Yesterday morning, while enjoying a steaming hot cup of coffee on the back patio before the humidity became unbearable, I decided to pick some tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner. While collecting the perfectly ripened fruits of the Summer Sweet tomatoes, I noticed one of the plants was missing quite a few leaves off the top. At first, I figured it was my fault, as I accidentally bent the top of one of the stems a week ago while trying to chop down the weeds growing behind the raised beds and had to cut the stem. But then, I saw it – damning evidence of the dreaded tomato hornworm.
These disgusting, grenade shaped droppings are a telltale sign of a tomato hornworm eating its way up and down the plant. They can be found on top of the leaves and around the bottom of the plant and, combined with missing and/or chewed leaves, clearly indicate an unwanted pest in the garden.
Tomato hornworms can be found almost anywhere in the US and can quickly devour tomato plants. They are up to 5 inches long and are pale green with black markings, eight white “v” shapes across their back, and a horn-like protrusion on the end. Two summers ago I had my first encounter with tomato hornworms and it only took a minute to find the perpetrator.
Now, there are some people (like my father) who will break out the pesticides and spray away. I am actively against using chemicals in my garden, particularly for pest control, but will occasionally spray some horticultural oil around if I can’t spend another minute picking aphids off of leaves. Tomato hornworms are easily eradicated by pulling on a pair of gardening gloves, pulling (sometimes with force) the hornworm off the plant, and dropping it into a container of soapy water. I also find that a little bit of squealing like a schoolchild and hopping from foot to foot helps to kill the suckers (or calm my nerves after dealing with the creepy crawly).
Today I found a second hornworm on a different tomato plant in the other raised bed. I did another careful inspection of all of the tomato plants and didn’t see any more, but for the next few weeks this will be a daily activity to ensure the hornworms don’t destroy the tomato plants.