Identify and Control Tomato Bugs

"From Aphids to Wireworms"

If you follow good organic gardening practices you may not have serious problems with tomato bugs. Usually diseases are more of a problem than insects. But insects frequently spread tomato plant diseases as well as cause their own destruction so it's still important to control them.

Keep reading for a list of most of the common tomato plant pests along with some suggested organic garden pest control solutions.

With luck one of the suggested organic garden pest control methods will work for you. These solutions are environmentally friendly and should be tried first. If you need stronger action such as pesticides, you should consult a knowledgeable expert at your garden center, contact your county agricultural extension office, or your local Master Gardener organization for a referral.

Good tomato growing practices can help prevent pest damage

Garlic Oil Spray

Good for controlling many sucking and chewing bugs including aphids, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. Soak 3 ounces of finely chopped garlic in 2 teaspoons of mineral oil overnight. Add 1 tsp. of insecticidal soap to 2 cups water and mix in the garlic oil. Strain the mixture. Store this as your concentrate in a glass container. Add 2 tbsp. of the base to 2 cups of water and spray on the insects.

By following these basic practices you can raise the odds of having strong healthy tomato plants which will help prevent problems with tomato bugs:

  • Rotate your crops by not planting tomatoes in the same soil where tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant have been planted for at least two years.
  • Stake and mulch tomato plants to keep foliage from contact with the soil.
  • Use fresh deep soil with good drainage.
  • Inspect tomato seedlings before planting and destroy any that show disease or pest damage.
  • Increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. In particular, well rotted manure will increase fertility and decrease nematodes.
  • Follow my 5 Best Tomato Growing Tips

Common Tomato Bugs (Pests)

  • Aphids - colonies of small (less than 1/8-in.) insects on new stems and undersides of leaves...
  • Blister Beetles - medium size (3/4-in.) black, red, gray, or striped beetles...
  • Cutworms - smooth one-inch caterpillars found curled up in the soil...
  • Earwigs - one- to two-inch black insects with a pincer-like tail...
  • Flea beetles - small (1/8-in.) dark brown beetles making tiny holes in leaves...
  • Japanese Beetles - medium size (1/2-in.) shiny green/bronze beetles feeding on foliage...
  • Leafhoppers - small (1/8-in.) wedge-shaped pale-green/tan insect causing curled leaves with dark tips...
  • Mites - a tiny insect that causes the leaves to look like they're covered with a white mold...
  • Nematodes - yellow foliage and stunted plants with irregular swellings on roots...
  • Potato Bugs (Potato Beetles) - 1/2-in. yellow and black striped beetles feeding on leaves...
  • Slugs - up to four-inch long dark, slimy snail-like creatures that feed on foliage and fruit on the ground...
  • Snails - white to brown mollusks that cause damage similar to slugs...
  • Stink bugs - shield shaped bugs that give off a foul odor that cause hard whitish spots under the skin of the fruit...
  • Tomato Fruitworms - two-inch yellow to gray worms with lengthwise stripes tunnel into fruit...
  • Tomato Hornworms - large pale-green caterpillars up to four-inches long are voracious foliage feeders...
  • Whiteflies - tiny yellowish insects with white wings cause damage to leaves by feeding, which causes leaves to yellow and curl...
  • Wireworms - these light brown larvae of the click beetle feed on roots...

Photos, Descriptions, and Organic Control of Tomato Bugs

Aphids

aphids
Aphids

Symptoms and signs: Colonies of small (less than 1/8-in.) green insects found on new stems and undersides of leaves

Treatment: A strong stream of  water can wash off insects. You can encourage natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings. Also effective for many tomato bugs is the use of repellant garlic oil spray

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Blister Beetles

Blister Beetle
Blister Beetle

Symptoms and signs: Medium size (3/4-in.) black, red, gray, or striped adult beetles chew on leaves. Large numbers of them can defoliate the plant rapidly before moving on. You may see dark fecal spots on leaves and stems.

Treatment: Blister beetles beneficial aspect is their diet of grasshopper eggs. To eliminate handpick and dispose (use gloves, they can blister your skin with their secretion of canthara-dine, but most of those found in gardens have relatively low amounts so aren't much of a threat). Drop into soapy water to kill them -- this works for most tomato bugs.

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Cutworms

Cutworm
Cutworm

Symptoms and signs: Smooth one-inch caterpillars found curled in a C-shape in the soil feed at or just below soil level. They can cut off young plants evenly at the surface of the soil. Colors vary from gray, black, brownish, to green.

Controls: 1) Cutworm collars: put a collar around seedlings made from bottomless paper cups or 2-inches of a toilet paper tube. Push the tube into the soil. Shallow tin cans with bottoms removed also work. 2) Scatter bloodmeal around the plants. 3) Scatter moth balls around the plants. 4) Dig up the garden in early spring to expose and kill cutworms by freezing or starvation.

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Earwigs

Earwig
Earwig

Symptoms and signs: One- to two-inch black insects with a pincer-like tail damage the leaves of young tomato plants.

Controls: 1) Lay boards on the soil then destroy the earwigs that congregate overnight. 2) Let your chickens make a meal of them. 3) Make an earwig trap by rolling up a single sheet of newspaper into a cylinder and securing it with tape or rubber bands. Dampen the paper, lay it in the garden overnight. Earwigs will hide in the paper; dispose of it in the morning.

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Flea Beetles

Flea Beetle
Flea Beetle

Symptoms and signs: Small (1/8-in.) dark brown metallic-colored jumping beetles make tiny "shot-holes" in leaves. The damage can stunt or kill small plants

Controls: Keep weeds under control where the flea beetles nest (a good practice for controlling many tomato bugs). Plant basil nearby, which repels them. Sprinkle plants with an insecticidal soap solution.

