Organic Tomato Gardener: Controlling Aphids, Stink Bugs and Tomato Fruit Worms

Gearing up for the 2017 Jersey tomato season? Below are three common tomato pests with descriptions of each, and how to control them using organic alternatives to pesticide spray.


You’ve probably come across those tiny, dirt-like bits that appear to be moving, on your tomato plants as well as on other garden vegetables. They most certainly ARE moving – because they are not dirt, but aphids. Aphids are tiny insects, either winged or wingless, that confound many a gardener and gross out those of us who prefer to keep our garden produce pesticide free. Aphids cause the leaves of your tomato plants to curl and turn yellow, as well as deplete your tomato fruits of needed moisture.

Stink bugs

A relatively new phenomenon, presumably brought to the US from Asia, stink bugs have a somewhat prehistoric look, with their dull green or brown colored, armadillo-like shell that’s common to both adult and young stink bugs. You have probably encountered them somewhere in your NJ home– clumsy, slow-moving and harmless for the most part, but still a nuisance in the garden.

True to their name, stink bugs do emit an odor when threatened or crushed. But honestly, the odor is more grass-like than anything else.

Both adult and nymph stink bugs can damage your tomatoes by sucking their sap and attacking the fruit. They weaken tomato plants, causing the fruit to form improperly on the vine. Look for yellow-white spots beneath the skin of ripened tomato fruit to ascertain whether stink bugs have negatively impacted your tomato crop.

Tomato Fruit Worms

Tomato fruit worms are actually moth larvae. Also known as the corn earworm, these pink, green or brown insects with light striping grow as long as 2 inches and bore directly into your tomato fruit to feed there. If you have a tomato fruit worm problem, then you’ll likely see the adult moth eggs clinging to stems of your tomato plants that have green fruit. Within a week, tomato fruit worms emerge to damage your plants.

Organic Pest Control Solutions for Your NJ Tomato Plants

Typically, the above mentioned tomato pests should be eradicated as soon as you notice any signs of them on your plants. To dislodge, simply spray with a strong stream of water from the garden hose. Do this over the course of several days consecutively, and you should be able to eliminate future generations of these pests.

After removal with water, employ the following proactive methods of heading off further tomato pest problems.

Remove future pests by hand. If you’re squeamish, you can don a pair of gardening gloves before plucking tomato bugs off your plants and depositing them into a can of warm, soapy water.

Weed your garden often. Be diligent in removing weeds that do more than lend an unsightly appearance to your garden. Weeds harbor pests by creating a favorable habitat for them to move into and breed in.

Mix up a soap-based insecticide solution. Just 2 to 3% of soap mixed into water is enough to control common tomato pests. Add to a spray bottle and apply directly to the plants.

Treat with Neem oil. Neem oil’s potent odor kills pests on contact while repelling new ones. It only takes a very small amount, mixed with water and applied to your plant’s leaves, to begin working against those pesky tomato bugs. Search Amazon or your local nursery for Neem-based plant sprays, or get a small bottle of this strong-smelling oil to mix your own. Note: Neem stinks! Be sure to wear appropriate clothing before heading out to spray your garden with it. You’ll want to change your clothing after as well.

Add beneficial insects. Another effective method of keeping tomato pests at bay is to add beneficial bugs to your garden. This includes ladybugs, praying mantis, and lacewings. You can order these online and then introduce them to their new home in your garden, to get them started immediately on eradicating the bugs that have been plaguing your tomatoes.

Garden pests are an inevitable fact of life for tomato gardeners. However, with a little education and the right resources, you’ll be able to protect your hard work so you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

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