Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tomatoes and Cutworm,aphids,spider mites and to lessen the damage

Countless factors work against us and our garden plants--too little or too much water, sunlight and insects to name a few.  We pretty much can control water and sunshine, but insects seem to come from all directions.  I have already discussed Tomato Hornworms.  So my next research led me to cutworms, aphids, spider mites and thripes.

Cutworms kill tomato plants and cabbage plants by wrapping around the stalk/stem of the plant and gnawing through it.   Cutworms are larva/caterpillars from the night flying moths, that live in the soil around your plants.  They emerge during the evening and night hours and feed on the stems of your plants.  They chew at the base often "cutting" down the plants like lumberjacks do to trees.  

Adult--brown night time flying moth.  She lays her eggs on the grass tips or on the soil next to the stems in the fall.   In the spring, the egg hatches and the larvae emerges and begins to eat.  It develops through 6 different stages.  It loves to eat green matter.   After they eat enough of your plants, they mature, pupate in the ground and emerge as moths to start the cycle all over again.  

The larvae stage is the one that does all the damage.   They are around 1-2" long, grey/brownish-gray body with white stripes down sides.  When caterpillar is disturbed, it curls up into a ball.  


Observe signs such as wilting, damaged or cut-off stems and droppings, and holes in the tomato fruit.

What to do to stop them from all the damage?
1.  Inspection of plants everyday.  Remove any cutworms you see on or around the plants.   Either squish the, drown in soap water, or just feed to the chickens.   

2. Remove weeds from around the plants.  It will reduce the space where the cutworms can lay their eggs. 

3. Add compost around plants.  Do not use any form of manure.  Manure encourages the laying of cutworm eggs.  

4.  Place aluminum foil around the base of all the tomato plants.  Cutworms feed by wrapping around the base of the plant.  If they cannot do this, they can not eat and will starve or move away.  

5. Cutworms in garden beds normally hatch from eggs laid on weeds or dead plant material.  Clearing these away reduces the place cutworm eggs can be hidden. 

6. Using toilet paper/paper towels cardboard rolls.  Cut them into 4" lengths.  Slip the roll over a young plant when you get ready to transplant it.  Making sure to push the collar at least halfway into the soil so that cutworms cannot get under the collar.  

7.  Using plastic disposable drink cups with the bottoms cut out the same way you would do the paper rolls. 

8.  There are sticky traps available to trap cutworms.
9.A wash of bleach free dish soap and water on your plants can also help stop cutworms from attacking the plants.
10. Diatomaceous Earth around the base of the the worm travels over/through this, it will be cut up and dehydrate.  The DE will not harm your garden earth worms!
11.  Put lightly crushed eggshells around the base of the plant.   This is not as sharp as DE, and does not work as well as the DE.  
12.  One source said they surrounded their plants with a collar of molasses that caused the cutworm to get stuck in it.  LOL

13.  You can encourage birds that love cutworms, Bluejay, sparrows, blackbirds, wrens.  
14.   Use beneficial nematodes to feed on them.  
**NOTE**Tomato plants can remain susceptible to cutworm damage throughout the gardening season.  So leave the barriers in place around the mature plants.   
Dealing with this pest can be quite a pain.  Not only do they damage our plants--but they multiply fast and reach almost every plant.  The aphid is one life sucking pest that can cause extensive damage to your plants.  We need to take them as soon as we notice them before they take over the whole plant if not the entire garden.  
Aphids are commonly referred to as plant lice.  YUCK!   They are soft bodied insects with a size less than 1/8".  Their color varies, there are red, brown, green,  yellow, and black.   Their tiny mouth has needle like parts which are strong and used to effectively pierce the stems, leaves and fruits of the plant and then suck the fluid out.   They have two small tubes projecting from the hind end know as cornicles.  

Aphids multiply only when conditions are just right for them to do so, mostly in the spring and summer.  Only a couple of aphids are needed to colonize a plant completely.  When it gets crowded, their wing offspring move on to another plant.  
They cause tomato leaves to curl and turn yellow and decay.  In extreme conditions they can cause the plant to stop growing.  Aphids secret a sticky fluid called honeydew that turns black with time promoting growth of a mold fungus.  Some studies have started that aphids are capable of injecting toxins into the tomato plants.  YUCK!  They do not restrict themselves to just tomato plants, they like other veggies, fruit plants and trees.   

