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How to Fight Hornworms

| 7/26/2019 10:38:00 AM


A large tobacco hornworm on the ground 

Two summers ago, I wrote on my website about Hunting Hornworms on Tomato Plants and this summer I wrote Dealing with Hornworms on Tomatoes. Here’s the short version.

Know Your Hornworms (Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms)

Hornworms are large caterpillars capable of doing serious damage to tomato crops. In our photos, you might notice our hornworms are not the same as yours. Ours are tobacco hornworms, not tomato hornworms, but both are bad news and both attack tomato plants. Before Twin Oaks Community started here in 1967, the land was a tobacco farm. Tobacco hornworms have a red (not black) horn, and diagonal white lines, not arrowhead vees.

One July day, in two 80 ft (24.4 m) rows of tomatoes in our hoophouse, I found 42 hornworms varying in length from 1” (2.5 cm) to 4” (10 cm) and totaling 85” (2.2m)! They were stripping leaves and munching on the green fruit.

Hornworms hatch from eggs laid by the night-flying Carolina sphinx moth or Tobacco hawk moth. This year I caught one of the moths, and killed it, but we still have plenty of caterpillars. The moths hatch from strange coppery pupae with pipes or spouts attached, which overwinter in the soil. Even our most vigilant caterpillar-hunting seems to miss some, which then drop to the ground to pupate. Another way to break the lifecycle is to close the hoophouse at dusk every night (and open it promptly every morning before it gets too hot), but we’ve decided not to go that route.

7/27/2019 11:19:58 AM

Letting chickens and ducks into the tomato patch is another good way to get rid of hornworms. They love them and will love you if you bring them a hornworm or two to eat. Thanks for the info.

7/26/2019 1:54:17 PM

I look for the chewed stems and also the poop droppings and look directly above the droppings (like coffee grounds on the leaves). Can usually find even the little ones that way. In all my years only found one parasitized worm but really enjoyed it being there. Vigilance is the key because if you slack off, the worm grow so fast and eat so much of the plants, you will have learned your lesson to check, check and check again.

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