Is Epsom Salt Good or Bad For Tomato Plants?

Trying to figure out if you should put some Epsom salt on your tomatoes in your garden this season, but aren't sure if Epsom salt is good or bad for tomatoes? In this article, suburban homesteader and gardening expert Merideth Cohrs examines the controversial topic of using Epsom salt when growing tomatoes.

epsom salt for tomatoes


Tomatoes are iconic for the home gardener. The plants are beautiful, and garden-grown tomatoes are more delicious than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. Beyond that, it is so satisfying to pull a cherry tomato off the vine and pop it in your mouth, slice up a homegrown heirloom beefsteak, or cook a beautiful pasta sauce from romas grown on your deck. Yes, my friends, tomatoes are awesome.

It’s no wonder then that myths abound in the gardening world on how to ‘hack’ the growth of your tomatoes. The most common seem to circulate around the benefits of coffee grounds, eggshells, and (you guessed it!) Epsom salt.

Years ago as a new gardener, I remember multiple people telling me to add Epsom salt into the soil before planting my tomatoes. I also remember hearing about them being a miracle cure for the dreaded blossom end rot. But are Epsom salts really effective at helping your tomatoes thrive? Let’s take a look!

What is Epsom Salt?

Adding nutrients to garden soil
Epsom salt can help tomatoes in a few different ways.

First, let’s understand what Epsom salt is, and how it’s used in the garden. When I was a kid, I remember my dad using it in the bath, but beyond that, I never really knew anything about it.

Here’s a little history and science lesson for you all rolled into one. Epsom salt is one of many naturally occurring mineral salts that contain a compound of magnesium and sulfate. The name Epsom is an honorific to the town of Epsom, England where the salt was originally discovered about 400 years ago.

While it looks a lot like table salt, you shouldn’t ever consume Epsom salt. Instead, you can use it in a bath to relieve stress or loosen sore muscles. You can also use it as a garden supplement in some cases.

Myth or Fact?

So, ready to learn even more about Epsom salts and tomato plants? If you start digging in and doing research online, you’ll get plenty of opinions on whether or not it’s actually good for tomato plants or not. Many of these opinions lack firsthand experience.

But does using Epsom salt on your garden tomato plants actually get backed up by science? Or are they just another horticultural myth? The answer is actually a bit of both. Let’s take a deeper look at the common ailments that can be fixed when applying this somewhat controversial mineral to your tomatoes.

It Fixes Yellowing Leaves

yellow tomato leaves
It can help prevent the yellowing of tomato foliage, as magnesium is part of the chlorophyll molecules.

Seeing our prized tomato plants in distress is always upsetting. Any time your previously healthy tomato starts to develop yellowing leaves, we can panic a little.

There are a number of reasons why your tomato leaves may be yellowing – over or underwatering, transplant shock, soil compaction, nutrient deficiency, pests, or disease – and most are relatively benign and easy to fix.

In this particular case, when yellowing leaves are the result of magnesium deficiency, you will notice a very specific yellowing of the leaves. The veins of the leaf remain green while the rest turns a light shade of yellow. This mottled appearance is a telltale sign that your tomato plant is unable to produce chlorophyll correctly and is in desperate need of magnesium.

As we recently learned, magnesium is a main component in Epsom salt, and its application can quickly combat magnesium deficiency and help your tomato recover quickly.

The best way to apply it in this case is as a fertilizer, much like you would any liquid feed. Mix one tablespoon in a gallon of warm water (to help the salt dissolve) and pour it around the base of the plant.

The best time to fertilize is in the morning so plants have time to absorb the fertilizer before the sun can cause any evaporation.

Myth or Fact?

Fact! Epsom salts are a great way of adding magnesium directly to your tomatoes and to the soil. Invest in a soil test kit so that you can ensure your tomatoes are getting the right amount of nutrients throughout the growing season.

Magnesium levels should be primarily provided by fertilizers used at the time of planting and then every two weeks once your tomato starts fruiting. But using it as a diluted foliar spray is a great ‘as needed’ trick!

It Prevents Blossom End Rot

Tomatoes damaged by Blossom End Rot
Epsom salts do not prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

When I first experienced blossom end rot in my tomatoes, I was told to liberally add Epsom salt to the soil to mix the problem. But was that good advice?

Blossom end rot is a condition that causes the fruit of tomato plants to turn brown and rot from the bottom. This happens when the plant is unable to bring up enough calcium through the roots, causing the plant to become deficient in that micronutrient. It’s really upsetting when you see this happening in your tomato plants because the affected tomatoes are a total loss.

Calcium deficiency is caused by one of three things:

  • Lack of water or uneven watering
  • Calcium deficiency in the soil
  • pH imbalance in the soil
  • Nutrient imbalance in the soil

You can see that blossom end rot has nothing to do with magnesium. It also doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem or deficiency in the soil at all.

In the first case, this is 100% about your watering habits. Adding magnesium will not change the water content in the soil. In the second case, a calcium deficiency is not going to be fixed since there is no calcium content whatsoever.

In the third case, there are easier and safer ways to adjust the pH of your soil. Epsom salt is only slightly acidic at a pH of 5.5-6.5 and you would have to add a large amount to make a difference. This would cause more problems than it would fix!

In the fourth case, this is where adding Epsom salt can actually be harmful and cause a worse case of blossom end rot. Remember, it’s mainly composed of magnesium.

If your tomatoes take up too much magnesium, it can actually compete with the absorption of other micronutrients like calcium. This will, of course, result in even less calcium absorption than before and probably cause even more causes of blossom end rot.

Myth or Fact?

