How to identify and remove tomato horn worms

July 20, 2011 | 2:07 pm

“That is humongous!” my four- year-old exclaimed as I held up a tomato horn worm.  I agree, they are humongous; I might also describe them as the grossest thing I will ever find in the garden! I broke off the stem it was chewing on, so that I wouldn’t have to touch the horrid caterpillar. These horn worms nibble on my tomato plants every year. Fortunately, this year I found them before they shredded the entire plant.

They initially feed on the leaves on the upper part of the plant. Their green camouflage makes them very hard to see but I found these two because I saw their dark brown droppings (caterpillar poop) on a leaf. I looked on the leaves and stems above the poop and sure enough, there it was, enjoying my tomato plant.  In fact, I found ten of them on four plants! One or two more days and they certainly would have done some major damage. Entomologists suggest examining your plants at least twice a week. Once you find them, you can squish them (gross and messy) or drop them in soapy water.  The tomato horn worm will defoliate your tomato plant and destroy your hopes of big juicy tomatoes. Now that the girls know what to look for, they are on tomato horn worm patrol!

I wish that we could have said our tomatoes were humongous instead of the tomato horn worm. My tomato plants are tall, green, flowering, and healthy! However, they lack one thing: TOMATOES!! My garden, as well as most of this country, is baking and suffering in a relentless, dry, heat wave.  The extreme heat prevents tomatoes from setting fruit (pollinating and making a tomato).  When day time temperatures are above 95 degrees, and remain above 75 degrees at night, tomatoes, as well as other garden plants, will not pollinate. Pollination will occur when the weather cools.

I am at the mercy of the weather again! Until cooler temperatures arrive, I will continue to provide water, nutrients, and will be on guard for the tomato horn worm or other pest and diseases that will keep me from growing big juicy tomatoes.