Tomatoes (Solanaceae) are typically easy-to-grow summer vegetables; however, this garden favorite can also suffer from attacks and infestation by a wide range of pests. Therefore, to ensure a healthy tomato crop, home vegetable gardeners should familiarize themselves with the types of pest sprays available and their correct application, understand the difference between organic and synthetic sprays and know how to mix some quick pest sprays at home.
Types of Pest Sprays
Pest sprays, or pesticides, are often mistakenly believed to be insect or “bug” sprays. True, insecticides are one type of pesticide, and they are often used by tomato growers. In addition, fungicidal sprays are a type of pesticide used to prevent and treat fungal infections, which can be a serious problem for tomato plants. Herbicides, commonly referred to as “weed killers,” also fall under the category of pest sprays. Weeds are unwelcome in vegetable gardens because they compete with growing tomato plants for water and soil nutrients; herbicides can help control this problem.
Organic vs. Synthetic Sprays
Pest sprays are either organic, meaning they have been derived from natural-occurring materials, or synthetic, which have been chemically manufactured. Examples of good organic insect sprays for use with tomatoes include those made with insecticidal soap or neem oil extract for combatting aphids and whiteflies, Bacillus thuringiensis (called Bt) or pyrethrum for beetles, and horticultural oil for stink bugs. Synthetic insecticidal sprays for tomatoes may contain one of the following ingredients: permethrin, bifenthrin, cyhalothrin, malathion, carbaryl or cyfluthrin. As far as fungicides are concerned, copper sprays are a good organic option to prevent fungal infection in tomato plants. Chlorothalonil and Captan fungicides are two synthetic fungal sprays; they must be applied before any sign of disease appears to be effective. Organic gardeners tend to use other methods than herbicides, however; a simple vinegar solution is one option. Conventional synthetic weed sprays for use with tomatoes include metribuzin, oxyfluorfen, metolachlor, paraquat and carfentrazone.
Homemade pest sprays can be affordable alternatives to commercial pesticides. For example, to control aphid problems on tomatoes, a bug spray made of boiled rhubarb leaves mixed with dish detergent is one option. Another homemade insect spray for tomatoes and other vegetable plants is a blend of cayenne pepper, onion and garlic. To prevent fungal infections like early blight in tomatoes, apply a spray made with baking soda weekly. Organic vinegar weed spray is made with vinegar, salt and water.
Some pest sprays, like Bt, can also kill beneficial insects such as butterfly larvae; avoid applying when windy to minimize unwanted spread. If weed killer is used on grass, do not add clippings to your compost because this can damage tomato plants. Whether using organic, synthetic or homemade sprays, always apply and use exactly as instructed. Also, read product labels carefully to ensure the spray is a good fit for the pest you are trying to prevent or control. If unsure which pest spray to use on your tomato plants, contact your local extension office for guidance.
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