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The first year we really grew a garden, I never, not once saw a hornworm. Wait until the following year and all of my tomato plants were covered in their green ugliness.
Last year, same thing, even though our garden was new, we were bombarded with hornworms, again!
I knew we needed to get rid of the green nasties and the chickens weren’t going to cut it, so what’s a girl to do?
Picking them off one by one was less than desirable and it didn’t seem to keep them from coming back.
I had definitely had enough. While I think the sphinx moth is absolutely stunning, I don’t need it eating up my tomatoes, peppers, or any other nightshade variety that these caterpillars seem to have an appetite for. It was time to find a way to keep them under control, quickly, and naturally.
Natural Hornworm Control
Till Up The Garden – After harvest and first thing in the spring, bring out the tiller and till that garden up. It will effectively kill up to 90% of the pupae hiding in the upper layers of the soil.
However, it will not kill the hornworms at the larvae stage. For those, you’ll need another line of defense. But, 90% of the pupae that are overwintering before they become troublesome in your garden? Pretty good odds.
Hand Pick – Tomato hornworms are fairly large, but kind of hard to see because their color helps them blend into the plants they’re feeding off of. However, picking them off by hand is a sure-fire way to keep them under control.
If you have a lot of them, handpicking can be tiresome, but well worth it. It’s best to try to find them near dusk when they’re likely to be out and on the prowl. You can drown them in soapy water, or feed them to your chickens. Yes, chickens can eat them, just don’t give them the leaves they’re munching on.
Release the Ducks – Ducks, guineas, or even chickens will eat your tomato hornworms, assuming they can reach them. Ducks are generally the least destructive to your garden and will generally leave your fruits alone. Chickens are a little more destructive and will eat things you don’t care for them to.
This is one of the reasons we have ducks on our homestead. While they can be quite messy, they’re incredibly entertaining and they’re great at taking care of garden pests.
Diatomaceous Earth – Diatomaceous earth, or DE for short, is nothing short of amazing. Completely non-toxic and natural, it is great for killing off all kinds of pests.
DE scours an insects outer layer off as it crawls across the substance. This stuff is long lasting, but needs reapplied when it rains. It will not hurt your plants. It’s pretty cheap at the feed store. We use it for a variety of things, you don’t have to be too shy when using this stuff. Just ensure it is food grade!
Invite Beneficial Insects – Beneficial insects are an amazing addition to any garden, seriously. I know we’re all about getting rid of the creepy crawlies, but some creepy crawlies keep the bad guys away.
The lacewing and the lady beetle are two beneficial insects that will feed on hornworm larvae. There’s another….
Companion Plant to Attract the Right Enemies– Braconid wasps will kill off hornworms in an instant simply because the larval stage wasps feed on the hornworms insides.
To attract braconid wasps to your garden, you should plant things like carrots, mint, dill, oregano, and thyme near your tomatoes. The wasps like to feed on their nectar.
If you happen to see a hornworm covered in little white dots, just leave it alone. The hornworm is done feeding and the wasps are doing their job.
Hornworms, like all garden pests, can be a total nuisance and pain. But, there are ways to naturally keep them at bay in your garden.
How do you keep hornworms off of your plants in your garden?