Finding caterpillars on tomato plants in late summer is definitely one of the few negative aspects of growing tomatoes. These tomato eating caterpillars are quite large, they can grow up to around four inches long, green and horned, with stripes on their back.
Although they do a really good job on camouflaging so you don’t see them easily, there are some safe ways to get rid of and control tomato caterpillars.
The following article speaks in more detail about tomato plant caterpillars and how you can control them with organic methods that will not harm your garden. For more great growing tomatoes tips check out our sponsors in the right sidebar.
Pests That Go After Tomato Plants – Tomato Hornworms
By Nat Rous
Big, green, and squishy – and they aren’t even worms! The Tomato Hornworm is actually a caterpillar, of course (Manduca quinquemaculata) They have huge appetites for all things tomato, and will leave your big beautiful plants leafless and tomato less (yup, they’ll eat the green tomatoes!)
First signs of a hornworm invasion include small sections out of leaves, and small nibbles out of the tomatoes. But as the worms grow, so does the amount of food they require! And boy, can they grow. 4 inches long isn’t an uncommon sight!
If you are diligent enough to check in the morning and evening, hand picking might be enough for you to control them.
Spotting the worms isn’t always easy – even the huge ones are great at camouflage. Look for signs of worms: nibbled leaves or fruit; frass on leaves (bug poop – it looks like a cross between rabbit droppings and a brown, unripened blackberry)
For additional control, there are a number of organic methods you can use to control the worms
- BT – The common name for Bacillus thuringiensis. A natural bacteria that’s been used for over 100 years to control caterpillars and moths of all kinds. It is generally thought to be safe for all animals, plants, and fish. It is found commercially under names like Dipel and Thuricide.
- Pyrethrin – This is an organic insecticide that is found in a variety of commercial sprays. The insecticide comes from the seed pod of a flower called Pyrethrum, sometimes known as the Dalmatian chrysanthemum. In large amounts, it is toxic to humans and animals, but normal usage should be just fine. Many commercially available organic ‘Tomato Pest Sprays’ contain a mix of this and an insecticidal soap, to help with aphids and other little flies at the same time.
- Wasps – These are little wasps, only growing to about 1/4 of an inch. You can buy wasp eggs early in the season. When they hatch, they make cocoons on the backs of the worms and look like little grains of rice, slowly eating the worm for food as they grow. In fact, these wasps are common all over the country – so you might be lucky enough to have them around already. If you see a hornworm with white things all over it, pick it off but don’t kill it. Stick it in a jar so it can’t get out, throw in some leaves, and let the pupae grow into more worm-hungry wasps!
When you see damage, clip off the leaves entirely – that way you can easily tell if there is more damage or not, instead of wondering if you are seeing old stuff.
Keep at it! Catch em early and you will have a great crop by the end of the summer!
By Nat Rous
Nat Rous has been farming and gardening for the past 17 years in upstate New York. He’s worked for commercial operations that relied on heavy spraying and fertilizing, and managed his own one-family organic garden.
For more tomato growing discussions, see http://gardenanswers.helkat.info/easy-tomatoes/
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