When Giant Alien Green Worms Attack

Mary Nida Smith, you are the winner of the book, “A Pug’s Tale.” Thanks to everyone who commented, Tweeted and voted in the Petties for my other blog, K9 Chronicles Rescue Me for the Best Cause Related Blog. Remember, you can vote up to 2-3 times per day until July 29!  There will be more book giveaways to come this summer!


Photo Courtesy of University of Minnesota


When I went to let Molly and Dakota out before dawn one day last week, I knew there was something strange about my three potted tomato plants that sit on the party deck.

As I stood there, keeping one eye on the dogs and one eye on the tomato plants, I thought I saw one of them move.

“What the…..”

After letting the dogs back in, I grabbed a flashlight and went back out to get a better look.

Sure enough, something was eating the plants and most of the tops were already gone!

Dale soon joined me. “What are you doing out here?”

“Something is eating my plants,” and I proceeded with a few explicatives not suitable for a family oriented blog.

As we studied further, we found these huge, green munching worms. They were fat and disgusting and worse yet, they were dropping these huge, rabbit sized pellets all over the deck.

We both grabbed paper towels, as neither of us wanted to touch them and started pulling them off and throwing them as far as we could into the woods.

Dawn revealed the extent of the damage.

Days before, my tomato plants were huge and very healthy. Dale even asked, “Are you growing tomato plants there or trees?”

These ugly insects worked fast. Just the evening before, Dale was out at dusk admiring the plants. I watched him look over the plants from the kitchen, where I was doing dishes.

I wish I could show before and after photos of the plants, but I’m having trouble getting my older SLR digital Canon  to communicate with my new laptop with Windows 7. Canon says there is no “driver” for the device with Windows 7. (?)

Throughout the day, we pulled probably at least a dozen of these disgusting things from the plants.

I also read up on green tomato hornworms. These critters are pretty common, although we had never dealt with them before.

Per a couple of organic website instructions, I once again crushed a clove of garlic and mixed in a tablespoon of cayenne pepper with a quart of water. I sprayed the plants, waited for them to dry (not hard in this heat, even in the morning) and then liberally sprinkled the plants with cornstarch, which is suppose to smother the worms.

It must have worked, as later in the day, I saw only one more worm and it was dead at the bottom of the pot.

Last night, we enjoyed our first three tomatoes on BLTs, so all is not all lost.  We still have a half dozen large tomatoes that will come on soon (knocking on wood) and quite a few cherry tomatoes. There should also be plenty of time for the plants to recover and bud a few more.

What kinds of garden pests do you deal with?


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32 Responses

  1. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I don’t think we have that particular pest here in NZ, but I’m guessing that your awesome sounding pest spray would deal with many a tomato munching nasty. LOVE it!

    • kerri says:

      Thanks, Frugal. It is working so far. Had something munching on a tomato overnight, so they all got sprayed again. I didn’t see worms, but we have aphids as well.

  2. We have an ant infestation in our front and backyard. I don’t know where they’re coming from — never had a problem before this year — but they’re out of country.

  3. Jane Boursaw says:

    Well, with that title I just HAD to click through and read this piece! Those tomato worms really ARE like something that landed here from another planet. I’m afraid to even go look at our tomatoes.

    And is garlic the quintessential “good for what ails ya” thing or what? I don’t know what the human race would do without it. 🙂

  4. Slugs. I hate them. But my neighbor’s chickens will eat them. We put eggshells around the plants to keep the slugs off, with varying degrees of success…

    • Kerri says:

      Ugh, I hate those too, Jennifer. I used to remember all kinds of things to keep slugs at bay, but I cannot remember now.

  5. Sheryl says:

    Ugly beasts! Glad you found a safe remedy and managed to salvage
    what you could. Aside from various insects, we have our share of deer, woodchucks, rabbits, raccoons and other creatures that sneak around at night, eating all my flowers and plants. I suppose I need some kind of scarecrow, although it wouldn’t do much good 😉

    • kerri says:

      That’s part of the reason I do deck gardening, Sheryl. There are products that can help. I believe the garlic/cayenne pepper mixture also keeps deer away. But there are also commercial products too. Liquid Fence, I believe, is the name of one.

