Posted on 04 August 2008 by

Organic Tomato Pest Control 101

By Kira Hamman

We recently provided a guide to some of the bugs commonly found destroying tomato crops, so now it’s time to tell you how to control them.

And control them you can, without resorting to poisons, but remember that organic pest control is about just that — control, not total eradication.

Gardens have bugs, period.

We’re trying to keep them from eating everything in sight, not trying to eliminate them from the planet. Enough said.

Larger bugs, like hornworms, fruitworms, and stinkbugs, can be picked off by hand. I know what you’re thinking: EEEWWWWW!!! But this is why gardening gloves were invented. Well, this and the existence of stinging nettles, but that is not relevant here. The point is, get a jar of soapy water and a pair of sturdy gloves and go to work picking off the bugs and dropping them in the water, where they will quickly perish.

Better yet, pay your school-aged kids 5¢ per bug to pick them off for you (note: this job is not recommended for toddlers, who have a propensity to ingest the bugs and/or the water).

If this is simply too gross for you, or if you have pests like aphids that are too small to remove by hand, you can also spray the plants with any of a number of homemade insect deterrents. While this isn’t as effective as manually removing them, it will kill quite a few bugs and won’t hurt the plants, the environment, or you.

Some things to try:

  • Soapy water. Any biodegradable liquid soap will do. Use about ¼ cup of soap per gallon of water, and rinse the plants with clean water an hour or so after you spray them so that the soap doesn’t burn their leaves.
  • Oily water. Blend about ¼ cup canola or olive oil with one gallon of water and spray on plants. Remember to shake the spray bottle frequently to keep things mixed up.
  • Hot pepper spray. To make your own, puree four or five chili peppers with a gallon of water, strain, and spray. This is even more effective if you let the puree age for a day or so before you strain and use it.
  • Garlic spray. Puree a head of garlic with a gallon of water, strain, and spray. This won’t kill existing bugs, but it is a great deterrent.
  • Combination spray — be creative! For instance, a chili-garlic-oil spray will kill existing bugs and deter future ones. An oil-soap spray is a double-whammy bug killer with a built-in emulsifier. And so on.

Make sure you spray the undersides of the leaves where bugs tend to hide and lay their eggs. Also, remember that you’ll have to reapply the spray after it rains, and remember to wash your tomatoes very well before you eat them — nobody wants to eat a chili-garlic tomato!

22 Responses to “Organic Tomato Pest Control 101”

  1. Donald Lepper Says:

    These are the bugs on my toms! Please help!

  2. Donald Lepper Says:

    The photos on this webpage are of the bugs that are on my tomato plants. They are not ALL over, but they are on there and I do not like them there. Unless they are something that is beneficial…but I do not think that they are. PLease help me identify them.

  3. Tomato Casual »  What\'s That Bug on My Tomato? Says:

    […] week: what to do about them! Related PostsNo related […]

  4. Kira Says:

    Donald – Are you talking about the creature on this post? That’s a praying mantis, which actually *is* beneficial. She’ll eat other creepy crawlies, and you should leave her alone! But if you’re talking about the buggies on the earlier post about identifying bugs (check out the July 29 post called “What’s That Bug on My Tomato?”), they’re bad guys. Get rid of them! I suggest the methods listed above – hand picking and/or spraying with a homemade organic pest deterrent.
    Good luck!

  5. Donald Lepper Says:

    That is the website to my flickr page. The first two photos that I have are of mty tomato plants and they are covered with bugs!

  6. Kira Says:

    Ah-ha! Now I see them. You have aphids. Not good, but solvable. It looks like your plants are still in good shape, so if you move fast you should be OK. First of all, encourage ladybugs, praying mantises, spiders… anything that will eat those little guys. Do this by NOT spraying with a broad-spectrum pesticide, which will kill indiscriminately. Second of all, discourage ants, which “farm” aphids and protect them from those natural predators. Third of all, spray the plants with a soap solution, let it sit for an hour, and then spray HARD with a hose to both clean off the plants and blast off the soapy aphids. If you still see them a day or two later, try an oil solution next. Soap has always worked for me, however. Your plants may look a little burned afterward and their growth may slow for a while, but it won’t harm the fruit and they should recover.

    Good luck!

  7. Donald Lepper Says:


    Thanks for all of your help on this matter. Sorry about not getting the photo link in there right away. When you say soapy solution what do you mean? Could you give me a recipie for it?

