Pests & Disease

Common Tomato Pests and Pest control

When Spring is around the corner, it is an exciting time to begin planting and harvesting tomatoes. Many people experience the nuisance of pests invading their gardens but there are always ways to control pests, including natural methods.

It is important to identify the types of pests that are disturbing your tomato plants and the most common ones are aphids, blister beetles, hornworms, stink bugs and Fruitworms.

  • Aphids are very tiny green or black insects that may or may not have wings. These creatures tend to remain underneath leaves or stems and usually suck the plant, leaving the leaves curled and distorted. For a natural way of getting rid of aphids is spraying your tomato plants with water or using lady beetles as effective predators.
  • Blister Beetles are skinny gray, black or striped beetles that eat the leaves of the tomato plants, but the larvae actually eat grasshopper eggs. Blister Beetles may appear late in the growing season but can be hand-picked, however they may let out a fluid for self-defense.
  • Tomato Hornworms are long green caterpillars and have horns on their rear ends. These caterpillars eat the foliage and can even eat the green tomatoes. They camouflage with the leaves but generally appear underneath the leaf stripped branches. Hornworms are actually the larvae of Hawk moths or Sphynx moths which lay eggs in the Spring under plant leaves.
  • Stink bugs come in a number colors and release a foul odor and suck on sap from the plants or tomatoes. This weakens the plants resulting in bad buds and fruits. It is possible to tell if stink bugs have been around if there are yellow or white spots under the skin of a ripe fruit.
  • Tomato Fruitworms or Corn Earworms are also common and are green, brown or pink with light stripes. They are also the larvae of various moths that lay eggs near the stem of the green tomatoes where the larvae will hatch and eat away at the fruit.

While there are many chemical pesticides to use for pest control, a better alternative is to use more natural and organic methods of controlling unwanted insects and bugs. Here are some homemade and organic suggestions for pest control.

Pruning: When you trim tomato plants and get rid of leaves that are too close to the ground, you will increase air flow and decrease the chances of pests getting on the leaves.

Rotating varieties: A natural way of avoiding pests in a tomato garden is rotating the varieties of tomatoes every year.

Cornmeal: If your tomato plants are experiencing hornworms, a sprinkle of cornmeal on the ground around the base of the plant will cause hornworms to have digestion problems followed by death.

Companion Planting: By planting other plants, herbs and vegetables, it is possible to control pests in tomato gardens by drawing away certain kinds of tomato pests. Here are some examples:

  • Garlic, sweet corn and onions planted near tomatoes will keep away many common pests including tomato fruitworms, red spider mites.
  • Basil, Mint and Borage planted near tomatoes can also protect the plant from a number of pests. Basil may even add flavor to the tomatoes.

Homemade repellants and sprays are good natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. Other options can include Insecticidal Soap which works when sprayed onto the target and Botanical pesticides such as Neem, Rotenone, Pyrethrin, Sabadilla, and Pyola, which combines canola oil with pyrethrins. Boric Acid is another natural insecticide, biocide and fungicide.

If the conditions of your tomato garden are extremely overrun with pests, you may have to resort to more aggressive control methods. By using natural pesticides, tomato plants will produce healthier and nutritious tomatoes.

For a visual guide to tomato diseases and problem solving, checkout the Texas A & M Tomato Disorders - a guide to identifying common tomato problems and diseases.