My Summer of the Tomato Potato Psyllid

Tomato with TPPLook at this poorly tomato. Tis the Tomato psyllid that’s wrecked this havoc, and the result – a whole bed of Mark Christensen’s special orange tomatoes pulled out and burnt.

This being my first experience of Tomato Potato psyllid, I was slow to diagnose them. My first check when the tomatoes started curling their leaves under and growing poorly was of course under the leaves, presuming a sucking bug was at work. The psyllids and their eggs/ larvae are so tiny that I didn’t even notice them. Had I got onto them sooner I’m sure my orange toms would still be flourishing.

Interestingly, my good old Island Bay Italian tomatoes, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant and Bloody Butcher – all my own saved seed for many many years – also had the psyllids but have recovered and are now lookin’ okay, not as abundant as usual but not too bad considering. This, in part why I believe in saving seed. In my observations resilience to a particular area develop over time, although ridiculed by science, on this I stand firm.

This is a new pest for us, so there is much learning to do. We should all be prepared to learn about this pest and how it works in our environment. It seems it will come your way at some point.

First, things first… lets identify them:

The first sign is your plants telling you something is terribly wrong. Tomatoes will turn yellow at the tops giving your plant a yellow green aura rather than a beautiful healthy dark green one. The top growths will be smaller and fern like rather than the big beaudacious leaves we’re usually so proud of. The branches may twist under, leaves may cup. Flowers fall off. Fruits are slow to come in, are smaller and deformed. All in all a potential 80% reduction in fruiting – a major blow yes. Peppers, potatoes, eggplants and tamarillo are related and therefore also affected. Kumara and convulvulus are potential hosts as well.

Potato leaves get a pinky, browny colouring round the edges as well as the yellowing. The stems can also distort with brown spots and plants collapse. As per tomatoes there will be less fruits and they’ll be smaller. Your spuds will be mushy when cooked and get brown stripes through them. Maori potatoes seem to be resistant.

Adult psyllids look harmless enough – a 3mm long, black cicada like insect with clear wings. There are 2 white stripes across the abdomen (get your glasses on!) They are very mobile and fly off when you disturb the plant, so make like a ninja when approaching your suspect. The yellow eggs are very obvious, hanging on a small stalk underneath leaves. The nymphs look exactly like scale but they are pale yellow turning tan, also under the leaves. Around the nymphs you will see white sugars dotted around. This is the plant sap secreted by the psyllids as they suck away.

These psyllids are small but there are some very helpful shots like this one at
www.kapitiherbs.co.nz/the-dratted-psyllid

Prevention:

  • Avoid the psyllid in your spuds by growing Maori potatoes or early ones only (TPP arrives as the weather warms up and flourishes in the heat.) The older your plants are when the psyllids arrive the better chance you have of getting a decent harvest.
  • Eliminate as much of the solanacae family from your property as you can to prevent pests overwintering. Nightshades and poroporo are in this family making them alternate hosts, also self seeded potatoes. Check your tamarillo and remove and burn infected leaves. Perhaps involve your neighbourhood in this project for greater success.
  • Build up your ladybug, hover fly and lacewing populations by having a spray free environment and providing year round nectar and wild areas for habitat.
  • Check every plant that you buy or get given for the eggs, nymphs and sugars.
  • Crop covers are very successful, but expensive and for tomatoes make life tricky re regular management. This is a very interesting series of articles from the BHU.
  • Save your own seed! (my own personal, non scientific advice.)

Control:

I straight away ordered Koanga Gardens Psyllid Solution which is a diatomaceous earth-based powder you mix and spray on. Unfortunately this did not go through my sprayer – it blocked up so I ended up mixing it and flicking it on with a hearth brush (old styles.) After this the plants were covered in a thick white coating which I was afraid would choke them, but hurrah they survived and following Kay Baxter’s advice alternated this with sprays of Neem Oil, and it worked! Oh the relief!

Removing and burning the badly infected plants is very important. These poorly plants had hardly any flowers remaining and were badly discoloured and stunted.

During summer I’ll keep spraying Neem once a fortnight for all solanacae in my garden.

An ounce of preventation really is worth a pound of cure. I will be keeping my beady little eye on all my plants now that I know what I am looking for – I recommend you do the same.

Comments

  1. Gill Waterworth says:

    Ok, so it would seem that I also have an infestation of the wretched little tomato psyllids. Not huge – just enough to cause trouble, and not many tomatoes. I’m waiting for the diatomaceous earth as I write.. I have neem liquid, but I’m hesitant to use it on fruit I’m going to eat. Are you entirely happy eating fruit sprayed with neem? I guess you are otherwise you wouldn’t be recommending it.
    Anyway, thanks for being out there & coming up with the goods yet again.
    Gill
    p.s. Where have all the ladybirds gone this summer?

    • Aren’t they just the darndest things. Yes to Neem – scary fast reproduction cycle – do not delay! Squash as many eggs and nymphs as you can see under the leaves.

      Then as you rest up after all that frantic activitiy peruse seed catalogues to get in loads of nectar rich plants for your lady birds – queen anne lace, echinacea, cosmos, clovers, alyssum, thyme etc and a densley planted, not oft disturbed area for habitat. Feed them and they will come!
      best
      Kath

      • Gill Waterworth says:

        Thanks Kath. I did a bit of squashing. Not a big infestation, and the plants are still there and recovering. Interestingly the heritage plant that Diane gave me is thriving just fine.