Is there a remedy to the damaged leaves on my tomatillo?


I’m trying to figure out what is going on with the leaves of my tomatillos. They were started from seeds inside a friend’s home and leaves started looking damaged about two weeks before they were given to me to transplant. Is it a fungus, or blight? It doesn’t seem to be bugs. Regular tomatoes were grown right next to them and they were not affected. What is it and is there a remedy? 


Jonathan Foster, Home Horticulture Outreach Professional

I’m sorry to see the damage to your tomatillos!

I’m pretty sure what you’re seeing is flea beetle damage, pretty far along on several of the leaves The tiny “shotgun” holes are a typical presentation. The damage doesn’t look fungal to me, especially not powdery mildew, which is the most common fungal issue for tomatillo. The beetles are pretty small and they move around a lot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they have escaped your notice–now that you know what to look for, it might be easier. They spook easily and are jumpers, so ease up to the plant to look at it and the soil below.

I’m going to put a couple of links for you to check out below, which include suggestions for cultural control (more of a next season thing for you, but including row cover and trap crops) and chemical intervention (i.e., pesticides, from the low toxicity Surround up through stronger alternatives for severe outbreak). If it’s just a few plants, you may be able to significantly reduce their numbers by hand with a something like a dust buster. The good news is that healthy, vigorous plants *tend* to weather the beetles if you can get the infestation under control, and the pest pressure subsides a bit by summer, so I’m hopeful your tomatillos will recover.

NB: flea beetles do like tomato, so I’m a little surprised they haven’t sampled them. They probably just thought the tomatillo looked tastier and started there, but I would scout the tomatoes, as well.

If you don’t find any insects and the damage continues to occur, let me know and we can try something else or put you in touch with our staff entomologist and pathologist to consider other possibilities for pests or disease.

Univ of MD Extension page “Flea Beetles on Vegetables”

Univ of MN Extension page “Flea Beetles”

Good luck, and happy gardening.