The Q&A Archives: Tomato Hornworms

Question: What do you suggest for getting rid of tomato pests, those green caterpillar things? Any non-pesticide ideas?

Answer: If the green caterpillar things are impressive in size, they're probably hornworms. 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. 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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