Sweet Potato Pest Management

You may be familiar with sweet potatoes among Thanksgiving dinner tables, but these crops thrive in Florida’s hot summers. The colorful potatoes are grown throughout the state and are good sources of vitamins A and C. Unfortunately, the potatoes also have unwanted pests.

Here are some pests farmers should become familiar with, so they can keep their sweet potatoes prosperous.

Insect Pests

Banded Cucumber Beetle

The banded cucumber beetle is a vegetable pest found throughout Florida. Although these beetles destroy all parts of the plant, the larvae feeding on the sweet potato’s roots cause the most damage.

Around planting time, add granular insecticides over the vegetable row to prevent damage to plant parts, including roots.

Sweet potato Weevil

The sweet potato weevil is Florida’s, and the world’s, most serious sweet potato pest. The small, ant-like beetles hatch larvae that dig into the potato’s tubers or underground stems and fill crevices with fecal matter. This produces bacteria and causes decay.

Pests can be controlled by using insecticides, separating infected crops, throwing away host plants and using post-harvest treatments. To avoid an infestation, be sure to use only certified transplants from weevil-free areas.

Silverleaf Whitefly

The silverleaf whitefly (also known as the sweet potato whitefly) is a common foliar pest found in sweet potatoes. These pests feed on plants and remove nutrients, causing poor growth, defoliation and sometimes death.

Field hygiene techniques, such as not growing crops for two months in the summer and destroying infected crops, can manage whitefly populations. Avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides—they can kill the whitefly’s natural predators.


Like the sweet potato weevil, the wireworm larvae destroy sweet potato roots. The firm-bodied larvae can live in the soil for up to four years, eating tiny, circular holes in the roots.

It’s best to plant sweet potatoes early in the season because wireworms are dormant throughout the spring. Other than using a broadcast soil insecticide, deep plowing can kill larvae as well.

Adapted and excerpted from:

J.L., Capinera, “Featured Creature: banded cucumber beetle” (EENY-93), UF/IFAS Entomology & Nematology Department (rev. 02/2014).

J.L., Capinera, “Featured Creature: sweetpotato weevil” (EENY-27), UF/IFAS Entomology & Nematology Department (rev. 01/ 2015).

G., Zehnder, “A Sweet Potato Grower’s Guide to Insect Pest Management” (ANR-1104), Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Accessed 10/2015).

Mark A. Mossler and O. Norman Nesheim, “Florida Crop/Pest Management Profile: Eggplant” (CIR1264), UF/IFAS Department of Agronomy (rev. 09/2012).

S.E., Webb, “Insect Management for Sweet Potatoes” (ENY173), UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 06/ 2013).

Photo Credits: marekuliasz/Thinkstock


Posted: November 23, 2015

Category: Agriculture, Crops, Farm Management, Horticulture, Pests & Disease, SFYL Hot Topic
Tags: #ufbugs, Agriculture, Agriculture Hot Topic, Banded Cucumber Beetle, Crops, Fruits And Vegetables, Horticulture, Pest Management, Silverleaf Whitefly, Sweet Potato Weevil, Sweet Potatoes, Wireworms

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