The Q&A Archives: Tomato Worms and Holes In Leaves

Question: My healthy, fruiting, container-grown tomato plant developed a pest while I was on vacation. I have kept the plant watered. I have noticed many leaves with holes in them, turning brown and wilted, and numerous black pin dot particles on the plant. I have also found a few small green worm or caterpillar-like critters eating the tomatoes.

Answer: Your tomatoes are experiencing several of the common problems associated with this time of the year in southern gardens. Two caterpillars are commonly seen, the fruitworm and pinworm. The leaf damage and fruit damage is most likely from a caterpillar. Organic control options for their control include products containing B.t. or insecticidal soap. Soap can burn plants in the summer heat, so make sure to mix according to the label and spray early in the morning. Direct sprays upward from beneath the plant for good coverage of all plant surfaces.

Browning leaves this time of year may be due to advanced leaf fungus diseases, wilt diseases of the root system, or nematode damage to the roots. If you don't feel that leaf diseases are the cause you can examine the roots and stem for possible causes. (Use soil-less container growing mix instead of garden soil to minimize disease and nematode problems.)

Dig up a declining plant and look for swollen areas on the roots (nematodes). Then split the stem lengthwise and look for a brown streak between the green "outer bark" and the cream colored stem interior (wilt diseases). The solution to both is to select varieties with a VFN after their name.

The black specks on your plant may be fecal pellets from the caterpillars. Hope this information helps!

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