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  The Tomato Hornworm is Coming
  May 4th, 2007


Guard Your Tomatoes:
Tomato hornworms are the larvae of a large sphinx moth that is about the size of a hummingbird. In spring the moth lays eggs on the underside of tomato leaves, and the hornworm is quite small when it first emerges. However, they are big eaters (mostly tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato leaves) and grow very quickly. Usually, you won’t even discover this fellow until it is large–about 2 inches long and fat! They are quite distinctive, actually handsome with their diagonal white stripes and horns on the rear.


Don’t be afraid of the hornworms. They look more frightening than they are. They don’t bite or sting, just try to look big and ferocious. When they are younger and smaller, use Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) as an effective management technique. When they get large, you can easily handpick to remove from your tomato plant and just throw them into a bucket of soapy water (if you can stand it). If you really can’t stand handpicking them, trim off the branch they are on and dump that into the bucket – you’ll lose some production that way, though.

Some gardeners have a different approach to the tomato hornworm. While handpicking a hornworm, look to see if you find little white cocoons attached to its back. If you do see this, that cocoon is a pupating braconid wasp, which is a “garden friend” predator. Capture the hornworm and keep it (or all of them) in a container, feeding them tomato leaves. You are creating a nursery for the braconid wasps that can be released into your garden! These wasps will control the hornworm population.

Other natural predators are birds and the larvae of the green lacewing. Simply putting a birdbath by your tomato plants can work wonders! In short, plant your garden to create an inviting habitat for all of these natural predators, and you’ll control this voracious eater of your tomato leaves. Luckily, they don’t eat the tomato!

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