Every gardener knows the scene: Beautiful tomato plants that are growing well one day — but dying the next! Many pests affect tomato plants. Some more present in the beginning stages of growth, while others are there as the fruit is beginning to ripen. Just like gardeners love to eat tomatoes, so do pests.
So, how do you keep your tomato plants free from pests? Pesticides are the answer but if you’re at all health or environmentally conscious, you’re going to want to make sure you find a natural pesticide for tomato plants that works.
What Are Some Common Tomato Plant Pests?
While many different types of pests attack the Solanaceae family of flowering plants — this includes tomato plants — we will only be discussing three. This is not a comprehensive list, but the following are considered tomato plant pests in most places.
Tomato hornworm and tobacco hornworm are the caterpillars of the five-spotted hawk moth. They are large and green, sometimes growing longer than three inches. They can hide in the underside of leaves, in the plant’s shade, or closer to the stem to beat the heat.
Hornworms have a tail-like spike at the end of their body, hence the name. They present with either seven diagonal stripes or eight v-shaped markings on each side, depending on the species. Hornworms in the pupa stage overwinter in the soil. As it gets warmer, they enter the adult stage of life and lay eggs on tomato plant leaves, which hatch into larvae or caterpillars.
The hornworm causes damage to the leaves and the unripe fruit of a tomato plant. The damage is usually quite extensive and easy to spot. Signs of damage to look out for:
- Dark pellet droppings on the lower plant leaves
- Leaf wilt
- Stems missing leaves
The best way to prevent hornworms is to prevent the moths that lay eggs from landing on your tomato plants. Trifecta Crop Control is best applied as a preventative at the start of the season.
A hornworm munching away.
2. Flea Beetle
Flea beetles are small — usually, less than half an inch — and are either tobacco flea beetles or potato flea beetles. If they are disturbed, they will jump. This can make spotting them difficult but there are usually many present on a plant, making it easier.
Flea beetles eat tomato plant leaves. When doing this, they leave numerous small holes — which, if extensive enough, can kill the plant. They can leave the plants looking like lace, so damage can be fairly obvious. Even if the plant does not die, growth will be reduced.
Tomato plants in any stage of development can be a target with young plants and seedlings most susceptible. This is because they are not yet strong enough to recover from the damage inflicted. Flea beetles also feed on tomato fruit, so are a pest year-round.
Flea beetles usually spend winter on weed species growing nearby, in the soil, or in plant debris. They also affect other crop types, so they can also jump from those crops to tomato plants.
There are two common thrips: onion thrips, and western flower thrips. Onion thrips are slightly smaller and more tan than western flower thrips, which are larger and more yellow. They are hard to identify — only 1/25 of an inch — but their droppings are noticeable, giving leaves a silvery hue and causing black feces spots.
Thrips can build up in onion and garlic beds before moving to tomato plants, so avoid planting tomatoes too close to alliums. Thrips cannot fly very well but use wind-assisted flight. They climb up to the tip of a plant and jump off, catching an air current that can then carry them extremely long distances.
The most extensive damage to tomato plants is from disease. Thrips carry tomato spotted wilt virus which causes shooting tips to die back, blotching on ripe fruit, and irregular ripening. Thrips acquire the virus during their larval stage and transmit it as adults.
Can a Natural Pesticide for Tomato Plants Help?
What can we do about pests if we don’t want to use toxic chemicals on our plants? Essential oils are highly effective ingredients as natural pesticides for tomato plants. They deter pests, while being non-toxic. Different essential oils play different functions:
- This repels pests and is also a natural treatment for fungal infections.
- This deters common pests such as mites, aphids, and moths.
- This is an endocrine disruptor for soft-bodied pests.
- This deters pests such as ants and mites but also inhibits reproductive function in some pests.
- This contains eugenol which is an effective pesticide against mites, aphids, whiteflies, and more. It also has antifungal properties which means it prevents and controls fungal diseases, as well.
There are many benefits to growing your own tomatoes, or even raspberries for that matter. But a lot of those benefits will be negated if you don’t use natural solutions to control pests on your tomato plants.
There is a unique product on the market called Trifecta Crop Control that uses all five ingredients above at maximum strength to combat pests, mold and mildew on tomato plants. It’s our top choice for a natural pesticide that works on all kinds of plants!