Organic Tomato Hornworm Control: Protect Tomato Plants

Many beneficial insects enjoy feasting on young tomato hornworm caterpillars, including yellow jackets, lady beetles and green lacewing larvae. By attracting these helpful insects and implementing additional controls, such as handpicking and row covers, pesky tomato hornworms could soon be a thing of your gardening past.

  • Hornworms are the larvae of a large mottled tan sphinx moth that flies at night.
    Illustration By Keith Ward

This article is part of our Organic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.

Tomato Hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata)

The most common insect pests of tomatoes, tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) and closely related tobacco hornworms (M. sexta) are frequently found feeding on leaves and stems of tomatoes, peppers and other solanaceous crops. Uncontrolled, they will eat holes in tomato fruits, too. Organic tomato hornworm controls include handpicking or applying a Bt insecticide. 

Native to North America, tomato hornworms can be found in most climates where tomatoes will grow. Tobacco hornworms are more common in the southeast and southwest, but rarely seen in northern regions.

What Are Tomato Hornworms?

Large green caterpillars with white stripes on their sides are hornworms. There is also a rarely-seen brown form of the tomato hornworm. Hornworms are the larvae of a large mottled tan sphinx moth that flies at night. Although most commonly seen on tomatoes and tobacco, hornworms also can feed on peppers and other tomato cousins.

5/8/2013 11:12:00 AM

This was very helpful to me. Last year they almost wiped out 30 tomatoe plants within a day, so I was just looking for preventative organic options and found your post - TY.



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