Psyllids are insidious insects that cause a plant condition known as psyllid yellows, the result of a toxic saliva injected by the insect. Be on the lookout for these insects on your tomatoes and potatoes now.
Insects are reported to be heavy in the Arkansas Valley and adults have been found in sweep nets in Fort Collins. Psyllids do not overwinter in Colorado and migrate from overwintering sites in southern TX, AZ and NM. Reports from the southern part of the state are tip offs to be on the watch for them. Outbreaks are erratic depending on winds and weather conditions. They can also be transported on transplants.
Watch for the eggs and nymphs. Eggs are small (one-thirty second inch), orange-yellow and supported by small stalks. Beneficial lacewings have similar eggs but are larger, white and on longer stalks. Psyllid eggs take 6 to 10 days to hatch into nymphs.
The nymphs look like flat plastic discs attached to the backs of leaves or on stems (photo above right). They are yellow at first but become green and well camouflaged as they mature. The nymphs don’t move once they settle down to suck plant juices. They excrete small, waxy beads of white “psyllid sugar” (photo left) as they feed for 2 to 3 weeks.
The adults are rarely seen and are green at first but rapidly turn dark Adults fly to new plants to lay eggs and 4 to 7 generations are produced in a growing season.
Symptoms on potato and tomato plants are similar. Yellowing or purpling along leaf midribs and leaf edges is concentrated in top leaves. As the disease progresses, the yellow-green or purple-red color spreads to the entire top growth and growth slows. New top leaves often remain small and tend to stand upright giving the top an almost feathery appearance.
When psyllids attack tomato plants early, effects can be so severe that little fruit is set. Infestations later in the growing season on larger plants cause only a small yield loss. If psyllids attack potatoes before tuber set, many small tubers form. Later attacks reduce growth and cause irregularly-shaped potatoes that may sprout prematurely underground before harvest.
Because insects are small and don’t attract attention due to being stationary and camouflaged, they go unnoticed before the damage is well underway. Watch on a regular schedule for psyllid sugar and turn leaves over to look for nymph “discs” (photo right). If found, take action right away.
Do all you can (fertilize and water regularly) to get plants growing vigorously early. Insecticides labeled and available to homeowners are permethrin and esfenvalerate products. An alternative is sulfur dust if leaf undersides can be coated. Two percent insecticidal soaps provide useful if more erratic control.
Psyllids infest but cause insignificant damage to other vegetables in this same family, eggplant and peppers.
Photo credit: All photos Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University entomologist