Garden Myth: Tums for Tomatoes

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Applying Tums to tomato plants is simply a waste of time and money. Photo: Brett Hondow, Pixabay,

There is no limit to the human imagination … nor to far-fetched ways to treat our plants. Here’s one example among many, the belief that giving antacid pills, specifically Tums, can be useful to tomato plants.

The tip suggests placing a Tums antacid pill at the base of the tomato plant, then watering well afterwards. Exactly what this is supposed to do to help the plant is rarely mentioned. Just do it: it’s good for your plant. And I’m sure plenty of people blindly follow this advice.

I can, however, tell you where the idea originally came from and also why giving Tums or any other calcium-rich antacid tablet to your tomatoes won’t work.

Preventing Blossom-End Rot

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Blossom end rot is caused by irregular watering. Photo: Scot Nelson, Flickr

Tomatoes often suffer from blossom end rot (read Tomatoes and Peppers: How to Avoid Blossom End Rot for more details on this disease). The tip of the fruit becomes brown and sunken and the fruit begins to rot. And blossom end rot is known to be caused by a calcium deficiency. And that’s why Tums pills are supposed to come to the rescue, as they are mostly composed of calcium carbonate. Calcium, in other words, and in a highly soluble form to boot. That should solve the problem, shouldn’t it?

But that’s misunderstanding the situation. Blossom end rot is rarely caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, but rather by a lack of calcium in the plant. Calcium is abundant and available in almost all soils, even in artificial soils or poor quality ones. In fact, it’s one of the most abundant elements in soils all over the world. Almost any soil contains more than enough calcium to satisfy a tomato plant. And essentially all fertilizers also contain calcium as well. As a result, the average tomato plant has an abundance of calcium in the soil in which it grows: you don’t need to add more.

In fact, blossom end rot is really due to the inability of the plant to absorb the calcium present in the soil. And this is related to moisture stress and uneven watering. If the plant lacks water during the critical period of fruit formation, the roots can’t absorb all the minerals that are available and therefore what little sap now reaches the fruit will be carrying less calcium than it should. Since the fruit isn’t getting sap of the quality it requires, a calcium deficiency occurs … and blossom end rot sets in.

Just Keep the Plants Moist

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To prevent blossom end rot, just water. Tums aren’t necessary! Photo: Graphicstock

So, if you water your tomato plants more regularly, thus avoiding moisture stress, the fruits won’t suffer from blossom end rot. Applying Tums won’t be necessary, nor will using a fertilizer rich in calcium. Just keep the plants evenly moist and all will be fine.

So, if you apply a Tums to the soil at the foot of a tomato plant and you water it, as the garden myth recommends, true enough, that will cure future cases of blossom end rot … but because you watered, not because of the Tums.

Just skip the Tums and go straight to step 2, watering. It’s as easy as that!20170821A Brett Hondow, Pixabay

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