Perfect storm: white flies, aphids, beetles attacking tomatoes

Ohiofem(6a Ohio)July 5, 2011

I've got 11 tomato plants in 6 25-gallon smart pots (fabric aeration containers), all heirlooms. They were planted out six weeks ago and are now between 4 and 6 feet tall with several tomatoes forming on each one. I thought they were doing great, but in the past few days, one of two Paul Robesons and one of two Rostovas have completely wilted. In each case, the other plant in the same container seems fine.

On close inspection, I found aphids, white flies and eggs that look like they came from cucumber beetles (which I found elsewhere in the garden.) I also am battling Japanese beetles on my roses about 100 feet from the tomatoes. Watering did not cure the wilting. I treated these plants with neem oil twice in the past week, but each time it rained a few hours after the treatment. Now the plants are so wilted, and the flowers appear dried up and ready to die, I am wondering if I should just remove the wilted plants and cut my losses.

I am willing to use spinosad or safer insecticidal soap, but I don't want to use anything stronger. Any thoughts about what I should do?

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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Here are some photos. First, the bugs on just one leaf before treatment:

Immature Paul Robeson tomatoes, but note the wilting after three neem treatments:

These flowers are "crispy" and about to fall off:

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 10:07AM
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It looks like your tomato plants are sun-scorched.

Sometimes container-grown plants will not be able to get water to their leaves in time on a hot day even if the soil is damp. That's especially the case if the soil is constantly wet, which prevents deep rooting, and then it suddenly gets more heat or drier air than it's used to.

Ironically, on a dry day when the humidity is lower you personally feel cooler and don't notice the heat as much, because your sweat is evaporating keeping you cool. You don't notice that it's the exact same day that your plants are having the hardest time in the heat.

It's strange that this happened to some plants in your containers but not the others. I've had this happen to me before, with healthy-looking, fast-growing herbacious plants like petunias, nicotana, and basil. It seems to always happen in plants in containers. I speculate that the really sheltered lives they live while container-grown prevents their root systems from growing stronger, which would prevent a hot day from seriously damaging them.

You could try getting a bucket or tray of water and putting the entire container in the tray, and making sure there is always 1-2 inches of water in it. If the water is coming from the bottom it will encourage all your tomato plants to grow deeper roots all the way to the base of the pot.

As for the bugs... tough to advise but perhaps it would help to "expose" your plants to the rest of the garden better, by moving them closer to some other plants, and hope that beneficial insects like ladybugs and spiders will get on them and eat the bad bugs. I think there are a lot of cases in which isolated plants become infested by rapidly-multiplying insects like aphids, white flies, mites, etc... because there isn't enough contact with the rest of the garden's ecosystem.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 2:36AM
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