Growing tomatoes is a rewarding, enjoyable way to spend the summer - until pests threaten to destroy your entire harvest, that is.
There are all kinds of critters that enjoy munching on ripe, juicy tomatoes just as much as you do. Fortunately, although these pests can be destructive, there are some easy ways you can eliminate them in the garden once and for all - and prevent them from coming back.
Here are the most common tomato plant pests, and the best tips on how to get rid of them.
Without a doubt, tomato hornworms are some of the most devastating tomato plant pests you will find. At just three inches long, these caterpillars might seem small, but in reality, they’re some of the largest pests around.
You can control them by plucking them off the plant and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water. However, sometimes this is easier said than done, as tomato hornworms are a light green color. This camouflage makes them hard to spot among the leaves of the plant. Not only that, but the larva and nymph versions of these pests are even harder to detect.
You can use natural treatments to get rid of these pests, too. One common treatment is Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. This treatment is 100% organic and is a bacteria that naturally kills tomato hornworms and other pests without harming pollinators and other creatures that might frequent your garden.
Whiteflies are one of the few pests to attack tomato plants that fly. These bugs leave behind a sticky residue, known as honeydew, which can then attract ants along with a fungal disease known as sooty mold.
To treat a whitefly infestation, you will need to brush the leaves of plants to see the cloud of insects. This will shake them off temporarily, but then you will want to use yellow sticky traps, a horticultural oil, or insecticidal soaps to get rid of them for good.
Aphids are similar to whiteflies in that they also leave behind a sticky honeydew substance. Although a few aphids here or there isn’t anything to worry about, a large infestation can kill your plants. To get rid of them, pinch off any foliage where you see aphids densely concentrated. Toss the pieces into the trash so the aphids can’t return.
You can also release beneficial predatory insects into the garden, such as lacewings and ladybugs. Insecticidal soaps can be helpful, too.
Flea beetles aren’t quite as common as some of these other pests, but they can be equally (or even more) devastating. Flea beetles are named as such because they look just like fleas as they jump from plant to plant. Adults eat foliage of tomato plants, leaving behind large holes, while the larvae feed on the plants’ roots.
Flea beetles are indiscriminate killers and will target other plants in your garden, too, such as cabbage, corn, lettuce, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers. You can usually get rid of them by clearing all weeds and debris and by using row covers and yellow sticky traps. In some cases, diatomaceous earth can work as a preventative measure,too. You can spread it around the perimeter of your garden.
Cutworms tend to be most problematic when your plants are young, particularly right after they have been transplanted. They look like grubs and will feed on the fragile stems of your plants at night. They are so destructive that they are often seen right through the stems, severing them at ground level.
Luckily, they’re easy to get rid of. Just make a few collars out of paper or cardboard and place the collars around the stems of your seedlings. Sink them about an inch into the soil to protect them from these high-climbing pests.
Nematodes, too, are incredibly common in most gardens. It's tough to eliminate nematodes altogether, but crop rotation (moving your vegetables each season so that you never grow tomatoes in the same place twice) can help. Nematodes live in the soil and are very small, so they’re difficult to detect.
Keep in mind that these pests are more common if you live in a warmer area where winters tend to be mild. You may have to fully sterilize your soil in order to totally get rid of them - and this can be expensive. Being proactive with your crop rotation is much easier (and less costly!) method of treatment.
Curious about the best way to banish these tomato plant pests? It’s simple - you have to be vigilant.
Unfortunately, there are all kinds of pests out there that want to take advantage of your hard work. Paying attention to your plants as they are growing is one of the best ways to prevent pest problems from setting in - not only will you notice issues before they become deadly to your plants, but you may also be able to prevent a full-blown infestation just by paying attention.
Follow these tips, and tomato hornworms, aphids, and other tomato plant pests will be a thing of the past in your vegetable garden.