The Q&A Archives: Horned Tomato Worms

Question: How can I prevent horned tomato worms from getting started in my garden?

Answer: Tomato hornworms can be 4-5 inches long at maturity, and seeing them can be quite a shock! Hornworms are the larvae of a large moth (Manduca, with a wingspan of 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 inches). The adult is attracted to tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, dill, and various weeds. She lays her eggs on the host plant, the eggs hatch, and the larvae feed and feed. They have voracious appetities and can denude a tomato plant in a day! Handpicking is the best defense. You can use the botanical Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis), which is a bacterium that acts as a stomach poison, and is quite effective against most caterpillars. The use of Sevin isn't often recommended - it's highly toxic to bees and if you use it on a flowering plant, you'll kill off the good guys as well as the destructive insects. To keep hornworms away from your tomato plants next year, try interplanting dill. (Hornworms like dill and are easier to see and remove on the wispy dill foliage.)

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