How to get rid of them and stop their damage?
1. If you only have a few, remove them.  You can usually find them on the underside of the leaves or stems where tomato flowers sprout.  
2. If plant is badly infected, prune off the infected parts. 
3.  Make sure plants have good airflow between them and plenty of sunshine to reach all parts of the plants.  
4.  Do not over fertilize--best to stick to organic fertilizers.
5. Make a soapy solution using hand/dish soap and add some olive oil...Spray the aphids with it.  Soak them completely.  The soap in the water irritates them and kills them.  Do it at least twice a week till see population down, then once a week.  
6.  Employ beneficial insects such as ladybugs...even the ladybug pupa eat them.


and Praying Mantises

7. Neem oil few drop to water will repel aphids 
8. Use Diatomaceous Earth, which is crystallized algae to kill the aphids--spray all plants liberally with water from garden hose be sure to cover all the surface areas including stems and undersides of leaves and branches.  Put on gloves, protective glasses and a breathing mask.  Sprinkle the DE over tops of leaves, stems, flowers and fruit.   DE kills by non-toxic means.  I can be used on plants at any time and as often as needed without the negative effects associated with pesticides.  
9. Scatter a thin layer of 1/4" of DE on the soil surrounding your plants using a trowel or scoop.  Reapply after watering/rain because it loses its effectiveness when it become wet.  
10.  Spray dry DE on plants using a pump duster or power bottle to provide thorough coverage of your entire plant.  Reapply if it gets wet for continuous protection.   
**note** DE will not hurt earthworms.
They are little arachnids that are hard to see until you are overrun with them.  They inflict small wounds on the plants that harm and sometimes kill the plants.   
They feed on the plants sap.  They work from the bottom of the plants to the top and the undersides of the leaves.  
They change color depending on their life cycle stage.  When they are white or the same color as the plants they are almost impossible to see.   
You must be watchful and vigilant to get rid of spider mites!

Prevention and Detection:

1. Allow air to circulate between and among the plants. Even while you are raising them indoors!  Make sure the plants are spaced fairly far apart..enough space so that mites cannot easily move from plant to plant.

2. Check your plants regularly.  Use a magnifying glass to find them or their cluster of eggs.

3. Spray hot pepper wax onto the leaves, undersides to kill the mites. And repeat this every few days.   The spray does not kill the eggs.  You will need to continue to apply until all hatched mites are killed.  

4.  You can smother the mites by spraying with a 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of milk mixed with a gallon of water.  Repeat every 4-5 days.    Or you can prepare a mixture of 1 oz garlic blended with 2-3 oz of onion, 1 oz cloves, 1 oz cayenne pepper, 1 cup water add to 1 gallon of water and spray 3 times over 5 days.  They is a preventative measure and will kill young mites.   
5. Use natural predators such as those that feed on spider mites.   *Phytoseiulus persimilis   *Neoseiulus californicus  *Mesoseiulus longipes   but introduce them before there is a large infestation.   

6.  Also can encourage benenficial insects to eat them such as ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, and Spined Soldier Bugs.  


They can cause damage to your tomato harvest by destroying the seedlings even before they had a chance to become hardy.  They thrive on expanding plant tissue such as the flower buds tomatoes need to set fruit and the growing stems and leaves.

Thrips can harbor tomato spotted wilt virus, which can wipe out all the tomato plants in your garden as well as all your peppers and eggplants.   

Identification...they can be difficult to see sometimes without a microscope because they are small winged insects and they like to hide under leaves and the inside of the flower buds.  Turn the leaves over and look for "Tell Tale" dots that are thrips.  Other tell tale signs of an invasion include dry or brown spotted leaves, fallen foliage, and splotches on tomato blossoms.  

Signs of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Undersized tomato fruits
discolored tomatoes
brown leaves
curling leaves
plant death. 


How to fight Thrips:
1. Keep tomato bed completely weeded and mulched.  Thrips may lay eggs in nearby weeds.

2. Remove tomato part/plants if you suspect an infestation and keep an eye on neighboring vegetables and flowers.

3. Use a floating row covers to keep thrips off.  Row covers are tightly woven fabric that allow sunlight and water to reach plants but keep flying insects out.   My problem with this is the great need for bees for pollination and for the beneficial insects.  

4.  Spread ultraviolet mulch around plants.   This mulch is reflective or metalized mulch fabric that repels predatory flying insects by disorienting them.   Again, probably not going to take this route in our not want to disorient my beneficial bees and other insects.  

