Tracie pleads for help with stinkbugs on tomatoes:
Seven years ago, my husband and I planted 16 tomato plants we started from seed (3 different varieties). We used 3 square foot gardens. They flourished….except….every single fruit got infested with stinkbugs! We weren’t able to harvest a single tomato, and there were lots.
We tried everything; planting marigolds and sunflowers, using Sevin in both powder and liquid form, putting bright colored items in a perimeter surrounding them (not too close). The only thing we didn’t try, mainly because I’d given up by this point, were pheromones and traps.
I was so discouraged that I completely gave up on gardening. However, my wonderful husband of 27 years just passed away. He was our only income earner at the time so until I can find a job I’m living on his survivor benefits and life insurance. Thus, I have renewed my determination to have a survival garden (or Victory Garden, as my wonderful husband and I called it).
But before I plant a single bed I MUST get ahead of the freaking stinkbugs! I hate those little monsters! Please tell me you know what to do 🙏??!
Oh, I live in Spring Hill on the Pasco County side, 1 mile south of the Pasco/Hernando county line. Technically I’m in 9b but I’ve been told by a nursery, right on County Line Rd, that I’m really smack dab on the border of 9a/9b.
Can you please help me? Thank you!
I’m guessing Tracie did not read my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, in which I write:
“If there’s a Holy Grail of vegetable gardening… it has to be the tomato.
Armies of fervent gardeners fight to grow this succulent fruit. Seed catalogs devote multiple pages to exotic varieties ranging from black-fleshed beefsteaks to tart yellow Romas. Home improvement stores roll out racks of rich green young seedlings in perfect six-packs…
Yet, tomatoes are not for me. Here I am… a garden teacher… writer… genius.
And a failure at tomatoes. At least in this climate.
From the fringe of outer darkness I stare inwards, picturing happy gardeners fondling supple fruits hanging in golden sunshine; lush tomatoes, untouched by stinkbugs… plump and sweet without a hint of blossom end rot…
The temptation to try again is overwhelming.
But… the pain… oh… the pain.
Ave Solanum, Solanum lycopersicum…
It wasn’t always like this, you know.
There was a year where tomatoes grew well for me… unfortunately, I was in Tennessee at the time. Tomatoes loved the rich clay and deep mulch of my beds (though they still rejected much of my trellising efforts, preferring to twine about on the ground like overzealous revelers ejected from a Bacchanal) and rewarded me for my efforts by producing enough fruit for us to eat fresh and even jar up some homemade tomato sauce on the side.
Sadly for my tomato-growing career, now I live in North Florida… and have proven again and again that gardening methods that work in one place don’t necessarily carry over to another.”
Since writing that back in 2015, however, I have done some more experiments with tomatoes. We haven’t figured out how to wipe out stink bugs, but we did find that Carbon, Heatmaster, and Everglades tomatoes all do decently in the heat and with diseases.
The truth is, Florida is a bad place to grow tomatoes. They just aren’t well adapted. The heat, the diseases, the bugs, the swing from cool to hot weather, the torrential rains: all lead to less than exemplary tomato growth. You may get lucky some years, but it’s a constant fight. The only tomatoes that do well consistently are Everglades and some other cherry types.
My friend Mart once put mosquito netting over a tomato bed to keep out the stink bugs, so that might be worth trying. It worked for him, but is too much trouble for me.
If you get your tomatoes in the ground early – and stick to mostly determinate types – you might get a decent harvest before the weather knocks them out. Good watering and rich soil with lots of compost helps. A couple of local gardeners here in Lower Alabama recommend Amelia as a good variety. I have not tried it yet.
Yet remember: no matter how good the variety, the stink bugs and the leaf-footed bugs are always waiting. Once it gets a little warmer, they start showing up in droves and are very hard to control, so I don’t even bother anymore. I just say “season’s over!” and plant something else.
That is my two cents. We usually spend more of our effort on growing crops that do better than tomatoes, like hot peppers, sweet potatoes, Seminole pumpkins, collards, longevity spinach, cassava, true yams and okra.
Good luck – and my condolences on the loss of your husband. Glad you are still gardening. Don’t give up, even if your tomatoes do.