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What is Leaf Roll?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Leaf roll is a problem which affects many plants and vines including grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. There are a number of different causes for leaf roll; depending on the cause, the condition can be harmless, or very serious. Most home gardeners deal with environmental leaf roll, which is easy to address with changes in gardening techniques. Some people struggle with herbicidal leaf roll, which is caused by exposure to herbicides, while vineyards in particular have problems with viral leaf roll, a highly infectious type of leaf roll which is passed along a variety of insect vectors.

In the case of environmental leaf roll, the problem is caused by infrequent or erratic watering, and sometimes by dramatic weather changes as well. Plants start to coil up their leaves to reduce leaf surface area in an attempt to promote root growth to make the plants stable and healthier. Environmentally caused leaf roll is not harmful, although it looks unsightly; it can be prevented with regular deep watering which keeps plants moist without waterlogging, pruning lightly, and by working carefully, if at all, around the roots of plants with tools like hoes and spades.

In the case of herbicidal leaf roll, the plant responds to an herbicide in its environment. People who use herbicides to control undesirable weeds face the risk of leaf roll, which is also accompanied with a twisted, gnarled growth habit. If caught early, this type of leaf roll is recoverable, but in other cases it can permanently damage affected plants, or cause them to produce very misshapen and unattractive fruit.

Viral leaf roll is transmitted by insects. The veins on the underside of the leaves may turn purplish, which distinguishes the viral form of this plant disease from other forms. Leaves will start to turn spotted and they will become malformed and lumpy, while fruit may be severely deformed, if it appears at all. Plants affected with viral leaf roll should be torn out and destroyed before the disease spreads to the rest of the crop.

If you notice signs of leaf roll in your garden, check the leaves for the characteristic purple veins which indicate viral infection. If veins are not present, you may want to reform your watering and weeding practices, or cease the use of herbicides, if you use them. Gardeners who continue to struggle with leaf roll may want to check with their neighbors to see if the neighbors use herbicides or if they have been having a leaf roll problem as well, which might indicate viral infection.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon343111 — On Jul 27, 2013

We found in a book 'Insect Natural History', where it said rolled leaves contain eggs or hatches of solitary bees. --Colin and Ann

By anon342869 — On Jul 24, 2013

We have found little rolls of leaf around the roots of tomato plants in pots, filled with a foamy liquid. Can you tell us what this may be, please? --Colin and Ann

By turquoise — On May 24, 2012

The leaf roll virus (LRV) is spread by an insect but it could also spread through new plants from nurseries that carry the virus.

This virus is horrible, it can destroy 50% or more of the harvest. The worst part is that when it's newly infected, it doesn't show all the signs right away. I dealt with a cherry leaf roll virus a couple of years ago and I know it firsthand. The first sign is the curling of the leaves which can easily be confused with the general harmless type of leaf roll.

The other symptoms- leaves completely curling, changing color and becoming thick doesn't happen until into the second year. So a long time can pass until you realize that its LRV. And by then, most of the plants will have the virus and you will have to get rid of the plants completely and start over.

I'm convinced that my cherries had LRV from the beginning, when they arrived from the nursery. The following year, I bought new plants from a different nursery and there has been no LRV.

By ysmina — On May 23, 2012

@simrin-- Don't worry, as long as the plants don't have the leaf roll virus, it won't affect your harvest.

Leaf roll happens sometimes with soil that's not well drained. Leaf roll doesn't only happen with dry soil, it can also happen with excessively watered soil which seems to be the case with your plants. When the weather cools suddenly, or when it rains a lot, the soil becomes too moist for too long. This causes leaf roll.

But it's nothing to worry about. Continue to adjust how much you water them based on the weather. They don't need as much water when the weather is cooler and rainy. You will get a healthy harvest.

By SteamLouis — On May 23, 2012

My tomato plants have developed leaf roll and I'm really worried that this is going to affect productivity.

I have checked the leaves, there are no purple veins and I don't use herbicides. I'm also very careful with how often I water them. The only cause I can think of is that it has been raining a lot lately in the past few weeks. But I don't water them when it's rainy obviously.

I'm really confused as to why this is happening and what I need to do to make sure that the productivity isn't affected. Has anyone had the same issue of tomato leaf roll? Any suggestions?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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