Title: Common tomato problems

This webpage will discuss the following insect and disease issues: Aphids, flea beetles, colorado potato beetle, hornworm, whitefly, root nematode, tobacco mosaic virus, walnut wilt, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, alternaria, early blight, late blight, bacterial wilt, growth cracks andblossom end rot

Aphids

SYMPTOMS

Leaves are sticky, yellow, and distorted

CAUSE

Aphids are tiny insects that come in many colors and suck plant juices from the leaves. You’ll often find them in vast colonies on succulent, new growth. Aphids excrete a sugary substance called “honeydew,” on which ants feed and on which black mold may develop. 

CONTROL

Spray with insecticidal soap, pyrethrins, malathion, or diazinon.  

Flea Beetles

SYMPTOMS

Leaves have tiny, shotgun-like holes in them, about 1/8 inch in diameter. 

CAUSE

Flea beetles are tiny black insects that hop like fleas when disturbed. They chew little holes throughout the leaf surface. 

CONTROL

Although flea beetles are rarely a problem to well-established plants, you can spray them with pyrethrins, methoxychlor, diazinon, or carbaryl. 

Tomato Hornworms or Potato Beetles

SYMPTOMS

Leaves have big, ragged holes in them, and some leaves even appear to be missing. 

CAUSE

A tomato hornworm is a large, green worm with white diagonal markings on its sides, and with a red or black curved “horn” at its rear. Only a few may be present but they are absolutely voracious eaters. You might come across a hornworm that has what looks like grains of rice on its back; these rice grains are actually the cocoons of the parasitic braconid wasp. When the wasps pupate, they will feed on (and eventually kill) the hornworm.  The Colorado potato beetle is a yellow, black-striped insect. Its larva is large and red, with two rows of black dots on its sides. Both the adults and larvae can severely damage plants by feeding on leaves and stems. 

CONTROL

For hornworms, here’s one of the few times when hand-picking the pest is suitable for the weekend gardener. You can also spray with the biological insecticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). And if you find one that is parasitized with the wasp, don’t spray it. The wasps are beneficial insects that can infest other hornworms after they mature. Bt will also kill the Colorado potato beetle larvae. For the adult, though, you can spray with pyrethrins, diazinon, methoxychlor, or carbaryl.  

Whiteflies

SYMPTOMS

Leaves are mottled and yellowing, and a puff of white insects arises if the plant is tapped. 

CAUSE

Whiteflies  are tiny white insects that feed on plant sap. Like aphids, they excrete “honeydew” on which black mold may grow.

CONTROL

Spray with insecticidal soap, pyrethrins, malathion, or diazinon. You can also set out yellow sticky traps whose color will attract them. The different stages of the whitefly’s life cycle each have their own tolerance to insecticides, so you’ll have to spray regularly and you may have to use more than one control method. 

Nematodes

SYMPTOMS

 Leaves are yellow; plant is stunted and wilts in hot weather. 

CAUSE

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil and feed on plant roots. If you pull the plant out of the ground, you’ll notice that the roots are swollen and distorted. 

CONTROL

Destroy infested plants; plant resistant varieties next season. 

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

SYMPTOMS

Leaves have light and dark mottling. 

CAUSE

Tobacco mosaic virus is very infectious and can be spread by simply brushing against plants. The virus is seed-borne, but can also be passed to the plant from tobacco in cigarettes and other products (the virus actually survives tobacco processing). 

CONTROL

Destroy infected plants. Don’t handle tobacco before working around tomato your plants, and grow resistant varieties next season. 

Fusarium, Verticillium, or Walnut wilt

SYMPTOMS

Older, lower leaves are yellow; shoots or the whole plant wilts. 

CAUSE

These three diseases are difficult to tell apart. Fusarium and Verticillium wilt are caused by soil-borne fungi, and walnut wilt comes from planting your tomatoes too close to a walnut tree. The tree’s roots produce a chemical called juglone which is toxic to tomato plants.

