Tomatoes are one of the most common foods to grow when it comes to home gardening. It is an enjoyable, healthy activity that produces a wide variety of colorful tomatoes depending upon what the gardener plants. Occasionally, insects invade the tomato garden and they must be dealt with immediately in order to ensure healthy tomato plants. Knowing how to control common insects and pests that can afflict your tomato plants is the first step in dealing with insect infestation.
First off, know that not all insects are harmful to your garden. Some insects are beneficial for your plants while others do not affect them in any way. The trick is to be able to identify the insects in order to know exactly what to do with them. The most common tomato plant pests include aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, hornworms, nematodes, and whiteflies.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Aphids
Aphids are small bugs with a pear-shaped body. Typically, they congregate on the stems and buds of new plant growth. In small quantities, they are manageable and rarely lead to any real damage to your plants. However, if aphids multiply into larger quantities, they can destroy your plants as they slowly suck the life out of them.
Since aphids do not take much time to reproduce, it is best to deal with this garden pest quickly for the best results. Initially, gardeners can attempt to hand pick these insects off the plants, throwing the pests away in a bag. Alternatively, a strong blast of cold water from a hose with a spray nozzle can dislodge the pests, which can then be removed from the garden or turned under the soil.
If possible, gardeners can introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybugs into the garden since they will eat the aphids, as well as, whiteflies and other scale insects. Beneficial insects prey on the harmful pests, eating them and removing them entirely. This eliminates the need for harsh chemicals and pesticides. The best way to attract ladybugs and lacewings is to plant cup-shaped flowers such as lilies and tulips in your garden. Ladybugs are attracted to the coolness of the inside of the flowers.
Additional plants that attract ladybugs include dill, geraniums, white cosmos, and fennel. Ladybugs can also be purchased online or through a nursery. If you decide to go this route, you need to ensure that the ladybugs remain in your garden rather than migrating elsewhere. To do so, refrigerate your ladybugs for an hour or so before setting them outside in the garden. This will slow them down and help to prevent them from migrating to another location. Additionally, you should water your plants to encourage these beneficial insects to stay in your garden since they enjoy cool, wet spots.
Common plants that attract lacewings include alyssum, cosmos, amaranthus, coreopsis, and annulus. Lacewings are attracted by these plants because they provide nectar and pollen that these beneficial insects like. If you are not able to attract lacewings to your garden despite the fact that you have included these plants in your garden, you can purchase them through nurseries or online shops.
If the infestation of aphids is too severe to deal with using these strategies, gardeners can use an organic spray or insecticidal soap designed for aphid removal. Typically, it takes two or more treatments to properly resolve the problem. Once the aphids are under control, you can use cool-water blasts, hand picking, and beneficial insects to maintain that control.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Cutworms
Cutworms are tiny, green caterpillars that attack young tomato plants. They feed on the thin stems of young plants, often eating through the stems entirely. Since cutworms feed at night, you might not see them during the day. If you do notice them in the garden, you can remove them by hand and dispose of them away from the garden.
Preventing damage due to cutworms can be easily done by placing collars around the base of young plants. Collars can be made by creating a ring that is approximately 4 inches high and ten inches in diameter. Place the ring around the tomato seedlings so that it sits one inch in the ground and three inches above the ground. This will prevent the cutworms from gaining access to your tomato plants.
Although you can make the collars using paper or cardboard, you might want to use aluminum foil so that they don’t have to be replaced if they get wet due to rain or watering. Secure the ends of the circle by stapling them together. You can also make the rings out of an aluminum pie plate that you can cut and bend to shape. These can certainly be cleaned afterwards and saved for reuse the next year.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are easy to recognize since they resemble fleas in the way they jump from place to place. Unfortunately, both adult flea beetles and their larvae are destructive to tomato plants. The adult flea beetle feeds on the foliage of the tomato plants, leaving the telltale signs of numerous small holes in the leaves of the plants. The larvae enjoy the roots of the tomato plants and will eat them continuously unless interrupted or destroyed.
Another unfortunate circumstance regarding flea beetles is that they are not particular about the type of plant that they eat. Therefore, they can migrate from your tomatoes to your lettuce, cabbages, peppers, corn, potatoes, and eggplants or vice versa. This is one nasty insect that is best removed early on so that you can protect your entire garden.
