Curly Top Tomato Virus and Beet Leaf Hoppers

Photo credits: curly top disease - photo courtesy of

Photo credits:
curly top disease – photo courtesy of

Curly Top Tomato Virus
Last year, the Beet Leafhopper which transmits ‘Curly Top Tomato Virus’ was rampant in our gardens and devastated many tomato plants. I lost 50% of my tomato plants. The Beet Leafhopper flies in on the winds in early June through July, jump on the tomato plants and taste them. They don’t even like to eat tomato plants but sample them, transmitting the disease in the process.

Identifying Beet Leafhoppers
You will know if they are here as they come in waves and when you walk around your garden, you’ll see a lot of jumping  little green bugs that fly off when you walk by. Then they leave—flying to the next garden. Because of this, you can’t really spray anything to get them—here today, gone tomorrow. By the time you notice something is wrong with your plant, they are long gone. It takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to show up.

Symptomscurly top virus_helthy plant
Your tomato plant leaves will start to curl and the underside of the leaves will turn a purplish color The leaves then start to wilt and the plant will look stunted. You might think it needs water but it doesn’t, it is sick and won’t recover. ‘Curly-Top’ is only transmitted from bug to plant is NOT transmitted from plant to plant hence you will see a healthy plant next to a sick plant.

There is NO CURE for this virus and if your tomato (or pepper for that matter) shows signs of the disease, you should pull the plant. You could leave the plant in BUT if another wave of leafhoppers come by and a healthy leafhopper bites your sick plant, it only takes 10 minutes in 90°F weather for it to be able to transmit the disease to one of your healthy plants. The best thing to do is pull any sick plant and dispose of it.

Leafhoppers do not like shade and if your plants are partially shaded, that may help keep them off but since most of us grow tomatoes in full sun that might be difficult.

Create a physical barrier with row cover

Row cover over the tomato plants in my garden

Another thing you can do is create a physical barrier between the bugs and your plants. This year, I’m covering my tomato plants with row cover until the bugs pass. Wrap the row cover around your tomato cage and put a piece on top of the cage BEFORE they come.

Lastly you could put out some tomatoes later in the season after the bugs leave. Last year when I was out at the Santa Fe Community Garden I noticed many rows of sick tomato plants but one row of perfectly healthy plants and when I asked about them, it turned out they were put out about a month later than the rest of them and by then the leafhoppers were gone.

Dry, sunny, windy weather are perfect conditions for the leafhoppers so look out this summer-conditions are ripe again!

7 comments on “Curly Top Tomato Virus and Beet Leaf Hoppers

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for this very helpful post. I’ve had this affect my tomatoes but I assumed it was a fungal blight.


  2. gene solyntjes says:

    I note your advocacy of walls of water and after installing them have noted another positive benefit. We have received 3 hailstorms in the last four days here. Since hail arrives usually with major wind gusts it always arrives driven at an angle and the WoW’s seem to be doing a great job in protecting my tomato plants from the effects of the hail, otherwise they all would have been destroyed by now. I was told when moving here that you would lose 1 in five crops here due to hail and I can see where the WoW’s have the capability for plant survival when they are being used here in the high desert.


    Gene So


    • Gene-
      In addition to protecting the tomatoes early on from hail, they also protect from the the terrible winds we’ve been having. BUT you can’t leave them on the whole season. You should pull them off when they are 3-6 inches above the WOWs which is probably now. After that you will need two people to pull it off and if you wait too long you will encourage fungal diseases as they get cramped inside them.


  3. […] Curly Top Tomato Virus and Beet Leaf Hoppers ( […]



    Very helpful and insightful piece.I have over 2ooo plants and some already have this problem


  5. amy says:

    Just wondering when is it safe to take off the covers around the tomato plant when protecting for the leafhopper?


    • Leave the row covers on until the monsoons arrive here seriously. When they come, the bug either leaves or gets suppressed and then I don’t see them or their damage anymore. The leafhopper likes dry, hot windy conditions which is usually all of our May and June. Historically the monsoons come around the second week of July but that is not a sure thing. Last year the monsoons came mid August and I thought we’d never get them off. Because I keep the tomato plants covered, I only lost 2 out of 34 tomato plants last year. In my first year of encountering this bug about 7 years ago, I lost 50% of my tomatoe,s so keeping them covered really works. I assume the 2 tomato plants I lost were because the row covers got loose in the wind.
      Good luck!


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