Tomato Hornworms are the Enemy

Oct 12, 2015 | Plant Pests

by Cissy Henig, SCMG Intern

Let me say up front that I’m not interested in any discussion about beneficial aspects to the tomato hornworm. In this PC world, I am sure someone believes this nasty beast has some socially redeeming value. I don’t and I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not Gandhi; I don’t give a flying hoot about all living things and sharing the earth with them, karma for killing them, etc. My world is divided into me and my tomato plants on one side, and anything that threatens them on the other. I’m also not a bug specialist but you don’t have to know much about this d*** worm to know all you need to know. It devours your tomato plants – what more is there?

Now that we’re clear on that, let me describe this beast for any lucky person w/ a tomato plant not devoured by hornworms. It’s large, green, and worm-like (although a caterpillar). It is exactly the same color as the tomato plant (most of the time). I have found most success in pulling it off the plant – and it will fight to stay – from one end and working toward the middle. I’m not particular which end, only that I detach it from the plant. Then I drop it on the ground and step on it to squash it with my shoe. Hard. Green goop spurts out and I stand there, triumphant. One more victory for me.

But they are sneaky, these d*** things. They prefer to eat at night when civilized people are asleep, exhausted from mulching the other beds with compost and weeding around the day lilies. This is when the hornworm crawls up the tomato plant, along with all his friends and relations, of which he has many, and starts chewing. They chew all night long. They leave the stems of the plant denuded. Your plants look like you expect to grow tomatoes on artistically shaped green sticks. Then the despicable creatures disappear in the morning. Oh, you may find one or two or three especially greedy worms when you go out to see what miracles have happened in the garden while you slept. Make no mistake: this ain’t no miracle.

I used to fling them over the wall for the birds to enjoy. The birds declined. Then I threw them at the wall to see them splat. This mostly stunned them, I think. I thought about saving them for my neighbor’s chickens but I simply can’t bear to let them live long enough to collect then in a bucket and walk down the street to Ann’s house. Plus, she has tomato plants of her own and probably tomato hornworms of her own as well. So I just drop them and step on them. I leave their carcasses where they lie, as a warning of what will befall them to others.

It isn’t much consolation that this year they seem to have multiplied and are out in everyone’s tomato patch in droves. I have 12 tomato plants. My high count is 14 hornworms in one day, but I understand that’s nothing compared to what other gardeners are finding. It is possible that I’ve missed some. I plant marigolds in my tomato beds and have for years. This year my marigold plants fell prey to another nasty pest – grasshoppers, so I didn’t have flowers because I realized what had happened too late in the season. It is possible that marigolds in bloom would have mitigated this invasion.

I also had one hornworm this summer that was brown in color but otherwise identical to its green kin. I looked it up to make sure that it wasn’t some odd beneficial and found photos of it but no discussion about a brown variant. If anyone has information about this, I’d love to know about it. (Please don’t bother to tell me that I killed the last one of a very rare species. I am unrepentant.) {

Ed. Note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the SCMG organization. The newsletter welcomes opposing viewpoints from hornworm proponents.

Visit Our Facebook Page

Look for News in Your Favorite Category