Something’s Eating My Tomatoes!

Hmm… what the heck is going on here? Is it an animal chowing down on your precious tomato plants?

Maybe. Got deer problems? While they don’t normally eat tomato plants, occasionally a youngster decides to check out the flavor. It depends on how much of the plant is missing. A deer will only taste it, sipping off one young branch or two, perhaps merely stripping off the leaves. The damage you see in this image is a lot more invasive than a taste test… Best not to guess and pass on by though, because it’s more likely to be the handiwork of the scariest thing you’ll find in your garden or on your balcony.

The dreaded hornworm.

Unlike a lot of plant pests, you could be looking right at these things and not noticing their presence. Their camouflage is very well done. If you see bare branches in the upper part of a tomato plant, you better start investigating the contents of the trunk and stems right away. They have impressive appetites. Search every inch of that plant immediately. Tomorrow might be too late. They feed during the coolest part of the day – dawn and dusk, resting up during the hotter hours deep inside the plant.

Either one of these is probably your culprit: tomato hornworm (left) or tobacco hornworm (right):

[column size=one_half position=first ]Tomato Hornworm[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ]Tobacco Hornworm[/column]

Check all of your plants while you’re at it. Their momma most likely laid a lot more than one egg. Birds find them delicious though, so with any luck you have only one or two to worry about, but you won’t know until you hunt.

How do you get rid of tomato hornworms?

No spraying needed. Pick it off and squish it. Throw it way out in the weeds somewhere. Drop that ugly thing in the street – anywhere a long way from your sacred tomato plants if you’re not the varmint killin’ kind. However, remember, if you let it live, it might survive, and turn into a mature moth who will lay more eggs on your tomatoes next year. Close your eyes and do your part at disrupting the continuance of this particular branch of the Sphinx Moth species. It’s an undesirable insect, not a puppy.

Want help protecting your tomato plants without turning to pesticides? Along with some really awesome tips on how to grow killer tomatoes this year, Lorren from GardenRx has a valuable trick to share. He also will tell you how to stop birds from pecking holes in your tomatoes too. Song birds that is. He has nothing to offer if wild turkeys are a problem – they don’t peck, they eat half of each fruit just before it is perfectly ripe.

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  • VIrginia Brown says:

    Half of one beautiful ripening tomato, went to pick and complete half had been eaten, surely no bird? Another had a big bite taken out of it otherwise others were perfect, any suggestions. Could a bat be to blame?


Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.