Anyone who has ever grown vegetables knows how much time and effort goes into the process. Seeing your plant babies destroyed by garden pests can be devastating – mentally and financially. How do you prevent tomato worms? Read on to find out how to get rid of tomato worms by using methods that are safe for you, your pets, and the rest of your farm.
What You'll Learn Today
Where Do Tomato Worms Come From?
Tomato worms, also known as hornworms, are a kind of caterpillar that can terrorize your vegetable garden. They’re most known for eating tomatoes, but they also have an affinity for potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
The life cycle of a hornworm starts when adult moths lay eggs on the underside of plant leaves late in the spring. These eggs hatch in about a week and then feed for 4-6 weeks until they create a cocoon.
They will spend the winter in their pupal stage in the soil. Then in the spring, moths will emerge and lay eggs, repeating the cycle each year.
Tomato worms are about 3-4 inches long and their white stripes with black spots make them easy to identify. However, these caterpillars are green and blend in with the leaves, so farmers often don’t notice them until they’ve caused a significant amount of damage.
Do Tomato Worms Bite?
While tomato worms are a major threat to your vegetable garden, luckily they won’t hurt you.
Tomato hornworms have a dark protrusion on their backside that many people mistake for a stinger. But thankfully the caterpillar cannot sting, and won’t bite people.
How Do You Get Rid of Tomato Worms Naturally?
There are a few different ways to get rid of tomato worms and save your delicious veggies. The good news is that pesticides generally aren’t needed to rid your garden of these pests. Here are the four best ways to take back your garden:
Since the caterpillars are so big, the easiest way to manage them is simply by picking them off of your plants. Have a bucket of soapy water handy to drop them into.
2. Introduce bugs that eat plant-eaters
Several insects will eat pests like hornworms that are harmless to humans and plants. You can purchase and introduce bugs like aphids or ladybugs to take care of tomato worms.
If you spot any caterpillars that are covered with white rice-shaped growths, you can leave those alone. The white things are wasp cocoons, which wasps will hatch from and then kill the hornworms.
3. Homemade solution
Spraying A DIY mix of water, dish soap, and cayenne pepper on your plants should take care of any lingering caterpillars. These bugs hate this natural mixture and will not want to go anywhere near your plants.
4. Organic pesticide
Many people swear by Bacillus thuringiensis-based sprays (also known as Thuricide) to get rid of tomato caterpillars. These sprays are made of naturally occurring ingredients and are not harmful to people or pets.
Watch the video below learn how to use safe pesticides on your tomato plants. This video is great because it shows what the caterpillars look like, and the damage they cause to vegetable plants.
How Do You Prevent Tomato Worms?
Since tomato worms can cause a lot of damage before they’re spotted, it’s important to be vigilant to try and deter them before they arrive. You can try things like:
- Till after harvesting. Once you harvest your vegetables, till the soil to destroy any caterpillars that are burrowed underneath. If you spot them while you’re tilling, you can also drop them in a bucket of soapy water to eradicate them.
- Remove weeds regularly. In case you need more motivation to manage your weeds – tomato worms will lay eggs wherever they can. Getting rid of weeds in your garden will reduce the available real estate for tomato worms to lay eggs on.
- Practice proper crop rotation. Planting crops in the same place year after year makes it easy for tomato worms to find them each season. Keep the caterpillars (and other pests) off-guard by rotating your crops every year. Also, make sure you’re not planting other nightshade varieties that the tomato worms like to eat in the same place.
The best methods for preventing tomato worms are tasks that are great for the health of any vegetable garden, regardless of whether you have unwanted pests.
Following those suggestions will not only get rid of plant-eating caterpillars, but will also extend the life of your veggies and maximize your crop yield.