    Thanks again for all of your help and assistance.


  8. Kira Says:

    Don – recipes for all the organic solutions I recommend are in the post above. Good luck!

  9. Karen Berman Says:

    I have bugs that are killing my tomato plants starting from the bottom up. They look like nats with wings and they are tiny and stick to the plant. My tomatos are actually fine but the plant limbs turn yellow and die along with the leaves that wilt up, turn brown and die. Is there anything I can do to stop these bugs?

  10. Tomato Casual »  TC Reader Question: Help! Insects are Killing my Tomato Plants Says:

    […] Whiteflies are generally found around the flowers of tomato plants, so if you\’re seeing these guys on the roots and stem, it\’s probably not them. However, whiteflies also transmit a number of tomato viruses, which could affect roots and/or stems, so maybe that\’s what\’s happening.To get rid of whiteflies, spray vigorously with the hose. If that doesn\’t work, try the soap solution mentioned Organic Tomato Pest Control 101. […]

  11. Kira Says:

    Karen – You have aphids. Try one of the above solutions. Good luck!

  12. Tom Says:

    I planted a beefsteak in a Topsy-Turvy planter. I live in the Sierra foothills in central CA. There are tons of tiny (smaller than the lower part of this letter ‘i’) flying insects that bite around here. If I spray with oil/water, do I need to rinse it off the plant afterwards?

  13. Kira Says:

    Hi Tom – sound like a great place to live! Well, except for the tiny insects 😉 The good news is that if the insects are biting YOU, then they’re probably not interested in your tomatoes. I’d leave the plants alone unless you actually see pests (or damage from pests) on them. With that said, yes, you should rinse off the oil mixture just as you would the soap. Oil won’t burn the leaves the way soap will, but it will prevent the plant from breathing properly. Good luck!

  14. doreen Says:

    Hi I planted some beef eater tomatoes in my new topsy turvey planters. They did very well for a while, and now they are developing yellow leaves. What can I do to help them and not lose my tomatoes???


  15. andrew Says:

    awe jeeze doreen, i’ve got the same exact problem, in a conventional clay pot. i have beef steak tomatoes, grown from seed. I am thinking my condition is too much water. but it is probably the ‘plastic’scotts potting soil i used. Last year i used the garden, and got wiped out by a hail storm the first week of august. this year i went to pots because it rained everyday for at least 40, the ground being mostly clay was just no good for planting. Doreen, over watering will cause the leaves to drop, but we have the great tomatoe famine playing out here, My plants seem to be effected by too much water, too little a container, and too much fertilizer. thanks that it is not a virus, fungus, nor bug, but I still don’t have that green thumb. unless squeezing produce in the grocery store counts?!

  16. Libra Says:

    Does it harm your plants or fruit(I have an issue with cantalopes – planted near my tomatoes) if they are blooming when applying these homemade sprays? I do not know if they have been pollinated yet or not… but they ARE being eaten by aphids!

  17. Donna Says:

    I live in the Northeast and the leaves on some of my tomato plants are getting brown. Could you tell me what this possibly is – I am going to try to spray with the soap and water mixture and see what happens.

  18. she rae Says:

    i have been picking and squishing — the hornworm and the striped worm and the stink bug. there are some tiny spider looking things that appear to be eating leaves, but maybe they are actually eating the miniscule bugs. anyway, i’m tried of picking off the worms, so i’m going to try the oil spray. thank you all for your comments and suggestions. i was ready to pull up my tomato plants yesterday but today i feel renewed! happy growing to you all.

  19. Michael Says:

    I don’t want to kill the bugs on my plants just not destroy all of the fruit, as its used to make a bottled sauce for pasta the chilli and garlic would be ok.

  20. Maurice Marceau Says:

    As tomatoes starto turn Yellow, then Red these flying insects eat at the bottom of the fruit. Do I pick them green or lose the fruit to rot???????

  21. MexMarvac Says:

    “nobody wants to eat a chili-garlic tomato!”

    Are you sure about that ?

    Tomato + Garlic + Chili (+cilantro) = SALSA !

  22. Sherry P Says:

    A friend recommended spraying the leaves of my tomato plants with rubbing alcohol to eliminate aphids. Is this really an okay thing to do???

    Thank you,


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