If you want to prevent flea beetles from infecting your garden, one helpful strategy is to remove all garden debris as quickly as possible. You can turn debris under the earth at the end of the growing season.
While prevention is best, there are proven strategies that you can use to get rid of flea beetle infestation.
Young plants can receive protection by using row covers. Several types of garden fabric are available for this purpose including a summer-weight and an all-purpose polypropylene fabric. Row covers are designed to keep the bugs out, let the sun in, and protect the plants from wind and cold. It is important that you place your row covers over uninfected plants or you will simply trap the flea beetles beneath the row covers.
Adult flea beetles can be controlled using diatomaceous earth to dust the tomato plants. Diatomaceous earth is a chalky substance made from marine fossils that have been ground down to a powder. While this strategy does help to minimize the adult flea beetle population, it might be necessary to take more severe measures when the infestation is severe. In that situation, you might need to purchase and use a botanical insecticide such as pyrethrin or rotenone. Afterward, you can use the diatomaceous earth to prevent reinfestation.
If you are up for the challenge of tracking them down, you can purchase beneficial nematodes into your garden. Beneficial nematodes feed on flea beetle pupae and larvae, keeping the population down to a minimum.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Hornworms
Hornworms are large insects that are readily seen and disposed of in most gardens. They are a type of caterpillar with a three-inch length or more. It is easy enough to pick these garden pests off your tomato plants and dispose of them away from the garden.
Since hornworms are light green in color, the smaller ones (larval and lymph stages) are hard to notice. One suggestion is to carefully observe your tomato plant while spraying it with water to search for the young. Young hornworms commonly thrash about when doused with water.
Severe infestations of hornworms might require using an organic product to treat the problem. Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt is one such product that you can use to rid your garden of hornworms.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Nematodes
Although nearly twenty thousand species of nematodes exist, relatively few of them cause problems for tomato plants. This is especially great news since billions of these worms can exist in a single acre of earth. Nematodes are tiny, many of them being microscopic in size.
Perhaps the best strategy to use is to attempt to prevent nematodes in the first place. Since this type of garden pest takes several years to become fully entrenched in a garden, it is quite possible to prevent them from becoming a viable nuisance simply by rotating your crops appropriately.
Another strategy that the avid gardener can use is to grow resistant varieties, a practice that limits the amount of damage these garden pests can inflict. These are identified by the letter “N” on the variety identification tag. Quite often other letters are present such as a “VFN” designation, which simply means that the tomato variety is also resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt.
If the infestation is extremely severe, gardeners have three options. First, you can relocate the garden far away from the infested acreage. This option is not going to be a viable one for many home gardeners. Second, you can sterilize the soil, an expensive and toxic solution at best. This option also requires gardeners to recondition their soil. Third, you can stop planting and growing any type of plant that is susceptible to nematode infestation and damage including peppers, potatoes, eggplant, okra, beets, squash, and peas, as well as, a variety of other plants. The third option is not very practical and should only be used as a last resort.
Protecting Tomato Plants from Whiteflies
Whiteflies are tiny insects that can attack your tomato plants. They feed on the juices of the plants, sucking the life out of them. Typically, whiteflies leave behind the telltale sign of a sticky residue. Unfortunately, this residue can create additional problems for your tomato plants by becoming a host for a plant disease known as sooty mold.
To detect whiteflies, you can gently grab hold of your tomato plant and rustle the leaves. If whiteflies are present, a small cloud of them will appear as you gently shake the plant. To rid your tomato plants of this pest, use a horticultural oil product. Spray your infected tomato plants thoroughly. The horticultural oil smothers the whiteflies, killing them.
If the infestation of whiteflies is not that severe, you can attempt to get rid of them or at least control them using yellow sticky traps or hosing the plants down with a bug blaster. The bug blaster is an attachment that you place on the end of your garden hose. It has a multi-directional spray so it reaches all areas of the plant leaves.
On the other hand, if the infestation is severe, you might need to use a botanical insecticide or insecticidal soap to treat the problem. Once you have reduced the population of whiteflies, you can use the bug blaster, horticultural oil, and beneficial insects to maintain them. Insects that feed on whiteflies include lacewings, ladybugs, and whitefly parasites.
Garden pests do not have to be the end of your garden. Learn to identify bug infestation early on and react quickly to the problem. Controlling common tomato insects becomes easier as you become more familiar with the species that attack tomato plants and the solutions that are used to deal with them.