Tomato Pest Management
Tomato’s Insect Pests
From spaghetti to salsa to salads, tomatoes are a popular nightshade fruit found in a variety of dishes throughout the world.
Florida’s fresh market tomato industry thrives—it’s valued at $565 million and ranks first in national production.
Because Florida tomatoes grow on more than 40,000 acres, which is the most acreage devoted to tomatoes in any state, local farmers should be no strangers on how to handle possible tomato pests.
Aphids, a winged and wingless insect, invade plants in large numbers.
The soft-bodied pests use their mouthparts to suck and feed on fruit. A large group of aphids can stunt and distort the leaves, and aphids can spread plant viruses within seconds.
Many beneficial insects—including ladybird beetles and lacewing larvae—feed on aphids, and fungi can also kill aphids in humid weather. Reflective mulches can attract these pests, distracting them from plants. If there are three to four aphids per plant, then insecticides may be used as a treatment. However, insecticides will not slow down aphid-transmitted plant viruses from spreading.
Silverleaf whitefly—found throughout central and southern Florida—can be widespread among tomatoes. Like aphids, immature whiteflies, or nymphs, suck the plants’ juices when feeding. While these nymphs can cause tomatoes to ripen sporadically, whitefly adults can spread viruses, such as Tomato mottle virus and Tomato yellow leaf curl, by consistently feeding on plants.
Always lookout for whiteflies, as tomatoes are the main source of whitefly-transmitted diseases. When scouting the field, inspect six feet of row for every 2.5 acres, observing plants and their leaf counts. While insecticides can be applied as an effective treatment, doing so could kill the whitefly’s natural enemies—parasitic wasps and lady beetles. Reflective mulches can also be added to divert whiteflies from the crop.
These flying pests place their white, waxy eggs underneath leaves or flower petals. After the striped larvae hatch, they move their way to the fruit, burrowing inside it and chewing large holes. Sometimes, they feed on leaves as well.
Similar to whitefly scouting, six feet of row should be studied for every 2.5 acres, especially areas that show signs of feeding. While general predators such as pirate bugs will eat eggs, parasitoid wasps will target eggs and larvae.
During the spring, the tomato pinworm is a prevalent pest in south and central Florida. These small, gray moths lay eggs throughout the plant’s lower leaves. From three to nine weeks later, the larvae emerge and feed on plants’ leaves, stems, and fruit. When pinworms feed, they can introduce bacteria to fruit, making it decay.
Rather than using insecticides, add pheromone traps near the crop to interfere with pinworm mating. Disinfect the field and remove crop residue from older plants to help control pinworm infestations during the warmer months.
For more information on growing crops in Florida, please visit the 2014–2015 Vegetable & Small Fruit Production Handbook, which includes the chapter Tomato Production in Florida.
Adapted and excerpted from:
“Fresh From Florida: Florida Agriculture Overview and Statistics,” Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (Accessed 01/2015).
M. Mossler, M. J. Aerts, and O. N. Nesheim, “Florida Crop/Pest Management Profiles: Tomatoes” (CIR1238), UF/IFAS Horticultural Sciences Department (rev. 09/2012).
S. E. Webb, P. A. Stansly, D. J. Schuster, J. E. Funderburk, and H. Smith, “Insect Management for Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant” (ENY461), UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 06/2013).