Keep Leaf-Footed Bugs Off Your Tomatoes With This Beautiful Companion Flower

The leaf-footed bug, a flat insect that looks similar to a stink bug and also gives off an unpleasant scent, is a common garden pest for tomato plants. The adult critters feed on the plump fruit, transferring toxic saliva that causes soft pits in the produce. This can change the tomato's overall taste and ruin your harvest, so you of course will want to get rid of them if they're on your tomato plants. However, you don't need to spray the delicious fruit with chemical pesticides to exterminate the leaf-footed invaders. Instead, you can plant sunflowers, specifically peredovik varieties, near your tomato vines to keep these critters at bay, then spray your sunflowers with the pesticide.

When cultivated as a companion plant for your tomatoes, sunflowers act as a trap crop, meaning that they lure insects away from the tomato plant. With just about a dozen sunflowers, you can change the leaf-footed bugs' trajectory so they bother the flowers instead of the fruit. The yellow flora, while a gorgeous addition to your garden, can also double as a genius solution for keeping leaf-footed bugs off your tomato plants.

Sunflowers are a bug-trapping companion to tomatoes

While there are plants you won't want too close to your tomatoes, sunflowers are not one of them. The bright yellow flower will limit the leaf-footed bugs invading your tomato vines. The sunflowers' large crown is what attracts these insects. When the yellow petals bloom next to or in a perimeter around the tomatoes, the leaf-footed bugs will prefer to feed and lay eggs on the sunflowers over the plump fruit. Then, while the bugs lounge on your flowers, you will need to finish them off with an insecticide — otherwise you would have an army of baby leaf-footed bugs in your garden.

According to data from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, setting up a perimeter of sunflowers can reduce the leaf-footed bugs by 78% to 90% when compared to tomatoes grown without the companion plant. It is the peredovik variety of sunflowers in particular that research suggests has this pest control power. These flowers can also be a trap crop for stink bugs and aphids, keeping these critters away from your tomatoes as well. Apart from the bugs sunflowers draw away from this fruit, the flower's nectar also attracts helpful flyers like bees, which can help pollinate the tomato plant, and hummingbirds, which feast on pests like whiteflies.

How to grow sunflowers and tomatoes together

There is a particular way to lay out your garden when choosing to grow sunflowers and tomatoes as companion crops. It is best to plant at least two rows of peredovik sunflowers around your tomatoes. You want enough flowers to draw the leaf-footed bugs away. Keep in mind that you don't have to plant this flower and fruit in the same bed for them to be companions, as sowing the sunflowers in separate rows will still allow the tomatoes to reap their pest-control benefits. The two plants can be up to 5 feet apart from each other and the flowers will still draw the insects away.

Ideally, you should plant the sunflowers two weeks before transplanting your tomatoes into your garden. The staggered start to the growing season allows for the sunflower heads to be in full bloom around the same time that the tomatoes are ripe and when the leaf-footed critters are most likely to strike. As the bugs are lured into the large crown, you can spray the sunflowers with your pesticide of choice. After the initial spray, recheck your flowers and spray again if any eggs have hatched. It is critical to kill the nymphs before they mature to eradicate them from your garden. You can also pick the adult pests off by hand, fill a cup with soapy water, and drop them inside. If you successfully eradicate the pests, you'll have a garden with both eye-catching flora and delicious tomatoes.