At some point in the season, gardeners may find their tomatoes having green visitors known as hornworms.
These sizeable green caterpillars can grow as big as a large finger and have bands around their bodies with a small brown point on their tails that resembles a horn.
Hornworms appear to be a vibrant part of nature and are attractive, if you like caterpillars, but numerous hornworm can destroy a single tomato plant quickly. In a day, if you have many hornworms, your tomato plants might resemble skeletons with all of the leaves and some of the branches having been nibbled off.
Because the hornworm blends in well with the tomato plant, you might not notice it at first, and because of that, your plant could be destroyed. But if you notice droppings at the base of your plants, you can be assured there’s a hornworm or two on the vines.
To get rid of them, check under the leaves and look closely for the hornworms. They tend to hold on tightly to a stem, leaf or branch. Remove the hornworms using your hand. If you’re squeamish, wear some gloves or use some large tweezers. Then, kill the worm in bucket of soapy water or save them for fish bait.
Some insecticides such as Sevin* (the dust or spray) will kill the caterpillars. Also, there’s a product called BT, bacillus thuringiensis, a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides, that you can spray on your plants, and some say is safer since it only affects the caterpillars. When the hornworms consume a leaf with either BT or Sevin on it, they’ll die.
If you see hornworms with what looks like rice on their backs, these are the eggs of a particular wasp that preys on hornworms. Since the hornworms with the eggs on their backs will die, you can take those caterpillars off the tomato plant and place them in a bucket to allow the wasp eggs to hatch. Then, the wasps will prey on any other hornworms they find.
If using insecticides, be sure to read and follow the instructions, and contact your local agricultural extension agent for help if you’re unsure how to use the insecticide.
* The Sevin product label suggests not using the product when plants are flowering.
Hornworms are recognizable by their green color, bands on their bodies and a small point on their tails.
Gardeners can protect their tomato plants from hornworms
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