Control tomato pests

Tomatoes can face attack from many pests from the time the seedling sprouts its first tender leaves until the fruit is ready to be harvested. Tomato pests can be a big problem whether your tomatoes are grown in a garden, a container, indoors, or in a greenhouse. This page will help you identify tomato pests and explains how they can be controlled.

Control tomato pests – identify tomato pests

Identifying pests on tomatoes is made easier by dividing the pests into different types depending of which area of the tomato plant they attack. The tomato pests I will consider are:

  • pests that attack tomato roots;
  • pests that attack tomato leaves;
  • pests that attack tomato fruit; and
  • pests that can discolor or deform tomato plants.

Tomato root pests

Wireworms – Wireworms are shiny, round, hard larvae found throughout the year in the soil. The wireworm is the larva of the click beetle. Tomato wireworms  can eat the seeds, chew through small roots, and bore into larger roots.

Cutworms – Cutworms are small, fat, brown larvae that hide in either the soil or in debris at the base of the plant. Cutworms attack the roots of young tomato plants.

Eelworms – Eelworms can affect the roots of your tomatoes. Signs of a tomato eelworm problem are severe wilting and yellowing of the leaves. Eelworms look like small thin orange maggots,and they leave small round yellow/white eggs on the roots – check for these before harvesting.

Tomato leaf pests

Leaf Miners are the larvae of tiny black and yellow flies. The flies lay their eggs in leaves, and the larvae eat the inside of the leaf leaving a visible thin white track on the leaf surface. Severe leaf miner infestation on tomatoes may kill all the leaves on the plants. Tomato varieties with curled leaves are less prone to leaf miner damage.

Tomato Pinworm is a small larvae that attacks tomato leaves. The pinworm larvae is laid on the underside of a leaf. Only one is laid at a time, making tomato pinworms difficult to notice. Tomato pinworms are tiny, thin, light brown maggot-like caterpillars. You can identify a tomato pinworm infestation by looking for tiny burrows and blotches. Tomato pinworms mine into leaves like leaf miners, but instead of a narrow line shaped burrow, they leave an irregular round mark.

Flea Beetles are tiny black beetles (2-3 mm in length) that devour tomato leaves. They have strong hind legs which they can use to jump away when bothered.  Adult fleas beetles chew many tiny pinholes in leaves.

Aphids are green or yellow swarming insects which excrete honeydew, giving them a sticky appearance. They cause tomato leaves to yellow and their presence encourages mold. Aphids can carry diseases from plant to plant.

Tomato Russet Mites are are so tiny that they can be hard to spot until they have caused damage. Russet mites are yellow, cone shaped pests that damage leaves and stems. Often they will cause leaves to curl up and go brown. The russet mites can usually be found just above the highest damaged leaves devouring the remaining healthy foliage.

Greenhouse Whitefly are tiny yellowish flies with white wings. Their larvae are called whitefly nymphs. Whitefly nymphs can be identified as tiny (1mm) soft round specks on the underside of leaves. Depending on whitefly species, the nymphs may be yellowish and smooth, or clear and hairy.

Tomato Psyllids are often a cause of significant harm to tomatoes. The young psyllid is a small light green / yellow aphid-like bug. Adult psyllids have black and white patterned bodies, about the size of an aphid. Psyllids secrete harmful fluids during feeding that can severely damage tomatoes.

Tomato Hornworms are large (up to 6 inches long) green caterpillars with white stripes and a noticeable horn on their rear ends. Hornworms may feed on fruit, but their voracious appetite for leaves is the main problem. They can quickly strip leaves off a tomato plant and stunt fruit growth.

Tomato fruit pests

Tomato Moth caterpillars are green or brown in complexion. They feed voraciously on tomato leaves leaving irregular shaped holes.

Tomato Fruitworm are off-white caterpillars with black heads and fine hairs along their bodies. Larger tomato fruitworm caterpillars may be brown on color, although most will be light green. Adult tomato fruitworm develop into medium-sized moths with a wingspan of about 1 inch. They are light brown with a very slight green coloration. The front wings have a dark and then light banding and a dark spot in the center. Tomato fruitworm eggs are round with fine lines, and are laid one at a time on both sides of the leaf. Fruitworm enter young tomato fruit at the stem end when the tomato is less than 1.5 inches wide – they feed inside the fruit leaving a large, watery hole.

Tomato Pinworm are mentioned above as tomato leaf pests, but they actually do more damage to the fruit. When pinworms attack tomato plants at the fruit, they burrow under the spiky green petals where the stem joins the fruit (called the “Calyx”). They leave small round burrows with brown droppings at the entrance.

Pests that discolor tomatoes

Tomato Eelworms - different types or eelworm can affect tomato plants, leaving it with stunted growth and very discolored wilted leaves.  Checks for tiny white cysts near the root of your tomato plant.

Silverleaf Whitefly are slightly smaller than Greenhouse Whitefly and have a mild yellow color and opaque white wings. They are most common in hot humid environments. There are two ways that they damage tomatoes. First, they use their mouths to pierce the plant and extract juices. Second, they produce sticky honeydew, which can cause mold.

Control tomato pests - stopping tomato pests organically

Many pesticide sprays are available and you should use these if you want to get rid of tomato pests as quickly  as possible; but if you are into organic vegetable gardening, or you have a less severe tomato pests problem, you can kill tomato pests in an organic way, without messy, harmful chemical sprays.

Sprays containing Neem are effective at controlling tomato pests in an organic way. Both the top and  the underside of the leaf need to be covered. Spraying your tomato leaves regularly – at least every five days is recommended.

Once you have stopped a tomato pest problem, remember to keep checking regularly – at least every week. you should also thoroughly wash the crop after harvest to remove any sticky residue left behind.