Manduca Quinquemaculata or Tomato Hornworms are a serious threat to your Tomato crops since they are difficult to identify.
They can defoliate the Tomato plants in no time. In fact, they are found in all regions of the United States.
But do not fear because this article has useful information about identifying and removing these feeding pests.
How to Get Rid of Tomato Hornworms
If there are few hornworms, you can handpick them while wearing gloves. If you’re short on time, you can create a homemade spray using water, dish soap, and cayenne pepper or use insecticides. Introducing beneficial insects like wasps helps in controlling them as well.
Removing Hornworms from Your Tomato Crop
If you have a small crop of Tomatoes, you can handpick the worms.
This is the simplest method to eliminate the worms, but it’s effective only if there is a small population of worms.
These worms do not bite or sting, but I would still recommend wearing gloves while handpicking them.
You have to be vigilant and visit your Tomato plant every day to get rid of the hornworms.
Create a natural spray using 1 teaspoon of dish soap and cayenne pepper in 2 cups of water. You can also add garlic to this solution.
Spray this mixture on both sides of the leaves; it prevents the moths from laying eggs, and it also prevents the already existing worms from feeding.
Introduce beneficial insects like wasps that feed on these Tomato worms.
This ensures biological control of the hornworms.
Lacewings or ladybugs can also feed on the eggs of Hornworms.
You can also use organic pesticides like Botanical BT to get rid of the worms.
But these should be consumed by the worms to act as a stomach poison. The good part is this pesticide will not harm the plants or other insects.
Diatomaceous earth is a fine dust that can destroy several types of pests and bugs.
It’s made from tiny ocean organisms, and it’s safe to use in gardens. Sprinkle this dust on the infected areas, and the worms will be killed once they crawl on the sharp particles.
Pyrethrins are also organic and safe to use on edible plants like Tomatoes. Pyrethrin will paralyze the worms, and they will soon die due to lack of food.
Spinosad is another natural product derived from soil bacteria. It is effective against Tomato worms and other pests like mites.
Insecticidal soaps are safe to use on houseplants but make sure the hornworm comes in direct contact with the soap.
Insecticides or other harmful chemicals should be used only if the population is too large to control using other methods. In other words, insecticide control should be your last option.
Identifying Tomato Hornworms
The fat, green hornworms can destroy the Tomato crop in your garden if left untreated.
These caterpillar pests love feeding on Tomato plants, but they can ruin other plants as well (peppers, potatoes, or tobacco).
They resemble closely to tobacco hornworms in terms of their appearance.
They are difficult to spot because of their color since they blend with the foliage and other green plants in your garden.
These worms are 5-inch long and green in color. They also have white and black dots on their body.
They are named Hornworms because of the horn-like black bump at the back.
These non-stop feeders can easily chew the leaves and fruits on your Tomato plant. Therefore it’s crucial to identify and control them if you want to protect your Tomato crop.
The defoliation or feeding reduces the foliage cover, and the Tomatoes are exposed to the sun, which can result in sun scalding.
Lifecycle of Tomato Hornworms
Adults will lay the eggs on the undersides of the Tomato leaves in the spring season. Most Tomato growers have reported it in late spring.
The eggs will hatch within a short period of one week.
However, the Tomato worms blend with the foliage; the adult can be recognized easily. It is brownish-gray in color.
After hatching, the larvae will continue feeding for four or six weeks. Then they will prepare a cocoon to overwinter in the soil.
If the weather is not too cold, they will hide in the soil for 2 or 3 weeks only.
The hornworms usually start feeding on the top areas of the Tomato plant, so you will notice chewed leaves once the caterpillar starts feeding.
They usually hide on the undersides, but you will find dark green or black residue on the upper face of the leaves.
The Hornworms leave these droplets after feeding on the leaves.
They can also feed on entire leaves. The foliage will have a wilted appearance after the worm is done feeding on that area.
You have to act fast because the hornworms grow fast and can double in size in just one day.
They not only grow fast but also eat fast and can even start feasting on the Tomatoes after eating the foliage.
Tips to Avoid Hornworms in the future
- It is best to destroy the larvae before it starts feeding. Tilling the soil at the beginning and end of the season is the best way to destroy the larvae overwintering in the soil. You should also do weeding to eliminate the remaining eggs in the soil.
- In biological control, the beneficial insects will destroy these worms, but it’s best to remove the infected worm from your Tomato plant to prevent them from feeding on the plant.
- Interplant the Tomatoes with Marigolds or Basils to keep these worms away from the Tomato crop.
- If you cannot find any worms, spray your plant with water and gently shake it. This will force the worms to move.
- Practice crop rotation every season. Changing the location of your Tomato crop will protect it from the hornworms hiding in the soil.
- Mulch the soil to prevent the hornworms from coming out of the soil.
- If you have trouble identifying the worms during the day, you can use a black light to look for them at night. They will glow under this light.
- You can feed the handpicked worms to the chickens or birds. Some gardeners use them as fish bait as well.
- When buying pesticide sprays, make sure you choose the spray that is OMRI listed because that will be safe for organic and food gardening.
- Pesticide sprays should be applied during cooler hours of the day. Never apply them if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Rid Of Tomato Worms
How do Tomato Hornworms damage the plant?
They cause huge holes in the leaves and even result in defoliation. They can also destroy the flowers on your plant and scar the Tomatoes.
How to kill the handpicked Tomato worms?
The handpicked Tomato worms can be used as feed for chicken or birds, or you can kill them by dropping them in a bucket filled with soapy water.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.