How To Kill Garden Pests That Eat Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a beloved food crop in many home gardens. However, they are also a favorite food source for a variety of garden pests.

Pests that love to attack your tomato plant

From aphids to hornworms, there are many insects and animals that cause damage to tomato plants, leading to reduced yields and lower quality fruit.

They include:

  1. Tomato Hornworms: These large green caterpillars are the larvae of a moth species and can quickly defoliate a tomato plant. They are often found on the leaves or stem of the plant.
  2. Aphids: These tiny, soft-bodied insects are found on the undersides of leaves and suck the sap from the plant, which leads to stunted growth and deformation of the tomatoes.
  3. Cutworms: These brown or grey caterpillars are typically found at the base of the plant and can chew through the stem, causing the plant to wilt and die.
  4. Whiteflies: These small, white insects are often found on the undersides of leaves and can cause yellowing of the leaves and stunted growth.
  5. Spider Mites: These tiny insects are barely visible to the naked eye and can cause yellowing and browning of the leaves, as well as a general weakening of the plant.
  6. Tomato Mites: These are tiny pests that feed on the sap of tomato leaves, causing them to become discolored and distorted.
  7. Budworms: These caterpillars can cause damage to tomato buds and young fruit by feeding on them.
  8. Looper Caterpillars: These caterpillars can cause significant damage to tomato plants by feeding on leaves, stems, and fruit.
  9. Root-Knot Nematodes: These are microscopic worms that attack the roots of tomato plants, causing stunted growth, wilting, and yellowing.
  10. Thrips: These tiny insects can cause yellowing and distortion of leaves, as well as damage to fruit.
  11. Blister Beetles: These beetles can cause defoliation of tomato plants and can be controlled with insecticides or by handpicking. 

How do you identify tomato pests?

Identifying tomato pests can be challenging as many pests look similar and cause similar symptoms. However, there are some general tips to help you identify tomato pests:

  1. Check the leaves: Many tomato pests, such as aphids, spider mites and thrips, are found on the undersides of leaves. Examine the leaves carefully and look for any discoloration, damage, or webbing.
  2. Look for damage: Some pests, like hornworms and fruit worms can cause visible damage to the fruit or leaves of tomato plants. Look for chewed or damaged leaves, holes in the fruit, or other signs of damage.
  3. Check the soil: Some pests such as root-knot nematodes are found in the soil. Examine the soil around your tomato plants for any signs of infestation such as root damage or small, worm-like creatures.
  4. Use a magnifying glass: Some pests, such as spider mites and thrips are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye. A magnifying glass can help you identify them more easily.
  5. Consider the time of day: Some pests, such as hornworms and cutworms are more active at night. If you suspect you have a nocturnal pest problem, try checking your tomato plants after dark using a flashlight.
  6. Pay attention to the weather: Certain pests such as thrip, are more common during hot, dry weather. Others, such as slugs, thrive in cool, wet conditions. 

What is creating holes in my tomatoes?

There are several pests that could be creating holes in your tomatoes, including:

  • Hornworms: These caterpillars can grow up to 4 inches long and have a distinctive horn-like protrusion at the end of their bodies. They can consume large amounts of foliage and fruit, leaving behind holes in your tomatoes.
  • Tomato fruit worms: These caterpillars are pinkish-green with black heads and can grow up to 1 inch long. They burrow into the tomato fruit to feed, leaving behind holes and damage.
  • Slugs and snails: These molluscs can be particularly problematic in damp conditions. They will chew on the tomato fruit, leaving behind ragged holes and slime trails.
  • Birds: Some birds, such as mockingbirds can peck holes in tomatoes as they ripen.
  • Rodents: Mice and rats have been known to eat tomatoes, leaving behind small holes in the fruit.
  • Stinkbugs: Stinkbugs are shield-shaped insects that can be brown, green, or grey in color. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the tomato fruit, leaving behind small, yellowish-brown holes.
  • Flea beetles: Flea beetles are small, black or brown beetles that jump like fleas when disturbed. They feed on the leaves of tomato plants, creating small holes that can eventually merge together into larger areas of damage. 

How to stop bugs from eating my tomatoes

  • Handpick and remove pests from the plant.
  • Examine your tomato plants regularly for any signs of infestation.
  • Use insecticidal soap or spray. It can be effective against a wide range of tomato pests such as aphids, mites, and whiteflies.
  • Try applying neem oil, a natural insecticide that can disrupt the hormonal balance of insects, making it difficult for them to feed and reproduce.
  • Plant companion plants like marigolds and basil alongside your tomato plants act as cover crops and help repel pests.
  • Cover your plants with row covers or netting early in the growing season. This can help prevent pests from accessing your tomato plants.
  • Maintain good garden hygiene by removing dead or diseased plant material and rotating crops. This will help to reduce the likelihood of pests and diseases in your tomato plants. 

Can you spray dawn on tomatoes?

While some gardeners recommend using a solution of water and dishwashing liquid soap such as Dawn to control certain pests, it harms the plant if used improperly.

A great deal of caution must therefore be observed when using it. Dish soap can strip away the natural oils on the leaves, leaving them vulnerable to damage from the sun and other pests.

If you decide to use it, test it on a small area of the plant first and if satisfied, use it sparingly only on the affected areas.