It’s my second year growing tomatoes, but the first year I’ve had some success–like my plants are actually growing, flowering, and fruiting! I’m so excited! BUT. Just like last year, all of a sudden the tomato hornworm appeared seemingly out of nowhere. So, how do you get rid of tomato hornworms?
I’m going to share what’s been working for me. I’ve been misting my tomato plants with water and basil essential oil every few days and it seemed to be helpful in keeping pests away. I didn’t notice any damage. Then I went a week without misting my plants and then today, I finally got around to it. Thanks to my brief stint raising monarchs, I immediately noticed the caterpillar poop on my tomato leaves, which could only mean one thing: TOMATO HORNWORM.
BTW, I have found these on my pepper plants too. NOTHING IS SAFE.
Found Satan in my garden today 💁🏻 I hadn’t misted my tomatoes with my basil spray in a week and I kept thinking, “I need to do that, I need to check my tomatoes for hornworms” and I didn’t get around to it until today and now I’m like, crying. Fun fact: last year I couldn’t touch these things–I had to get those rubber washing gloves to pull them off my tomato plant. Yes. Plant. I’m not excellent at growing things 😂 but this year I have 19 tomato plants and they’re actually growing–and if I can help it these guys will be dead and gone🤞🏼🤞🏼🤞🏼🤞🏼🤞🏼 high five if you can guess how many I pulled off…and I know I missed some so I’m making a spray with water, basil essential oil, onion, garlic, dried chives blossoms, dill, and dill seed–some are companion plants, but some are also good for repelling pests. I’ll do a blog post hopefully soon!
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Signs that you have tomato hornworms
Aside from noticing that some of your plants may be missing limbs (they will tear your plant apart!), there are a few things you might see:
Poop. Caterpillar poop, also known as frass–you’ll see droppings on leaves or on the ground. When I find poop I look in the limbs and leaves above the poop because the poop will often fall from the caterpillar who is further up. I also shake all the poop off the leaves that way when I go back later and see more poop then I know there is a hornworm lurking.
Holes in the leaves. I mean, this is a classic sign of a caterpillar right? It’s the same with a hornworm.
Leaves that are completely gone–they eat a lot.
Eggs! I was both excited and repulsed to find a couple of eggs on my plants; excited because I could take a photo and share them with you and because they weren’t hatched yet, and repulsed because hornworms gross me out.
How to get rid of Tomato Hornworm Naturally
You can pick them off the plant, but guys, they are tricky to find! They camouflage so well. I guess some people relocate them, but I just feed them to my chickens. Not sorry. Just FYI, if there is one on your plant, just assume there are two or more on each plant. I’m pretty sure I found four on a single tomato plant. Gross.
Make a spray and spray them off. I don’t have a study or anything, but I’d say that this was 40% effective–I took my basil spray (recipe at the end of the post) and sprayed all my plants. Sometimes if I sprayed enough on my plant the hornworms would fall off and I could pick them up off the ground and toss them in the bucket.
Let nature take its course. This one is hard to do because you have to have a parasitic wasp present. Basically, it lays eggs on the back of the hornworm and eventually kills it. So there’s that. If you find a hornworm with little white things all over it–those are wasp eggs.
This is crazy cool! Here a tomato hornworm, which is a huge pest in gardens around the country for the fact that they can quickly defoliate plants, is slowly meeting its fate. A parasitic wasp has laid eggs and now they are hatching from the back of this #tomatohornworm! A natural form of pest control.. How cool is that!!
Two DIY garden sprays
This is my second year gardening (really my first if you’re counting successful) and I’ve been experimenting with natural pest control. I had been using 2 drops basil essential oil in three cups of water–I added this to a spray bottle and would shake well before spraying on my plants (shaking a few times throughout the spraying process). I really think it was making a difference until, like a fool, I stopped spraying them completely. I went out and sprayed every three days.
When I found the tomato hornworms I decided I needed something extra powerful, but I am always so worried because I don’t want to stress out or kill my plants. I mean, they’ve been growing for months! But if I can’t get rid of the hornworms they’ll be dead anyway soooo. So basically, what I’m trying to say is that I’m in the testing phase with this spray–I used it this afternoon in the hottest part of the day and didn’t notice any negative effects on my plants…I did, however, have a super mad hornworm trying to fight me.
- 4 cups of water
- 1 bulb of garlic (chopped–don’t worry too much about removing the skin)
- 1 small onion (chopped–again, don’t worry about the skins)
- Fresh dill (or like, a tablespoon of dried dill–I didn’t have much of either so I also added dill seed)
- 3-5 chive blossoms
- 5 drops basil essential oil (this is where you can buy essential oils)
Boil the water then remove from heat and add the garlic, onion, chives and dill. Let all of that sit for half an hour, removed from heat and covered. Then put everything in a blender and puree the crap out of it. I then used a mesh strainer lined with a cheesecloth and poured the mix through into a glass measuring cup. I squeezed out the puree to make sure I was getting as much juice as possible (then I put the puree in my chicken feed, because medicine). Let everything cool, then pour the mixture into your spray bottle and add 5 drops of basil essential oil.
Garlic, dill, basil, chives, and onion are all companion plants for tomatoes, so I feel comfortable spraying them all over my tomatoes, but I guess garlic has also been used as a natural pesticide. So yay for plant magic! You can follow this post to make a super concentrated garlic juice for your plants, but I didn’t have time or patience for it 😉
If you have a natural solution for getting rid of hornworms please share in the comments!
Update June 27, 2017: I’ve been using this essential oil spray because I’m lazy.
Okay, so I used the spray above–felt it did an okay job, but took a lot of effort to make. So I decided to bust out some more essential oils and made a spray in my 16 oz glass bottle (you can find them here) with 5 drops arborvitae, 5 drops geranium, 5 drops melaleuca, and 5 drops peppermint. So far it hasn’t killed my plants (I’ve been using it for the past five days), and I’ve found significantly less worms. Like, yesterday I found two, and today I found zero. I mean, they’re so good at hiding that it’s entirely possible that they are still there, but there is hope!!