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Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Tomato Plant’s Worst Nightmare

Can you find the worm?
Over the past week, my husband and I have watched our tomato plants quickly deteriorate.   When looking at the tops of the plants it seems that something has been eating away at them.  What a disappointment to us, I have only been able to do one canning session and I was hoping to get in at least two more.  While out watering the other night, I saw a HUGE green worm hanging upside down on one of our plants.  Of course me being the girly girl that I tend to be with large, disgusting crawly things, I sent out a scream and ran for my husband.
After some research, I discovered that what I saw was a Tomato Hornworm.  These pesky worms work very fast so if you ever see them on your plants, or if you ever notice a lot of green/black droppings under you plants, be sure to get rid of them ASAP!!  Or you will have no plant left.  We unfortunately have already had to pull one of our plants out and there are three more that we are praying will recover. 

Life of a Tomato Hornworm

Eggs are deposited singly on both the top and bottom of leaves in the late spring and hatch within 6 to eight days.  Once hatched, it will take up to three weeks for them to reach their final larval stage.  As they eat your tomato plants they will grow bigger and bigger.  They can reach 4 inches long in size.

Once fully grown, they will drop off the plant and burrow into the soil to pupate into Hummingbird moths or Sphinx moths.  In the summer this takes two weeks.  In the fall they will not change until spring.

How to Get Rid of Them:
 The first thing you will want to do is pick off as many worms as possible.  The worms do a very good job of blending in with the plants so you must look hard.  They tend to “hang out” on the tops of the plants and “eat” there way to the bottom.  When picking them off the plant, be prepared to tug, they tend to latch on very tightly to the stems.  Use gloves and if you do not want to pluck them off with your fingers, try using pliers.  When you take them off, be sure to either kill them right away, or place them far away from your plants.

To prevent them from finding your plants or to keep them away once you have gotten rid of them, here are a couple tips:

    1.   Plant things in your garden, near your tomato plants, that will deter the worms and attract insects that will kill them such as: dill, clover, fennel or spearmint.  These will attract predator wasps to that will eat the worms.  These worms like dill even more than tomatoes, plant this near your plants to attract them.

     2. Do things to invite birds to the garden.  Build birdhouses, put out bird feeders and bird baths.  They are natural predators to the tomato hornworms.

   3.       Sprinkle cornmeal around the base of the tomato plants.  The worms will die when they eat the cornmeal.

  4.       Make a homemade insecticide to apply to the tomato plants.  You can try combining 1 qt. water and 1 Tbsp mild liquid dish soap.  Mix well and put in spray bottle.  Apply liberally to your plants.  You can also try a salt spray.  Dissolve 2 Tbsp table salt into a bucket with 1 ½ gallons of warm water.  Transfer to a garden sprayer and apply to the plants when you see the green worms.

   5.   Hot Pepper Spray: Chop ½ cup hot peppers and mix them with 2 cups of hot water.  Strain and Spray.  The capsaicin in the peppers should cause nerve damage to the insects and repel them from the plants.

For more All Natural Pesticides check out this website: 

What do natural pesticides do you use on your plants??

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