How to Get Rid of Nematodes in Tomatoes

Few things can be more frustrating for a gardener than having a silent, invisible killer attacking his tomato plants. You can use the proper soil and feed and water the plants properly and make sure they have enough sunlight. But when the plants die for no apparent reason, the plants are probably suffering from an insect infestation, and nematodes can be some of the most common invisible killers. These microscopic worms feed on the tomato plant’s root system, limiting the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrition from the soil. There are a number of methods you can use to get rid of these pesky plant eaters.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil tiller
  • Clear plastic tarp
  • Hose or watering can
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Spoon or stirrer
  • Bucket
  • Cover crops

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Break up all clumps and clods of soil with a soil tiller. Remove all sticks or rocks from the soil bed in which you will plant the tomatoes.

Water the soil so that it is moist, but not soaking wet.

Cover the soil area with a clear plastic tarp; bury the edges of the tarp so that it does not blow away or become obstructed. Leave the soil covered for four to six weeks, until you are ready to plant. The tarp will allow sunlight to heat the soil beneath, and will keep the heat in; high-temperature soil will kill nematodes.

Treat the soil

Mix ½ cup of regular white table sugar into 1 gallon of water in a bucket.

Stir thoroughly until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Pour directly into the soil that is affected by nematodes. The sugar will not harm the tomato plants, but can help to suffocate the nematodes.

Plant cover crops

Plant marigolds in between the tomato plants. Marigolds produce chemicals that attract nematodes and keep them off the tomato plants.

Space marigolds 6 to 7 inches apart from each other and from the tomato plants for best results.

Reverse the placement of the cover crop marigolds and the tomato plants each year for optimum soil usage.

Tips & Warnings

  • Solarization works best in the summer, when the soil receives direct and hot sunlight.
  • Treating the soil with sugar water can be done before planting or during the growing season if you see evidence of nematodes at work.
  • Salvia scarlet sage, dahlia, calendula, asparagus and flax are alternative cover crops to control nematodes.


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