A tomato worm infestation is probably the worst thing that can happen to your tomato garden, and so, you need to know how to prevent tomato worm infestation. If an infestation is already affecting your garden, then you need to know how to get rid of it.
After all, having all your time, effort, and hard work going in vain over the course of just a few weeks is something every gardener dreads.
If you’ve noticed small holes in the fruits, leaves, and stems of your tomato plants or small, brown-colored droppings on other plants in your garden, you need to get your guard up. This is an indication that you have a tomato worm infestation that has already gone too far!
What Are Tomato Worms?
Tomato worms are also known as hornworms. These worms infest plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tobacco, and peppers, and can ruin the entire crop in record time. They have large, green-colored bodies that have ornamental, white V-shaped marks and a prominent, red-colored horn on their rear. They feed on the gardens and, if not taken care of, can ruin your entire garden.
Tomato hornworms lay eggs on the underside of the foliage – these eggs hatch in 4 to 6 weeks. The larvae feed on the foliage and grow rapidly before they cocoon in the soil for the winters. When the weather turns warm, they emerge as moths, and the cycle continues.
How to Prevent and Control Tomato Hornworm Infestation?
A tomato worm infestation can be extremely frustrating. However, the good news is that there are numerous ways to control and even prevent an infestation of these worms in your garden. With a little effort and hard work, you can save your precious tomato crop from these voracious monsters!
Prevention of Tomato Hornworm Infestation
Taking simple precautions at the right time is all it takes to prevent a tomato worm infestation. Let’s have a look at some of the most effective and promising precautions that will keep tomato worms away from your garden.
1. Inspect Your Plants Thoroughly
You can prevent a tomato hornworm infestation if you stay one step ahead at all times. A thorough inspection of your crops every few weeks, especially on the underside of the leaves will help you detect any signs of tomato worms early on. The more vigilant you are with your inspection, the fewer the chances are that you’ll miss any tomato worms.
2. Water Spray
If you do come across a minor tomato hornworm infestation during your inspection (basically, you find small worms on your crops), you can still prevent it from spreading and becoming a full-scale infestation. Spraying the leaves with water will knock the worms off the crops into the soil. Although it may not sound very effective, this simple preventive measure can go a long way!
3. Till the Soil
The most effective way to prevent a tomato worm outbreak is to till the soil at the beginning and the end of every gardening season. A single adult female can lay up to 2,000 eggs. Tilling the soil can eliminate as much as 90% of larvae. While you till the soil, keep a lookout for small, brown-colored torpedoes. If you find any, transfer them to a bucket full of soapy water. This will kill the larvae and keep your crops safe. The key here is not skipping the tilling of the soil.
4. Crop Rotation
Although it is not the most effective prevention technique, crop rotation can help keep tomato worms at bay. When you change the place of your tomato crop every season, the worms will find it hard to locate the crops. You should also make sure not to plant any variety of the nightshade family in the same spot. For example, if you planted tomatoes this season, you shouldn’t plant potatoes in the same spot next season!
5. Cover the Ground
One way to keep tomato hornworms from infesting your tomato crops is by covering the ground around your tomatoes with black plastic mulch. This sheet of mulch will act as a barrier and will prevent the adult worms from emerging from the soil when the spring season comes around.
6. Spray Natural Insecticides
One of the most effective preventative measures is stopping the moths from laying eggs in the first place. Spraying a mixture of cayenne powder, garlic, insecticidal soap, and water will prevent the moths from laying their eggs on your plants. No eggs means no larvae, which eventually means no infestation. Voila!
7. Plant a Trap Crop
A trap crop like dill will attract tomato worms toward itself. This way, your tomato crops will stay protected. Moreover, having all the worms gathered in one place will make detection and elimination treatment easier.
8. Use Pop-Up Bird Netting
Pop-up bird netting is used to keep birds away from your crops. However, since tomato hornworms are quite large in size, the bird net keeps the worms from crossing it, too. However, this preventive measure comes with certain cons; firstly, it is expensive, and secondly, it cannot hold back the moths that emerge directly from the soil.
9. Use Variety of Control Methods
One way to prevent a tomato hornworm infestation in the future is to employ a variety of pest control and treatment methods. Using the same techniques/chemicals every time you get an infestation can result in the hornworms developing a resistance to the products that you constantly use. Therefore, if you use a different hornworm elimination technique every season, you can prevent an infestation altogether.
Getting Rid of Tomato Hornworm Infestation
Detecting the presence of a tomato hornworm infestation in the initial stages is quite difficult. By the time the signs of an infestation appear, it has probably spread all over your plants. However, just because you have a tomato hornworm infestation doesn’t mean you’ve to say goodbye to your crops. You can still get rid of it, provided that you do something about it fast!
Tomato hornworms neither bite nor sting, which makes handpicking them off your plants easy. If you have the patience and time, you can inspect all the plants thoroughly and get rid of all the worms. Once you remove them from your plants, you can either crush them or put them in a bucket full of soap water. Also, if you have any bird feeders or chickens at home, you can always add these collected worms to their feed.
2. Use Homemade Solutions
Using chemicals on your tomato plant isn’t recommended. As mentioned above, a mixture of cayenne powder, garlic, soap, and water is a very effective worm-killing solution. Not only does it kill the worms, but it also reduces the chances of a tomato hornworm infestation in the future.
3. Use Thuricide
Thuricide is a strain of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that poisons young caterpillars but has no significant effect on other beneficial garden fauna. It is an excellent way of getting rid of a tomato worm infestation.
The powdered or liquid concentrate of thuricide is mixed with water and is sprayed on the tomato crop after the tomato worm infestation has spread. This affects the young hornworms and adults alike and kills them before they can do any further damage to the plants.
4. Set Up Bird Baths
Setting up birdbaths in your garden will transform your garden into a haven for birds that feed on caterpillars. Birds like Robins and Mockingbirds will feed on tomato hornworms, and hence will prevent the tomato hornworm infestation from getting out of control.
5. Use Natural Predators
Just like some birds, there are numerous creatures that would feed on hornworms fondly. These natural predators, such as green lacewings and ladybugs, will vigorously feed on tomato hornworms and help you get rid of the infestation in no time.
6. Encourage Parasitic Wasps
Parasitic wasps are a natural enemy of tomato hornworms. These wasps lay their eggs on the back of tomato hornworms. When these eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the hornworms, hence, killing them.
Tomato hornworms are definitely a major threat to your tomato crops, not because they can’t be killed but because they vigorously feed on tomato plants. By the time you come up with a treatment plan, they might have already fed on most of your crops. Staying ahead of the infestation is the most intelligent thing to do. Taking the necessary preventive measures will ensure that you aren’t caught off guard at any time during the harvesting season.