Last year, I had a blight pretty bad in my raised beds. I imagine it was because of the long wet spring and summer we had here in Ohio. This year, I made sure to put a heavy mulch bed down of cut grass to prevent splashing of the soil underneath the leaves. My tomato and pepper plants are all growing really well and were raised from seed. I noticed the stems below the grass are turning brown and look a bit dried out. Is this bad or normal? I can't recall ever seeing this before. I fear the plants will die soon. Below are photos, including one of a healthy stem.

I did use Tomato Tone when I planted. I mixed three tablespoons per plant in with the surrounding soil. In the past, I have sprinkled it on top during the season with no adverse effects.

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  • throw a layer of coffee (I have an inch on one my mom bought about a month ago, and it has tomatoes ready to pick along with needing to chop off the top so it bushes out more), and ground egg shell on it, and call me in a month – black thumb Jun 9 '16 at 15:08
  • Are you growing your tomatoes/peppers in the same bed as last year without crop rotation? – Graham Chiu Jun 9 '16 at 19:54
  • Yes. Same crops roughly. – Evil Elf Jun 9 '16 at 20:22

It looks like you had the grass mulch up against the stem of your tomato plant. You should give the stem some space so it's not directly touching your mulch. In some of your pictures you can see roots starting to grow where the mulch was.

Based on what I'm seeing it looks like you spread the grass soon after cutting when it was still green. Green grass clippings are high in nitrogen and contain a high amount of moisture. When grass clippings start to decompose they can get quite hot. The high nitrogen and moisture may have damaged the stem as well as the high moisture, reduced air flow might have been a good environment for disease.

The first two pictures don't look too bad and I think the plants will be fine. The third picture looks like more damage to the stem and I think at the least the plant will suffer a little bit.

Pull back the grass from your existing plants and next year remember to leave space so the grass mulch isn't touching the stems. When I used to use grass clippings I would pile them up in one section of the garden after mowing then a few days later after they browned out a bit I would spread them around plants.

Regarding the heat generated by grass clippings this is a portion from Missouri Unversity's Extension Office. http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6958

Yes, grass clippings used as a mulch should be built up gradually to a 1-inch layer using dry grass. Greater thickness can inhibit the penetration of moisture and oxygen into the soil, and excessive heat and foul odors may develop. Mulching thickness can be increased by mixing in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of compost, dry leaves or wood chips with fresh grass clippings.

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  • Hmmm, I will have to look into this. I did place the grass when still green. – Evil Elf Jun 9 '16 at 14:13
  • Huh. I bought a prong digital cooking thermometer to test the temperature of my soil. I could probably check the temp of my mulch pile too. I didn't think the heat generated was more than 5-10F degrees higher than ambient temp. – Bulrush Jun 9 '16 at 18:44
  • I pulled the grass back from the stems. Will the plants recover? Do they heal like a tree would? – Evil Elf Jun 10 '16 at 13:24
  • @EvilElf I've never had this happen personally but plants are pretty resilient. – OrganicLawnDIY Jun 10 '16 at 15:23

The plant in the second figure seems ok. When trunk is wet, shadowed, the tomato tend to create new roots, and this is fine.

I really don't like the trunk in the first figure and in last figure (this is a pepper, right?

I would not put so much mulch: fermenting, without much air, could burn the other plants. I would use just a small layer of mulch.

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  • That IS the pepper plant. It might not make it. The thin layers of mulch don't do much with the blight I have noticed. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. – Evil Elf Jun 9 '16 at 14:51

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