give tomato plants extra space (more than 24 inches) to let air to move among leaves and keep them dry.
  • Water the soil – not the plants – to prevent splashing. Avoid overhead watering.
  • Mulch with black plastic or landscape fabric to prevent fungus from spreading up onto leaves.
  • Stake tomato plants for better circulation.
  • Remove and destroy affected plants at the end of the season.

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Tomato problems from growing conditions

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