Tiny whiteflies can kill off tomato plants if they aren’t promptly identified and treated. These small yellow-bodied insects have white wings, which they hold flat to their bodies or slightly tented. They feed on the underside of tomato leaves, sucking out sap and weakening the plant. Affected leaves begin to yellow and die, the leaf margins usually curling inward as damage progresses. Extensive feeding can leave a tomato plant susceptible to sooty mold and viruses spread by the pests. Prompt control prevents severe damage, so the tomatoes can grow and ripen normally.
Inspect the underside of tomato leaves for whiteflies or their nymphs, which resemble small white pods, before purchasing transplants. Shake the plant gently to make adult flies take to the air; if whiteflies are present, do not bring the plants home.
Weed the tomato bed and neighboring areas weekly so dead plant material doesn’t collect. Old plant debris provides a breeding ground for whiteflies.
Cover the bed with a silver-colored plastic mulch, which repels the whiteflies, prior to planting tomato transplants, Silver mulch protects young tomato plants for four to six weeks or until the foliage becomes lush and blocks the mulch.
Spray infested tomato plants with insecticidal soap, concentrating the spray on the underside of the leaves where whiteflies congregate and breed. Repeat the application every three days until no more whiteflies are present. Spray in the evening to minimize contact with beneficial insects. Insecticidal soap only works while wet, so rinse the plants with clear water the day after application to remove any residue.
Set out yellow whitefly sticky traps around the base of plants to control the adult population and minimize breeding. Replace the traps when they lose their stickiness or if they become covered in flies.
Release lady bugs or lacewing larvae, purchased from a nursery or seed supplier, into the garden to feed on the whiteflies. Introduced predator insects may migrate before they destroy the entire pest population, so use the insects only in conjunction with other control methods.
Things You Will Need
- Silver mulch
- Insecticidal soap
- Yellow whitefly traps
- Predator insects
- Some pesticides are available for whitefly control, but they also kill beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, that feed upon whiteflies.
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