What are some easy, natural ways to control tomato pests?

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Answered by: Christopher, An Expert in the How to Control Garden Pests Category
Several insects, including aphids, whiteflies, beetles and caterpillars are common tomato pests. Typically, gardeners turn to commercial pesticides to keep these bugs from destroying their crops. While many commercial pesticides are highly effective at controlling tomato pests, these chemicals also have a number of undesirable effects on beneficial insects and the environment. Controlling many tomato pests does not require using harsh chemicals or poisons, and many safe, household products provide effective pest control solutions.

Insecticidal Soaps

     Insecticidal soaps are products that control tomato pests by interfering with the way the insects produce the materials that make up their exoskeletons. When insects come into contact with an insecticidal soap, their exoskeletons slowly become soft and porous, causing the pests to dehydrate. While these types of pest control products are somewhat effective against beetles, caterpillars and other large pests, they really shine when controlling small insects such as aphids, spittle bugs and leaf miners.

     Many excellent insecticidal soap products are available on the market, but it is also possible for gardeners to make effective insecticidal soap at home using ordinary dish soap and tap water. Mixing a tablespoon of dish soap with one gallon of tap water makes an insecticidal soap powerful enough to control pests, while gentle enough to not harm delicate plant tissues.

     Unlike many other types of pesticides that persist in the environment for long periods of time, insecticidal soaps break down very quickly, and they must come into direct contact with an insect to take effect. This property ensures that insecticidal soaps do not contribute to pollution, while also lessening their negative impact on bees, butterflies and other beneficial garden insects.

Nicotine Water

     Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products, is not only harmful to human health, but to tomato pests as well. An easy way to make nicotine water is to take a handful of cigarette or cigar butts and soak them in water for at least one full day. After straining out the solids, this process produces a very unpleasant smelling black liquid. Making this concoction suitable for use in the garden requires diluting it with warm water until it lightens to a transparent brown color.

     Gardeners use nicotine water to control tomato pests in much the same way that they use insecticidal soaps. While nicotine persists in the environment for a few hours, it is most effective when sprayed directly onto the pest insects. Nicotine water can cause irritation when it comes into contact with human skin, so gardeners should wear gloves when using this pesticide.

     Nicotine is a neurotoxin, and it kills tomato pests by overloading their central nervous systems. Pesticides made from nicotine are much more effective at controlling larger insects than insecticidal soaps, but they are also more unpleasant to work with and more difficult to produce.

Diatomaceous Earth

     Diatomaceous earth gets its name from the fact that it is composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms, microscopic organisms that lived millions of years ago. This substance controls tomato pest populations by clinging to their outer shells and absorbing internal moisture, causing the insects to dehydrate. Unlike insecticidal soap or nicotine water, diatomaceous earth does not need to be applied directly to pests to be effective, merely being sprinkled on leaves and stems is usually sufficient. Diatomaceous earth is especially effective at controlling slugs when applied around the bases of tomato plants.

     Unlike the other two pest control options, diatomaceous earth cannot be produced at home, but the product is widely available from garden suppliers, home improvement centers and hardware stores. Diatomaceous earth persists much longer in the environment than either insecticidal soap or nicotine water, however this substance is completely non-toxic to humans and other animals, and it is not a source of polluting chemicals.

Protecting tomatoes from many common garden pests does not require turning to expensive, toxic chemicals with unpronounceable names. Common household products such as dish soap, even trash items such as cigarette butts, make effective ingredients for natural pesticides. Other products like diatomaceous earth do not rely on chemicals at all to keep tomato pest populations under control.

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