Tomatoes are a definite favorite for San Antonio gardeners. They’re also a favorite for particular pests! With all the work that goes into growing tomatoes, it would be a shame to watch them get ravaged in a heartbeat. Knowing what pest issues to watch out for can be an extremely helpful tool for successfully growing tomatoes.
Top Tomato Pests in San Antonio
1. Hornworms (pictured above) – These fat, green caterpillars blend in with the foliage on your tomato plants. You’ll most likely notice leaves with large holes, stems with missing/drooping leaves, and/or dark-green droppings left behind from the pest. Hornworms hang out on the underside of leaves, so they go unnoticed sometimes until damage appears. They can ravage your plant quickly so pluck them off and drop them in soapy water when you find them. Another option is to spray your tomato plant with the insecticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or Sevin, making sure to spray under the leaves.
2. Spider Mites – Spider mites attack tomatoes when the weather is hot and dry (Hello, San Antonio summers!). These pests produce tiny, mottled specks and webbing on leaves, usually at the bottom of the plant first. Spider mites will consume a tomato plant if not caught and treated early. (Check if your plant has them by tapping a leaf over white paper. If you see tiny specks scurrying around the paper, you got ‘em). Prevent them by removing leaf litter around your tomato plants. Spider mites also prefer attacking plants that are neglected/unhealthy, so keep your tomatoes as healthy as you can. Treat with Neem Oil (spray only in cool morning temps).
3. Leaf Footed Bugs and/or Stink Bugs – Just when your beautiful tomatoes start to ripen, these little “stinkers” pierce your tomatoes and suck out the juices. This also leaves behind a hole where other pests or disease can enter and cause further damage. Help prevent them by removing weedy areas around your gardens. Juveniles are easier to remove as they cluster together. The hard-bodied adults can be somewhat difficult to control, but you can wear gloves, pluck them off and toss into soapy water. Spraying with spinosad and 14 days later with pyrethrin can also be effective. A follow up spray cycle is usually necessary.
Check out the feet! See how they look like leaves?
4. Pinworms – These pests burrow into your tomatoes, usually close to the stem, and eat the insides, and your tomatoes end up collapsing into a nasty mess. New larvae make a shallow web and then burrow into leaves creating tunnels (much like the leaf miner). However, most damage is done when they penetrate into the fruit. Once the pinworm is inside, there’s no getting to it. If you see that you have the larvae, remove and trash any affected leaves, and begin a preventative spray routine with spinosad or Sevin.
5. Nematodes – Nematodes are microscopic round worms that pierce the roots of tomatoes and other plants and lay their eggs inside. Roots of affected tomato plants have a knobby/knotty appearance, and the plant becomes wilted and stunted, with little to no fruit production. Crop rotation and planting disease resistant tomato varieties are helpful in prevention. Solarizing your soil (basically “cooking” out the pests and diseases) and removing roots from the bottom of soil once crops are finished are inexpensive ways to help control and prevent nematodes. (Don’t mistake root nematodes with beneficial nematodes. Root nematodes destroy plants while beneficial nematodes destroy pests!)
6. Birds and Squirrels – These pests are included because anyone who has grown a tomato before has been “pest”ered by them at some point. These pests love to strike just as tomatoes are about to ripen and you’ve waited one day too many to take them off the vine. Pluck your tomatoes from the vine just as they turn from green to pale pink/orange. Tomatoes will ripen inside on your countertops just fine and you won’t notice a difference in the quality or taste of your tomatoes. You should be the one enjoying your tomatoes, not the squirrels and birds.
These “cute” pests love to snatch your red tomatoes before you do!
Spring tomatoes are here and our shelves are lined with all of our pest control options. Come see us at Rainbow Gardens for help. *Remember, always read labels when applying any pesticide to know how much, and how often, is safe to spray. Especially when concerning edibles.
Experiencing tomato disease issues? Be sure to check out our info on how to prevent and treat tomato disease.
~The Happy Gardener