Bacterial Wilt in Tomato Plants

Bacterial wilt strikes tomato plants with little warning.

Bacterial wilt is a devastating garden disease, causing tomatoes and other nightshade vegetable plants to wilt and die suddenly and with very little warning. Bacterial wilt is nearly impossible to treat, but there are steps you can take to prevent its spread. Here’s what you need to know about bacterial wilt in the garden.

About Bacterial Wilt

Bacterial wilt is a soil-borne disease caused by the bacteria Ralstonia solancearum. It targets primarily tomatoes but is also a problem for potatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, bananas, and many weeds (which act as hosts).

Bacterial wilt can be identified by:

    Testing for bacterial wilt.

  • Warning signs: The plant may start to look wilted in the mornings but then perk up over the course of the day.
  • Sudden death: The entire plant can suddenly wilt and die in a matter of hours.
  • Stem rot: The stem may rot from the inside out, revealing a brown or hollow center.
  • Field test: To test to see if your plants have bacterial wilt, cut a chunk of the main stem, about 2-3 inches long. Suspend it in a glass of water. Within a few minutes, you should see milky white bacteria flowing out of the stem.

Bacterial wilt may be encouraged by:

  • Injured plants, since the bacteria enters the roots through wounds caused by cultivation, improper planting, and nematodes or other root-feeding critters in the soil.
  • Poorly draining, infertile, or heavy clay soil.
  • Acidic soil.
  • Hot, humid or rainy conditions.
  • Soil infected with the bacteria. Bacterial wilt can live for years in soil without a host plant present.
  • Water runoff that spreads the bacteria.
  • Weeds that can act as hosts to the bacteria without showing symptoms of bacterial wilt.
  • Infected tools, transplants, and imported soil.

Gardening Tip

Other wilts, such as fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt, are caused by soil-borne fungus and can also attack tomato plants. Unlike bacterial wilt, both of these fungal wilts begin with yellowing of the leaves and don’t kill the plant quite as suddenly as bacterial wilt.

Treatment and Prevention

If you suspect bacterial wilt in your garden (and even if you don’t), follow these tips to prevent its spread:

  • Remove Infected Plants and Soil: Immediately remove and burn any affected plants before the bacteria are released back into the soil. To be safe, dig out the soil around the plants too, rather than pulling them and leaving infected root fragments behind.
  • Plant in Containers: Planting in containers or raised beds allows better control over the soil and drainage.
  • Bacterial wilt on tomato plant.

  • Rotate Crops: Practice crop rotation to keep plants away from the same spot for at least three years.
  • Control Nematodes and Soil Insects: If control isn’t possible, avoid planting susceptible plants in infested areas.
  • Minimize Injury: Don’t over cultivate plants, and be very careful not to damage roots.
  • Improve Soil: Make sure your soil drains well and is full or organic matter, with a pH of at least 5.5.
  • Garden Smart: Work in infested areas last, then disinfect implements immediately afterward with bleach. This includes tools, tiller, gloves, even the soles of your shoes!
  • Keep Garden Weeded: Eliminate weeds from your garden, since they can act as hosts to bacterial wilt.
  • Disinfect Soil: If you’re starting seeds or transplants, use pasteurized soil. You can also try solarizing your garden soil, although this has shown limited results with bacterial wilt.
  • Graft Plants: If you’re adventurous, you can graft your tomato seedlings onto resistant eggplant rootstock.
  • Plant Resistant Varieties: A few varieties of tomatoes are somewhat resistant to bacterial wilt, but it’s touch-and-go. Check with your local agricultural extension service to find out if any varieties are working in your area.

Further Information


  1. Mr. Lipford,

    I have a question about my bathroom. I have noticed that my towels get mildew on them after a few weeks. I was wondering what might be causing. I have asked several plumbers about the problem and none of them seem to know what could be causing this. It happens not just on the towels, It happens on other closthing also that I hand was and leave it to dry. I will really appreciate it if you could help me with problem. I would really like it if someone can make a house call.

    Thanks you very much.


  2. Dinneli, mildew is caused by moisture and a lack of air circulation. Bathrooms are always damp, and things like towels and hanging clothes hold moisture and make the problem worse. Try these tips:

    – Install an exhaust fan, if you don’t already have one. Run it while you’re in the shower and also when washing clothes, to remove steam. If you can’t install a fan, you need to open windows, or open the door and run a floor fan to get air circulating after showering.

