Tomato Leaves Rolling?

Janet McLeod Scott
Home & Garden Information Center

Curling or rolling of tomato leaves can be caused by various factors including environmental stresses, viral infection and herbicide damage. To determine which factor is the culprit, it pays to take a close look at the plant(s). Which leaves are rolling – old leaves, new leaves, all leaves? What direction do the leaves roll – upward or downward? Are any other parts of the plant, including fruit, exhibiting symptoms?

Physiological Leaf Roll: Excessive moisture and nitrogen, heat, drought, severe pruning, root damage and transplant shock are some of the environmental factors that can cause physiological leaf roll in tomatoes. Initial symptoms are usually apparent in the lower leaves with an upward cupping of leaflets followed by an inward lengthwise rolling of the leaflets toward the mid-vein. The affected leaves tend to become thickened and have a leathery texture, but retain a normal, healthy green color. Over time all of the leaves on the plant may be affected.

Physiological leaf roll of tomato.
Tomato with physiological leaf roll
Joey Williamson, HGIC Clemson University

Interestingly, vine tomato (indeterminate) varieties tend to exhibit physiological leaf roll more often than bush tomato (determinate) varieties. While this condition can occur at any time of the growing season, it usually occurs as spring weather shifts to summer. The good news is that the condition has minimal impact on tomato fruit production and plant growth. By properly hardening off tomato seedlings before planting in the garden, maintaining a consistent moisture level in the soil, and avoiding over fertilization, excessive pruning and root damage during cultivation, one can go a long way toward preventing tomato plants from developing this physiological problem.

Viral Infections: Some viral infections also cause leaf rolling in tomatoes. When tomato plants are infected with tomato yellow leaf curl virus (transmitted by whiteflies), new leaves become cupped and pale green in color. In addition the entire plant may exhibit stunted growth, yellowing leaf edges, purplish veins on the undersides of leaves and decline of fruit production. A second virus, tomato mosaic virus, causes rolling of leaves, but other symptoms, including mottled-coloring of leaves, small leaflets and internal browning of infected fruit, distinguish it from physiological or herbicide-induced leaf roll.

A tomato plant infected with tomato yellow leaf curl virus
Tomato infected with tomato yellow leaf curl virus
David B. Langston, University of Georgia, United States

There is no treatment for virus-infected plants. Removal and destruction of plants is recommended. Since weeds often act as hosts to the viruses, controlling weeds around the garden can reduce virus transmission by insects. As some viruses are transmitted mechanically on garden tools, it also helps to disinfect tools that have come into contact with diseased plants.

Herbicide Damage: When tomato plants are exposed to the herbicide, 2,4-D, typical symptoms include downward rolling of leaves and twisted growth. In addition, stems may turn white and split; fruit may be deformed. Depending on the level of exposure, the plant may or may not survive.

Symptoms of 2,4-D herbicide damage on tomatoes
Tomatoes exhibiting damage from exposure to 2,4-D herbicide
Joey Williamson, HGIC Clemson University

Herbicide injury cannot be reversed, but if the plant is not killed, new growth may be normal. Always be very careful when spraying an herbicide as it may drift much further than anticipated.

To learn more about growing healthy tomatoes as well as common tomato diseases and insect pests, see: HGIC 1323, Tomato; HGIC 2217, Tomato Diseases and HGIC 2218, Tomato Insects.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.