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Oh, my poor tomatoes

October 6, 2010

No, the grasshoppers didn’t get my tomatoes. They might have taken a bite or two, but nothing noticeable.

Even the squirrels, though they ravaged my sunflowers, left the tomatoes alone.

My tomato plants are mostly dead now, though we’ve not yet had a frost here.

It’s all the fault of an insect I’d never heard of before: the tomato/potato psyllid. (Psyllids come in many “flavors,” each preferring to attack a different type of plant.)

My first clue that something was wrong was white “sand” accumulating on my tomatoes.

I like white sand beaches. White sand on my tomatoes, not so much.

It wasn’t sand. It was β€” to put it indelicately β€” psyllid poo.

Some people may mistake the adult psyllid for an aphid and the immature psyllid for a scale insect.

This photo of a tomato leaf shows it all. White sand psyllid poo, young orange-yellow physllid nymphs and even tinier orange-yellow eggs, light green older nymphs and fly-looking adults. Photo taken back when the plant was relatively healthy.

I made neither mistake. I am married to an entomologist.

Instead of killing the insects with an insecticidal soap, we let them be so husband could “culture” them.


The stems of many tomatoes withered on the plant before they had a chance to ripen. Leaves dropped off the stressed-out plants.

The ground underneath the plants got sticky with honeydew-like droppings, and hordes of wasps descended. I wish they were eating the psyllids, but they weren’t.

Now the tomato plants are pretty much dead. My only consolation is that the insects will all soon be dead, too. They cannot overwinter where it gets below freezing. They catch a ride on the breeze from warmer areas south in the spring. Maybe next year, that particular wind will bypass my garden.

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 2:24 pm


  2. Tim Madden permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:45 pm

    That is sad. I love fresh tomatoes. As for putting up with a husband’s interests, my wife does that a lot. Would insecticides have helped?

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      October 7, 2010 5:26 pm

      I think he mentioned that an insecticidal soap would have been effective, especially if we used it before the problem had a chance to multiply.

  3. Kate Hockersmith permalink
    September 16, 2012 11:35 am

    Thanks so much posting these pics. πŸ™‚ You just solved a mystery for me.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      September 16, 2012 11:42 am

      Glad to be of help!

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