Food Gardening Network

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What to Do About Pests that Can Harm Your Tomato Plants

A tobacco hornworm in the tomato garden

Pests in your tomato garden, left unchecked, can damage and destroy your precious tomato plants. Keeping a close watch on your plants during regular daily inspections will help you spot any pests before they can do irreparable harm.

Spot the symptoms of tomato plant pests

Check leaves, stems, and fruit for these symptoms that come from pests on the prowl!

On Tomato Leaves and Stems

Symptom

Pest

Torn or chewed stem Tomato cutworm (usually occurs early in the season)
Defoliation Tomato hornworm, tobacco hornworm
Holes in plant leaves Flea beetles
Yellowing, curling leaves Aphids
Purpling veins in leaves Psyllids
Hole in stem Stalk borer
Honeydew (white, sticky residue) Aphids, whiteflies
Webs on bottom of leaves Spider mites

 

On Tomato Fruit

Symptom

Pest

Dark pinpricks, holes in fruit Tomato fruit worm, stink bugs
Light or discolored patches on fruit Stink bugs
Holes in fruit Slugs

 

How to treat pests on tomato plants

An unripe tomato damaged by caterpillars

Here are some proven ways to get rid of pests on your tomato plants. Choose the best treatment for the type of pests invading your plants.

  • Pick off the pests. Use your garden gloves to remove the pests by hand. After removal, destroy pests by drowning them in a bucket of soapy water or crushing them with your foot. Handpicking isn’t efficient or practical for very small pests, but works well with larger pests such as the tomato hornworm and the tobacco hornworm.
  • Apply insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soap is organic. The potassium salts in insecticidal soap help remove an insect’s protective waxes, causing destruction of insect membranes and killing them. Insecticidal soaps are particularly effective on smaller pests such as aphids, psyllids, and spider mites. Mix the soap with water to create your solution, and apply directly to insects on any plants. While insecticidal soap is less apt to affect other organisms, certain plants might be sensitive to the soap and can suffer leaf burn.
  • Apply horticultural oils. Combine plant- or petroleum-based oils with water to produce horticultural sprays. Neem oil, for instance, is derived from seed extracts of the neem plant. Oil-based sprays block an insect’s air holes, interfere with an insect’s metabolism, disrupt insect feeding, and inhibit insect growth. Like insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils can cause plant injury if not properly diluted.
  • Make your own pest spray. As noted elsewhere in this Collection, you can make your own pest spray with benign materials. Mix one tablespoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of a mild dish detergent, and 2 ½ tablespoons of olive oil in a gallon of water to make a solution that will repel all kinds of bugs, as well as a fungicide for blight and mildew on the tomato plant leaves. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.

Do pests attack your tomato plants every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your tomato plants to avoid pests.

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