5. Organic soap spray are best "first defense" because they are free of harmful chemicals.   Use mild dish soap and a small amount rubbing alcohol to help the soap spray to adhere to the plants.   

6. The use of beneficial insects.  Encourage them by growing tiny-flowered plants that attract ladybugs such as yarrow, Queen's Ann's Lace, Coriander, and Dill.   

7.   Encourage beneficial birds to your garden by setting up bird feeders within the garden plots and birds baths.    

Well, I learned quite a bit about most of the harmful insects that affect tomato plants.   I think I have learned that by using mild soap mixtures and encouraging the beneficial insects ( I think I am going to plant the flowers that they like and order some through the mail) will be our course of action this year.    Seems like most of the harmful insects have predatory insects, so might as well use nature against nature to do the work.   

Do any of you have issues growing tomato plants?   Was the problem due to insect damage?   If so, what did you do to combat them?    

 This post shared on:

Farm Girl Friday Favorite


  1. Very informative post. My tomato plants have done well for the most part. These pests have affected other plants/trees in my yard. I rarely am successful growing squash or pumpkins due to caterpillar or worms that eat into the stalk of the plant. I will use your suggestions for cut worms.

    Last year my cherry tree was infested with black aphids. I sprayed the leaves with a soapy solution but wasn't able to reach the top branches. I probably needed to spray a few more times than I did. We'll see how it goes this year. (Before the aphids I was battling brown rot.)

    1. Thank you for visiting my post/blog. I am glad that it was of some use for you and might be able to help you in your efforts this year.

      I in getting ready to start researching growing the squash type family. In recent years, we had problems with the squash bug,so need to find information on how to combat that. Wow, I didn't really realize that cutworms will affect squash. Will need to remember that, I do remember reading that they love fresh green that does make sense.

      With your cherry tree, you might want to see about planting ladybug loving flowers/plants surrounding the base of the tree to encourage the ladybugs up in your tree to eat the aphids. Might work. Not sure if you can actually hang planters from the branches with those flowers in it to encourage them even more in the tree. I know that I am most likely going to be ordering ladybugs through the mail to attend to our garden efforts.

      Brown Rot? I am thinking that is what we have on our plum tree branches. Started noticing it late last year, and need to investigate on that as well. Looks like you can just take a pocket knife and whittle it off and maybe get that sealant for trees to seal and protect that area you whittle off. Not sure though. Need to investigate.

      Your gardening efforts will be in my thoughts and prayers and I hope what you gleaned from this posting will be of help to you.

      Again, thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thanks for the blog-I hope I don't have such problems with my tomatoes etc.. this season. I'm just going to focus on the porch tomatoes which should help a lot keep such things away.

    1. Hope you do not have problems either but if you do, you know where to find out what to do to get rid of. :)

    2. Thank you for the informative post. Its hard to tell if I have spider mites, aphids, or thrips. Can you supply me with the amounts to mix for the aphids spray (ivory dish soap,olive oil, and water). Will this solution work on spider mites, aphids, and thrips; or just aphids? I have read that no spider mite spray works well. I also just purchased some Hi-Yield vegetable & ornamental insect control granules. What are your thoughts on this product. Thank you very much for your advise!

    3. C Gardener, I believe the dish soap mixture will not work on spider mites...from what information I have gathered, they said that daily application of a hot pepper spray mixture will do it and or garlic mixture that I had in my above post. I have not tried any of these yet. I was doing research on these for I can combat them this year and not let them win in my garden.

      As far as the spider mite type is something that needs to be done regularly once you have them, due to the fact that the sprays do not kill the you have to keep up with spraying to get rid of them once they have hatched etc.

      As far as the vegetable and ornamental insect control granules...for me, I would not use this product at all. I do not know the ingredients in it, and I try to do as natural and organic as possible. I honestly think this decision is a personal one...not everyone feels the same way. It is a personal conviction type of decision.

      as far as recipes I was going to try these:

  3. Thank you Nora for your time and advice. My Grandfather always would give me several plants for my garden each uear when he planted his. Now that I have children of my own it is something I hope they will charish as did I. We are starting out with 2 5x5 raised befs.

    After looking a little closer, I believe it may be aphids that are my current problem. I will try the soap solution and let you know how it works out.
    Have a Blessed Day!