    – Change your bath towels, washcloths, and rugs at least once a week. Even with the best of conditions, damp towels will mildew after a week or so.

    – Remove hand-washed clothing from the bathroom as soon as it’s dry. If you leave it in the bathroom, it will get damp again every time you shower, and it will mildew.

    – Clean up the existing mildew with bleach, soap, and water.

  3. Sir, I have had trouble with tomato plant wilting and dying I am sure that it is bacterial wilt, I have baked garden for a year with black plastic still got me this year whats my best move plant in conainers, any plant resistant to it, any thing to mix in soil? Thanks, Larry

  4. My tomato plants got a disease that not only turned the leaves black and powdery but the few green tomatoes never grew and no more tomatoes were ever on plant. What disease did my tomato plants have? How can I prevent it from returning next summer.

  5. My soil was sandy and well composted and well drained, there was a big crop of tomatoes full of green large tomatoes in the afternoon.The next day when I returned from work the whole crop was dead from wilt. We have relatively high humidity here on the East Coast of South Africa, about 75 to 80% in Summer, Temperature 26 to 28 Centigrade.

  6. In addition, some farmers also always conclude case on bacteria wilt when they see plant wilting and the case may be over irrigation. So other factors too should be examine before concluding on bacteria wilt

  7. Please answer asap… I planted tomatoes last year in a greenhouse but then b.wilt took control. I decided to plant legumes just to crop rotate I want to put back tomatoes please tell me the measures I should take to avoid encounter with bacterial wilt again.

  8. Thank you very much . am in Uganda East Africa, BW is common here. Is it true that applying wood charcoal in holes during planting can help to prevent BW in tomatoes?. if so how can one apply it. thank you

  9. Hi
    A few years ago during a hot and humid stretch of weather I NOTICED ONE OF MY TOMATO PLANTS WILTING AT THE TOP AND BY LATE AFTERNOON IT WAS DEAD . After doing some research i found out the culprit was Bacterial Wilt . The research kind of said there was nothing i could do at this point . So after losing three plants I TRIED A Hail Mary Experiment of my own.
    After hearing that Silver is used in the medical field to control bacteria I WENT TO GNC and bought a 8 ounce 30 parts per million bottle of silver water (colloidal silver ) . I mixed it in water in an Arizona Iced tea container and watered the remaining five plants from the base with it . I also heard pioneers put silver coins in there buckets to keep bacteria under control so I went to a local coin dealer and bought some one ounce rounds and put them in a small water bucket overnight and watered aech plant in the morning from the base and repeated the process for at least four more weeks . I am happy to report the remaining five plants lived and produced enough tomato for me my family and my friends .
    I understand science will have to look into this further ans it is a bit of an expensive fix as silver water is $30 FOR AN EIGHT OUNCE BOTTLE AND SILVER ROUNDS FLUCTUATE WITH THE PRICE OF SILVER . I wish I had been more scientific but I hope my testimonial helps and Science can prove my experiment correct .
    Vincent A Hauser

  10. Many plants in our neighborhood have sickened and died the past 2 seasons, from what I believe may be verticillium wilt. It seems to have started in either a large old locust tree at a house that meets my back yard or a hackberry tree at the same location. The house was foreclosed on and no one seems to care what happens there. Those trees are large and old, seem to withstand it. Many of my vegetables arent able to handle it. Last year, even my broccoli and green beans died this way, as did tomatoes the past 2 years. We also lost a maple tree and now a 10 year old redbud tree. Okra seems to be the only thing not affected! Does this spread by blowing leaves? No place in my yard seems unaffected . Do I have to move to get away from this?

  11. I have planted tomatoes in my garden in Kerala, India on the ground and also in several polythene bags filled with soil and compost. I find the wilt (most probably bacterial wilt) only in plants growing on the ground and not in bags. I find that the wilt happens every other day in one or two plants and not a total devastation. Sorry to see the well grown plants which have already flowered and fruited wilting.

    • Hi, Jose,
      Thanks for reaching out from Kerala and sharing your experiences with bacterial wilt.
      We enjoy hearing from our fans in India!


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