Tomato Plant Pest Control: Say Goodbye to Red Bugs

Tomato plants are a treat to grow, but they can quickly become a feast for pests. Red bugs, in particular, pose a significant threat to your tomato crop. However, the good news is that red bugs are easily identifiable due to their contrasting color. This gives you an advantage in controlling the infestation before it wreaks havoc on your plants. So, how can you effectively get rid of red bugs on tomato plants?

Spider Mites: Tiny Troublemakers

Spider mites are notorious for causing trouble not just in tomato plants, but also in other vegetables and ornamental plants. These creatures thrive in hot, dry summers, especially when rainfall is scarce. When temperatures exceed 70°F, spider mite populations explode rapidly. These pests come in various colors, including red, yellow, green, and brown. As they mature, they can even change colors.

Identifying Spider Mites on Tomato Plants

The first sign of a spider mite infestation is the presence of fine webbing on the undersides of the leaves. These minuscule pests, about the size of a grain of salt, are difficult to spot. However, the webbing they leave behind is a clear giveaway of their presence.

Spider mites feed on the sap-rich leaves, spinning webbing around them and laying eggs underneath. Leaves initially develop speckles and eventually turn bronze as chlorophyll is lost. Severe infestations can lead to defoliation, leaving fruits susceptible to sunscald. Young plants may even succumb to severe defoliation.

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Controlling Spider Mites: Wash, Prune, and Dispose

One effective method to control spider mites is by blasting your plants with a strong jet of water. This action will wash away the webbing, eggs, and mites. Regularly wash the plants until all the mites are gone. If the infestation is severe, prune out heavily infested leaves and stems, disposing of them properly to prevent spreading. Before using your pruning tools on other plants, remember to disinfect them.

After harvest, remove the entire plant and dispose of it. Spider mite eggs overwinter on plant debris, ready to attack next season’s crop. Ensure you clear the garden bed and discard all plant debris. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils also prove effective against red spider mites.

Leaf-Footed Bug Nymphs: Big and Bad

Red bugs on tomato plants might also be the nymphs of leaf-footed bugs. These nymphs resemble red spider mites in appearance but are considerably larger. As they mature, they become brown-colored leaf-footed bugs. Both nymphs and adults cause damage to buds, flowers, and fruits. However, nymphs are easier to control than the adults. Nymphs overwinter on weeds and beneath mulches, laying eggs on the leaf undersides.

Identifying Leaf-Footed Bug Nymphs

Leaf-footed bug nymphs have bright abdomens in shades of red, orange, or yellow, with black legs. Two spots adorn their lower abdomen. When these nymphs feed on tomato fruits, yellow, hardened, sunken spots appear on the skin.

Controlling Leaf-Footed Bug Nymphs: Pick and Dust

Eliminate leaf-footed bug nymphs by handpicking them and dropping them into soapy water. Be aware that these nymphs release an unpleasant odor when disturbed. Scrape off their eggs from the undersides of leaves and dispose of them in soapy water. Insecticidal soap works well against nymphs due to their soft bodies, but it may not necessarily kill the adults. Dusting plants with diatomaceous earth is also effective. As the bugs come into contact with the powder, it slices through their skin, causing dehydration and death.

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Aphids: Tiny Terrors

Aphids are common pests that often plague tomato growers. They come in a range of colors, including black, white, green, and yes, red. Besides sapping vital nutrients from plants, aphids expose crops to fungal and viral diseases. If left unchecked, these pests can cause significant loss in production.

Identifying Aphids on Tomatoes

If you spot small red insects about the size of a sesame seed, especially on the undersides of leaves and flower stems, they are likely aphids. They tend to gather in colonies and produce a sticky, transparent waste called honeydew. Honeydew attracts ants and encourages the growth of black sooty mold. Misshapen, yellow leaves, often curled, are noticeable signs of aphid infestation.

Controlling Aphids: Spray and Treat

You can dislodge aphids by using a strong spray of water from a hose. However, be cautious when spraying young plants and blossoms, as they can be knocked to the ground along with the pests. In severe infestations, apply diatomaceous earth to the plants to eliminate aphids. Since aphids have soft bodies, insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils, including neem oil, are highly effective treatments.

Don’t let red bugs ruin your tomato plants. With proper identification and timely control measures, you can protect your precious crop. Enjoy a bountiful harvest by saying goodbye to pesky red bugs and nurturing thriving tomato plants.

Ames Farm Center