Organic Control for Tomato Hornworms on Peppers
Posted on 21 July 2016
Tomato Hornworms are really big green caterpillars that can devastate your pepper garden. Giant brown moths lay pearl-like eggs on your pepper leaves, from which the monsters will hatch and start to eat voraciously. They can decimate all the leaves on a plant overnight.
The best organic control might be picking the caterpillars off the plants, but by then it could be too late to save your plants. Also, touching and pulling them off is gross, but depending on how mad you are, you won’t mind! Then destroy them by dropping in a bucket of soapy water or cutting the caterpillar in half.
If your tomato hornworms have little white eggs on their backs you might want to keep them as pets (prisoners). These are parasitic wasp eggs, and after the wasp larvae hatches, it spins a cocoon on the hornworm for protection. They slowly consume their prey to fuel their growth to adulthood. These adult wasps will then go lay eggs on more hornworms.
Other beneficial insects like yellow jackets, lady beetles and green lacewing larvae also enjoy feasting on young tomato hornworm caterpillars. By attracting these helpful insects with native plants and flowers, and implementing additional controls, like row covers and marigold borders, pesky tomato hornworms on your peppers could soon be a thing of your gardening past. Learn more about how to Attract Beneficial Insects to your Garden »
We've also heard growing a patch of dill near tomatoes works like a trap crop, because hornworms will attack the dill over the tomatoes. Dill grows like a weed and is easy to direct sow from seed, so if you grow enough of it you won't likely miss the dill. You could pick off the hornworm caterpillar off the dill if desired and squish and throw into the compost, or let nature run it's course - more than likely they may become bird food or wasp food before they mature. And when they do mature, these hornworm caterpillars turn into what we call "hummingbird moths" also known as sphinx or hawk moths, which are fun to watch – they are frequently mistaken for small hummingbird as they zip about in the garden.
We also have Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on Dill, and we see the caterpillars, but they often seem to disappear before they get very large – probably due to the wasps and other beneficial insect predators that are attracted to the flowers. We hope these little guys made it, the Black Swallowtails they transform to are gorgeous and lovely to see in the garden.