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Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetle
Japanese Beetle

Symptoms and signs: medium size (1/2-in.) shiny green/bronze beetles feed on foliage until the leaves are skeletonized and appear lacelike. The white grub larvae is one of the most damaging to grass lawns in the northeastern U.S.

Controls: Hand pick or use milky spore insecticides to kill the grubs. This does not kill the beetles however.

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Leafhoppers

Leafhopper
Leafhopper

Symptoms and signs: Small (1/8-in.) wedge-shaped pale-green/tan hopping insects which feed on sap and cause curled leaves with dark tips. They rarely cause significant damage but they can transmit plant pathogens that cause plant diseases such as curly top.

Controls: Blast with water spray (in the mornings so leaves dry by nightfall). Cover plants with floating row covers. Spray with insecticidal soap or other organic pesticides or dust with sulfur. Avoid planting tomatoes near beets.

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Mites

Spider Mites
Spider Mites

Symptoms and signs: Includes tomato erinose and spider mites. Mites are tiny insects that cause the leaves to look like they're covered with a white mold because of the webbing they  produce. They attack leaf tips and blossom buds. They puncture leaves and feed on the sap.

Controls: Avoid dry, dusty conditions by having a consistent tomato watering program. Also avoid nitrogen fertilization. Predator mites are an effective control. Prune and discard heavily infested branches. Wash off with a mild detergent and water rinse.

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Nematodes

Nematodes
Nematodes

Symptoms and signs: These are microscopic wormlike creatures; the best known is the root-knot nematode. They cause yellow foliage, wilting, and stunted plants; they can be diagnosed by observing irregular swellings on roots.

Controls: Nematodes are easily spread by garden tools and soil on gardener's boots. Sanitize by removing and destroying all infested plants after harvest. Sterilize tools at a minimum with soap and water. Don't add affected plants to compost pile. Remove as much of the root system as possible, including much of the surrounding soil. Clean pots with 10% bleach/water solution before reusing. Grow nematode resistant tomato varieties which will have and "N" listed after the plant name. An effective soil treatment for these tomato bugs is to grow marigolds to maturity then plow under -- nematodes can't tolerate the chemicals released.

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Potato Bugs

Potato Beetle
Potato Beetle

Symptoms and signs: Also known as potato beetles. They are small 1/2-in. yellow and black striped beetles that feed on tomato plant leaves.

Controls: Handpick off plants or knock off into a jar of soapy water to destroy. Avoid planting tomatoes near potatoes. Dust with Rotenone.

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Slugs

Slug
Slug

Symptoms and signs: Slimy, dark soft-bodied creatures up to 4-in. long feed at night and on cloudy, damp days. They feast on tomato foliage and fruit on or near the soil surface. Both slugs and snails lay masses of white, oval to round eggs.

Controls: 1) Handpick daily, then weekly, when their numbers decrease. 2) You can make a trap from a 1-ft. square board with 1-in. x 1-in. runners on the four sides. Snails and slugs will congregate underneath where they can be disposed of in the morning. 3) Place shallow pans of beer near plants. The slugs will crawl in and drown. An alternative to beer is one tablespoon of flour and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast mixed with a cup of water. 4) Mulching your tomato plants with coarse mulches like hay or placing rough rocks around the plant stems will also discourage slugs. 5) Commercial baits like Slug-Geta can also be effective.

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Snails

Snail
Snail

Symptoms signs, and controls: See the previous notes on Slugs.

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Stink Bugs

Stink Bug
Stink Bug

Symptoms and signs: While not one of the most damaging tomato bugs, stink bugs pierce fruit and cause dimpling and sunken spots on fruit.

Controls: Since they congregate on weeds, the best control is to keep the garden weeded and handpick insects when found. Drop into soapy water to kill them.

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Tomato Fruitworms

Tomato Fruitworm
Tomato Fruitworm
Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, Univ. of California

Symptoms and signs: Also known as the corn earworm and cotton bollworm. Two-inch yellow to gray worms with lengthwise stripes tunnel into fruit. They also feed on tomato leaves. Brown pupae are about 3/4-in. long and found three to four inches deep in the soil. The fruitworm moth lays eggs on the leaves; the eggs are white at first then develop a brown ring.

Controls: Handpicking of the larvae or eggs is one control. Another is to till the soil in the fall which exposes the pupae to predators and cold. Bacillus thuringiensis, Rotenone and garlic sprays are effective chemical controls.

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Tomato Hornworms

Tomato Hornworm
Tomato Hornworm

Symptoms, signs and controls: Read detailed information about hornworms in the article Tomato Worms - Tobacco and Tomato Hornworms.

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Whiteflies

Whiteflies
Whitefly Larvae

Symptoms and signs: Chiefly a greenhouse and houseplant pest in the northern hemisphere. They are tiny yellowish insects with white wings which cause damage to leaves by feeding, which causes leaves to yellow and curl. Usually rest on the underside of leaves. They are active flyers and move from plant to plant.

Controls: Spray foliage with water (early in the day so it can dry before evening) to disrupt feeding and dislodge eggs, nymphs and pupae of the whitefly. Lowered temperatures also decreases activity. A small wasp, the encarsia formosa, which is available from suppliers, is a natural predator that can be introduced into the environment to control the whitefly population.

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Wireworms

Wireworms
Wireworms

Symptoms and signs: These light brown hard-bodied 1/2-in. to 1-1/2-in. worms are the larval stage of the click beetle, which gets its name from the sound they make when they flip over when laid on their back. They feed on underground stems and small roots, causing stunting of plants and reduced yields.

Controls: Tilling the soil frequently kills wireworms or exposes them to predators such as birds. Apply beneficial nematodes. Rotate crops by not planting in the same spot each year.

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