Be on the lookout for indoor tomato pests that can attack your plants – most often aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. With a little bit of care you can control them and keep your tomato plants healthy.
Most often, pests ride along with when outdoor plants are brought inside or nursery plants are brought home.
Outdoors pests have to contend with wind, rain and predators. Indoors, they are sheltered. It's a comfortable place to be.
A good first step to clearing up indoor tomato pests from plants is to put them outside for a while, weather permitting.
Indoors, only non-toxic controls are acceptable since humans occupy the same space as plants. Use these methods in combination to control pests and keep indoor tomato plants healthy.
• Spray with water. Wash tomato plant with a strong jet water stream, which causes insects (particularly aphids) to dislodge and move on. Water spraying removes one generation of insects but leaves room for the next. Spray several days in a row to eradicate as many generations as possible. Set plant outdoors (weather permitting), in a utility sink, or in a tub while spraying.
Photo: University of Kentucky
Aphids attack the tip of the stems and the leaves, sucking out plant sap. Affected plants may wilt, drop leaves, or have yellowing leaves. Look for a light-colored residue (“honeydew”) on leaves and stems, which can turn black and promote the growth of mold. Aphids on tomatoes reduce tomato quality, fruit yield, and can cause stunted growth.
If possible, identify and control aphids in the early stages, since they multiply rapidly and will spread over your entire plant and to other plants, too. Aphids will start to produce live young almost as soon as they are born.
Photo: Tulsa Master Gardeners
Spider mites are tiny, single-bodied insects about 1 mm long – almost microscopic. Look for them on leaf undersides. You may even need a magnifying glass.
Spider mites pierce leaves and feed on plant sap, beginning on leaves’ undersides.
They work from the lower part of the plant to upper leaves. Small wounds on plants that look like white specks tell you that spider mites have been hard at work. If left unchecked, affected leaves develop a bronze or gray color, turn brown, and fall off.
Spider mites also leave their signature webbing strung between plant parts or beneath leaves. They are active year- round.
Spider mites are difficult to control and have stumped many a tomato gardener. With a life cycle of 1-2 weeks in optimum conditions, spider mites multiply rapidly and feed continuously. Identify and control spider mites quickly to prevent them from spreading through your entire indoor tomato crop.
Photo: University of California IPM
Whiteflies suck juices from leaves, causing wilting, leaf damage, brown leaves, and stunted growth. If left unchecked, white flies can quickly defoliate your indoor tomato crop.
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By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source for growing tomatoes and using them.
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