Myth! Adding Epsom salt to help with blossom end rot is completely ineffective and can actually cause the problem to worsen. Instead, focus on consistent watering habits, pick off the affected fruit, and see if the problem rectifies itself. If not, go ahead and test your soil for calcium deficiencies or a pH imbalance.

It Deters Pests

slug pest on tomato fruit
In fact, Epsom salt is not able to repel tomato pests.

It seems to me that if even a small percentage of pest deterrent advice worked, we would never have to deal with pests in our gardens ever again. Hundreds of myths abound in the natural pest remedy world.

Nine times out of ten, the author or company ‘educating’ you on their efficacy virtually guarantees that they will solve your pest problem. While some natural remedies do work, most you find online are total garbage. Unfortunately, Epsom salt falls into that category.

There has been plenty of research looking into whether it acts as a tomato pest deterrent or repellant for aphids, hornworms, grasshoppers, whiteflies, and a host of other pests. To date, there has been zero evidence to support that it has any effect.

Myth or Fact?

Myth. Epsom salt has no effect on either deterring or eradicating pests in your garden. Focus on tried and true remedies for a pest infestation and, better still, focus on prevention through strong biodiversity in your garden!

It Improves Nutrient Uptake

Cherry tomatoes grow in the garden
Epsom salt is not the best solution for nutrient deficiency.

A balance of macronutrients and micronutrients are critical to the health, growth, and fruit production of your tomato plants. The best fertilizers for tomatoes have macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and micronutrients like magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and zinc.

Here’s a little cheat sheet on the macros your tomatoes need:

  • Nitrogen. Promotes foliage growth. Too much will lead to very bushy plants with little to no fruit.
  • Phosphorus. Crucial for the growth and development of roots as well as fruit. Important in both the initial stage of growth as well as the final stage of fruiting.
  • Potassium. Helps the plant grow rapidly and produce flowers and fruit. Also important for efficient photosynthesis and tolerance for some tomato diseases.

Micronutrients like magnesium and sulfur are needed in really small amounts, but if they are lacking, your tomato can become stressed. This can inhibit the absorption of the macronutrients that are critical to foliage growth, strong root development, and fruit production.

But that doesn’t mean Epsom salt is the answer to your problems. It’s true that if the soil is deficient in magnesium or sulfur, it might help a tiny bit. However, most soil that is deficient in magnesium and sulfur is deficient in many things. At that point, adding Epsom salt isn’t the best fix; going with a better overall fertilizer is.

In fact, excess Epsom salt in the soil can actually reduce nutrient uptake, as it can imbalance the soil’s nutrient load towards the magnesium and sulfur compounds.

Myth or Fact?

Myth. Adding Epsom salt can aid an existing micronutrient deficiency in magnesium or sulfur, but general fertilizer is a better fix to tackle overall nutrient deficiencies. Overuse can lead to a nutrient imbalance, inhibiting uptake rather than helping it.

It Helps Speed Up Germination

Tomato seedling in the morning light
Epsom salts have absolutely no effect on tomato germination rates.

Germination is the sprouting of a seed after a period of dormancy. It’s then precipitated by the absorption of water, the passage of time, warmth, oxygen, and light exposure. Put simply, germination is when a tiny seed decides to wake up and create new life.

When you see it written out like that, the germination of a tomato seed seems pretty special. And I can assure you that you will be delighted when you first see that green sprout break free of the soil!

All you really need for successful tomato germination is moist seed starting soil, warmth (I love using a heating mat for germination), and a little time. Seeds are programmed to do all the heavy lifting as long as they receive that basic support from you.

So do tomato seeds benefit from the addition of Epsom salt during germination? That’s a solid NOPE. The addition of extra magnesium during this process is completely useless, so go ahead and just let your tomato seeds do their thing!

Myth or Fact?

Myth. The addition during the germination phase is completely useless. There is no point in adding during any part of the germination process, and it may in fact harm your plant.

It Is a Great Tomato Fertilizer

Tomato Fertilizer
Epsom salts don’t have much use as a substitute for fertilizer.

Remember when we talked about nutrient uptake earlier? We discovered that tomatoes need a specific balance of macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They also need a balance of micronutrients like magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and zinc to be healthy.

This balance actually changes during the different phases of your tomato plant’s growth cycle. For example, tomatoes need more nitrogen in their early weeks for optimal foliage growth. As the plant matures and sets fruit, it requires more potassium and phosphorus.

Micronutrients are also critically important but are needed in much smaller doses. So while it sort of sounds like it might make a good fertilizer, it would only be helping out with magnesium and sulfur. It wouldn’t do anything for all the other critically important nutrients your tomatoes need, and may even lead to nutrient imbalance.

Myth or Fact?

Myth. Epsom salt will not provide your tomatoes with all the nutrients it needs to grow and produce fruit. Instead of trying to use it as a fertilizer, apply it only when you know there is a magnesium deficiency in your plant.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, most claims regarding Epsom salt for tomato plants are myths. Any benefits of adding Epsom salt to your tomatoes only make sense if they are truly magnesium deficient.

But, if your soil or tomato plants are not magnesium deficient and you add it thinking you’re doing the right thing (or if you add too much), you can actually harm your plant. Overuse can cause root problems in your tomatoes. It can also result in a build-up of magnesium in the soil that causes an imbalance of micronutrient absorption.

Always use a soil test before using Epsom salt on your tomatoes. And in all honesty, if you are fertilizing correctly throughout the growing season, you shouldn’t need to add an outside source of magnesium at all.

tomato tips


15 Tips For Growing Great Garden Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes can be a bit intimidating for both seasoned gardeners and beginners. While their yields can be bountiful, they can also bring problems to your garden as well. In this article, gardening expert and homesteader Merideth Cohrs shares 15 of her top tips for fantastic garden grown tomatoes this season!