Guard Your Tomatoes
July 1st, 2006
It’s mid-summer, your tomato plants are humming along and even starting to bear fruit. Then one day while checking your toms, you notice lots of leaves in the middle and bottom of the plant are either munched or totally gone. Your tomatoes themselves might even show damage. What happened?
You’ve probably unknowingly provided a four-star restaurant for a large caterpillar known as the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). This chubby, ever-hungry garden pest is generally green, with several V-shaped marks down its back, and a blue/black “horn” on the tail.
Hornworms can be controlled with any organic pesticide formulated for caterpillar control such as BT before planting. Hand-picking and dropping into a bucket of soapy water is also good if it doesn’t freak you out to handle them (wear gloves, though).
Keep one or two, though, and put them in a jar with holes punched in the lid and some leaves for food until they pupate. Hornworms are the larvae of the beautiful hummingbird/sphinx moth. Watching this fat ugly caterpillar turn into such a lovely creature over the course of a couple of weeks is a great experience for gardeners young and old. Once they reach the moth stage, they are no longer a threat to plant health and should of course be set free.