Contrary to what most of the rest of the country is experiencing, we have been short on rain here while being abundant in heat. This has been the main challenge with growing a garden this year. Once I realized May and June were not turning out to be as wet as I had anticipated, I made use of our rain barrels and began watering plants with the delicious free water.
That is how I found the silent killer of tomato plants. I was not even looking. Actually brushed pasted it while reaching for a small tomato and then realized what I saw – a tomato horn worm. This fat guy does his job really, really well. He will spend his day going up and down the plant, quietly crunching on the leaves till there are almost none left. Thankfully I found him before he got to far.
While preparing to leave for Kansas to spend a week with family, I decided to do a last watering of plants in case it did not rain. So thankful I did as I found silent killer #2. This one was even larger and fatter than the first guy and had almost stripped three of my plants. This guy did not even last long enough for me to show the kids. A search of the plants and surrounding areas did not result in any further finds, so I watered the plants and went on our trip. My hope was the plants would survive. I picked all the small green tomatoes and left the plants to their fate.
When we returned one of the first things I did was go and check on the plants. There had been enough leaves remaining to keep the plant growing. Without the effort of needing to produce tomatoes the plants were putting leaves out from their stems like no one’s business. They have come back so well it is hard to tell they had been so decimated. I am not on the look out for further eaten leaves or caterpillars hiding along stems.
A few years back a friend of mine had the same problem in her garden but did not get to it in time. Something they found that helped in finding them was using a black light. It is not a perfect fix but may help if you are also in the midst of the battle and need help getting the upper hand.
Update: After returning from our trip, one of the first things I did was to check on these plants. To my wonderful surprise they had survived and fully leafed back out. They were delayed in producing tomatoes by a few weeks, but now you can not tell any difference between these and the ones on the trellis a few feet away. Something else came along and resulted in me pulling two of the plants. The one still growing is the one on the left in the photo above. It is growing so well it has taken up the entire trellis, plus some. I even rooted a few cuttings from this plant and have four more growing elsewhere in the garden.
Lesson learned: if you get horn worms in time and are able to keep them off this does not have to be a death sentence for your tomato plants.