I received an email the other day from a reader in Richmond, Virginia. He reported that is garden is doing much better this year even though he got off to a slow start. He also sent me a great photo he took that morning of a visitor on his tomato plant.
Yes, you’ve probably guessed it — it was a hornworm.
I have a few hornworms from time to time but the Braconid wasp (a beneficial insect) keeps them under control. So I usually see the worm (paralyzed) with the white cocoons of the wasp’s larvae on their back. In that case — I just leave them so the life cycle of the wasp can be completed. With those cocoons on his back — the hornworm is paralyzed and no further threat to my tomato plants.
If you’ve had the hornworm on your tomatoes you know they can get as long as your palm and can make fast work of stripping your tomato plants. That’s usually how I know I have one — when I see a bare stem with no leaves. Then I look for the hornworm. He can blend right in with the plant and be hard to spot.
About a week ago, Bill and I were checking the tomatoes and saw the tell-tale stripped branch. We spotted a huge hornworm —- no cocoons on its back. Without hesitating I cut the small branch it was on, threw it to the ground, and stomped it. We found another and did the same.
And then I realized I should not have acted without thinking.
The Braconid wasp lays its eggs inside the hornworm and could have already rendered the hornworm helpless without any visual indication. I could have discovered that by taking a twig or a tool and prodding the hornworm. If he responded then I could have stomped him. But if he didn’t respond — then I could have left him to complete his role in the life cycle of the visitor you want in your garden — the Braconid wasp.
Even though I try to provide flowers with nectar for beneficial insects — they also need to be able to breed. So having a hornworm or two is good for keeping the Braconid wasp around.
Fortunately, the next day I found two more hornworms. One was small and only about an inch long and covered with the white cocoons. (Made me feel much better.) I also found another great big one with no cocoons, but he didn’t move at all when I prodded him. So I left him. Haven’t seen any more. I’m satisfied that my tomato plants are safe and that I’ve provided everything this tiny, helpful wasp needs to continue in my garden helping me with pest control.
Now, if I could just get something that would take care of squash bugs.
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and a lot healthier.
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Photo of Hornwom with cocoons is copyrighted by Kristen Leonard.