10 Tomato Pests That Pose a Threat to Your Tomato Plants

Tomato Pests

Pests and diseases are formidable adversaries for every home gardener. Unfortunately, tomato plants are particularly susceptible to a wide range of both. In particular, pests can wreak havoc not only on your plants but also on the overall health of your tomato garden. To ensure the vitality of your tomato plants, it is crucial to prioritize pest control. Here are the ten most troublesome tomato pests that you should be aware of.

Aphids: Tiny but Destructive

Aphids on Tomato

Aphids, small but mighty, are the most common and destructive tomato pests. With their soft bodies in various colors like white, black, brown, or even pink, these pear-shaped critters can cause harm to a wide range of plants, including tomato relatives like potatoes and eggplants. They are known to settle on new stems and the undersides of young leaves, sucking the sap from the plants. While small infestations may not pose a significant threat, larger infestations can drastically reduce your plant’s yield and potentially lead to its demise. Fortunately, there are several effective methods to combat aphids, such as physically removing them, using water sprays or natural soap mixtures, and attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs and hoverflies.

Cutworms: Stealthy Plant Assassins

Cutworm

Cutworms, grey or brown caterpillars with black or yellow spots, are capable of silently decimating a tomato plant overnight. These sneaky nocturnal creatures attack the leaves and stems of tomato plants, leaving behind large holes and causing them to collapse. To prevent cutworm infestations, tilling the soil frequently and removing plant debris before planting tomatoes is crucial. Additionally, using collars around the base of the stems acts as a deterrent. If you spot any cutworms, simply pick them off by hand.

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Flea beetles: Tiny Jumping Troublemakers

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are small, shiny dark brown or black beetles that resemble fleas, often with white or yellow stripes. Measuring only one-tenth of an inch, these beetles can wreak havoc on germinating tomato seeds, carrying bacterial and viral diseases that harm plant health. To control flea beetle infestations, it is important to rotate crops, remove debris, and till the soil. Additionally, dusting diatomaceous earth over your plants can prove effective. Implementing row covers and using yellow sticky traps also help prevent these beetles from settling in your soil and foliage.

Root-Knot Nematodes: The Underground Threat

Root-Knot Nematodes

Root-knot nematodes, one of the troublesome pests, cause wilting, yellowing foliage, and stunted growth in tomatoes. These tiny worms create knob-like growths on the roots, leading to further damage. They thrive in warm regions with shorter winters and can easily hitch a ride on garden tools and boots. Proper gardening hygiene, such as crop rotation and tilling, plays a vital role in preventing their establishment. Planting nematode-resistant tomato varieties is also an effective natural preventative measure.

Blister Beetles: Foliage Eaters and Human Hazards

Blister Beetles

Blister beetles, notorious for defoliating tomato plants, pose a danger not only to plants but also to humans. When crushed, these black, red, or grey beetles release a blistering agent called cantharidin. To control blister beetles, manually pick them off with gloves and quickly remove damaged plants. Placing the beetles in a small bucket of soapy water prevents them from escaping. In regions with rampant blister beetle swarms, protect your tomato plants with well-anchored row covers.

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Hornworms: Masters of Camouflage

Hornworm

Hornworms, larger and harder to spot, can grow up to three inches in length and blend seamlessly with tomato foliage due to their light green color. These voracious caterpillars devour leaves and occasionally attack tomato fruits. They also lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. The most effective method to combat hornworms is to physically remove them by hand. Regularly inspect your tomato plants, including neighboring susceptible plants, and dispose of any hornworms you find. Be vigilant for subsequent infestations.

Slugs and Snails: Innocent-Looking Plant Destroyers

Slug

Slugs and snails, seemingly harmless garden critters, can cause significant damage to tomato plants. They create large holes in foliage and fruit, leaving behind trails of slime. Active mainly at night and favoring moist environments, they are difficult to spot. To control their population, manually remove them, adjust watering practices, or create beer traps. Beer traps involve placing a dish or bucket filled with beer at soil level to attract and drown the slugs. Remember to water your plants in the morning to allow the leaves and soil to dry by evening.

Spider Mites: Tiny Web Spinners

Spider Mites

Spider mites are common in various climates, particularly hot and dry ones. These minuscule insects gather in large groups, settling on the undersides of leaves and spinning delicate webs. The sap-sucking activities of spider mites cause leaves to yellow and eventually lead to defoliation. Although they can withstand many insect sprays, managing their environment is key. Consistent and appropriate watering practices, as well as the introduction of beneficial parasitic pests, can help reduce spider mite populations. Should the situation worsen, it might be necessary to remove and destroy severely affected plants.

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Tomato Fruit Worms: Hidden Culprits

Tomato Fruit Worms

Tomato fruit worms, also known as corn earworms, are notorious for their damaging impact on tomatoes, peppers, corn, and tobacco. These worms feed on tomato leaves and flesh, leaving behind distorted foliage. They also bore into the stalks and fruits, making them difficult to detect and remove without harming the plant. To combat tomato fruit worms, diligently inspect your plants and manually remove the worms or eggs as soon as they appear. Introducing natural predators such as minute pirate bugs and certain wasp species can also help control the infestation. Avoid planting tomatoes near corn and promptly destroy any infested fruit to prevent further damage.

Whitefly: Tiny Plant Sap Suckers

Whitefly

Whiteflies, aphid-like insects, primarily affect tomatoes grown in greenhouses or indoors. These pests suck the sap from plants, leading to yellowing leaves and reduced yield. Preventing and controlling whitefly infestations promptly is crucial as they can transmit diseases. Beneficial insects like ladybugs can help reduce whitefly populations, and horticultural oil can suffocate these pests at any life stage. Remember, prevention is key to effective pest management. Implementing practices such as tilling soil, rotating crops, maintaining plant health, and keeping a vigilant eye on pests will fortify your plants against infestations and disease.

To learn more about tomato pests and their control, visit the Ames Farm Center.