CONTROL

After your harvest, destroy the plants. Next season, plant varieties resistant to Fusarium and verticillium, and practice crop rotation by growing your tomatoes in a different spot in your garden each time. If you suspect Walnut wilt, next season plant your tomatoes at least 50 feet away from your walnut tree, or else grow them in containers. 

Early blight (also known as Alternaria)

SYMPTOMS

Older leaves have dark brown, concentric rings on them.  Or, fruits have dark, leathery, sunken lesions at the point of stem attachment.

CAUSE

Early blight occurs in humid weather. The fungus overwinters in residue from diseased plants, and can also be present on the seed itself.

CONTROL

Destroy or discard infected plants when harvesting is completed. In the meantime, spray them with copper, chlorothalonil, mancozeb, or maneb fungicides (look for the active ingredient on the label). These sprays won’t cure the disease, but they can protect new foliage from the fungus if they are used regularly all season.  

Late blight

SYMPTOMS

Leaves or fruit have irregular, greasy-looking or water-soaked gray areas that expand rapidly in wet weather. 

CAUSE

Late blight is the fungus that caused the great potato famine in Ireland from 1845-1850. It occurs most often in humid weather, during which a gray mildew grows on the undersides of the affected leaves of tomato and potato plants. 

CONTROL

Spray with copper, chlorothalonil, mancozeb, or maneb fungicides (look for the active ingredient on the label) to protect new foliage. . You’ll have to continue your spray program all season long. Destroy the infected plants as soon as harvest is completed. If your plants are severely affected, dig them up and destroy them immediately.  

Bacterial wilt

SYMPTOMS

Plant suddenly and rapidly wilts, even though the leaves are green and it has been watered regularly. 

CAUSE

Baterial wilt is caused by a soil-borne bacterium. It persists in the soil in the southern states, and can be found in greenhouses in the winter in northern areas.

CONTROL

Dig up and destroy infected plants. Plant your tomatoes in a different spot in your garden for a few consecutive seasons.

Growth Cracks

SYMPTOMS

 Circular or radial crack at the stem end of ripening fruit.  Cracks can extend deep into the fruit, causing it to rot.

CAUSE

 Tomatoes will crack when environmental conditions cause them to grow rapidly during ripening.  The rapid growth is frequently promoted by a drought followed by heavy rain or watering.  Cracking is more severe in hot weather.  Cracked tomatoes are edible.

CONTROL

Maintain an even soil moisture level with regular watering.  Grow varieties that are labeled “crack tolerant”.

Blossom End Rot

SYMPTOMS

A round, sunken water-soaked spot develops at the blossom end (opposite stem end).  The spot enlarges, turns brown to black and feels leathery.  Mold may also grow on the rotted surface. 

CAUSE

Blossom End Rot occurs from a lack of calcium in the developing fruits. The first fruits of the season are the most severely affected.  This results from slowed growth and damaged roots caused by these factors: 

1. Extreme fluctuations in soil moisture 
2. Rapid early season plant growth followed by extended dry weather. 
3.  Excessive soil salts. 
4.  Excessive rain. 
5.  Cultivating too close to the plant.  

CONTROL

To prevent this problem, follow these guidelines: 

1.  Maintain uniform soil moisture level by mulching and proper watering. 
2.  Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers or large quantities of fresh manure. 
3.  Plant in well-drained soil. 
4.  Do not cultivate within one foot of the plant. 
5.  Add gypsum to the soil

Anthracnose

SYMPTOMS

Sunken spots occur on ripe tomatoes.  The centers of the spots darken and form rings.  Spots may merge, covering a large part of the tomato.

CAUSE

Anthracnose is caused by a fungus that rots ripe fruits.  Infected fruit is inedible.  Fruit on plants partially defoliated by leaf spot disease is prone to infection.  Infections frequently become epidemic in hot, rainy weather.  Water from heavy dew, over-head watering and frequent abundant rain provides the moisture necessary for infection.

CONTROL

At the first sign of disease, spray plants with a fungicide containing chlorothalonil.  Repeat every 7-10 days until harvest.  Destroy all infected fruits.  Clean up and destroy plant debris after harvest.