  6. Wow those are yucky! I just generally have trouble keeping my tomato plants from going yellow. I guess I don’t water them enough.

  7. Wow, these beasties are truly gross! I haven’t encountered them, but every year at least one or two of my tomato plants succumbs to blight, and it’s so sad. One day it’ll be a towering healthy plant, a week later, covered with yellow leaves, and a few weeks later dead, with the little green tomatoes all shriveled. I’ve tried planting blight-resistant varieties, but I always seem to lose at least two by season’s end. So I share your pain; so glad all is not lost!

    • Kerri says:

      Wow, I haven’t had that problem either, Melanie, with the blight. I know different parts of the country has worse disease problems than others. Maybe consulting with a local organic grower would help? I couldn’t get through a summer without a nice, homegrown tomato!

  8. Heather L. says:

    That’s a great worm remedy. I’ll have to remember it for next year. I gave up on growing tomatoes this year. I hear they require sun.

  9. The worst we’ve had in the greenhouse is aphids. I usually spray the plants down with soapy water, but in bad cases, we’ve bought lady bugs and let them loose.

    • Kerri says:

      I’ve wondered about the soapy water remedy. I’ve heard that it can actually harm the plants if you don’t get the right mix.

  10. Olivia says:

    In addition to all the insect critters that nibble on our tender plants, birds also do quite a number and, last year, mice from a nearby woodpile took bites out of all our squash!

    I also remember a dog who used to go out to the cornpatch and pick his own cob, bring it back and eat it. He could go through a fair amount of corn during a season!

  11. merr says:

    Holy cow! Our tomatoes just lost all their life to some kind of scavenger that left the leaves all full of holes practically overnight, and burrowed into a few of the tomatoes, though not all. I’m glad you could save yours! I’m keeping your recipe for a natural repellent. My neighbor mentioned the ole hornworm, telling me it could get up to a foot long (is that true??!!). But we think something else might have zapped our tomatoes, though I’m much better prepared for our next attempt!

    • Kerri says:

      The hornworms will strip the leaves so you might have had something else. I think there are grasshopper type bugs that get on them as well. Oh, the woes of gardeners! I’m sorry, I hope you have much better luck next year!

  12. Gosh, Kerri, was I surprised and excited to be the winner of your book give away. Thanks. I will enjoy. Mary Nida

  13. Susan says:

    The only solace in having tomato hornworms is that the ones who live eventually turn into the beautiful sphinx moth – sometimes also known as the hawk or hummingbird moth. Our local garden magazine had an article by a gal who “praised” the hornworm because of what it becomes. 😉

    As for control methods, handpicking the hornworms from infested plants is a safe and effective option in smaller plantings like yours. Roto-tilling the soil after harvest will destroy many of the burrowing larvae which are attempting to pupate. Tillage has shown to cause up to 90% mortality.

    There are many natural predators that help to control tomato hornworm infestations. The egg stage and early larvae stage are often preyed upon by various insects such as lady beetles and green lacewings.

    Tomato hornworm larvae are also parasitized by a number of insects. One of the most common is a small braconid wasp. Larvae that hatch from wasp eggs laid on the hornworm feed on the inside of the hornworm until the wasp is ready to pupate. The cocoons appear as white projections protruding from the hornworms body. If such projections are observed, the hornworms should be left in the garden to conserve the beneficial parasitoids. The wasps will kill the hornworms when they emerge from the cocoons and will seek out other hornworms to parasitize.

    Another important natural enemy is the wasp. It kills and feeds upon a large proportion of the larvae, and will also attack cabbage looper and other garden caterpillars.

    Some gardeners have reported that bantam chickens will hunt for the worms and remove them from your plants. Now THAT would be fun to watch!

    • Kerri says:

      I’m a firm believer that everything in nature has its place, but the woman who praised the hornworm can have all of mine for her tomato plants! 🙂
      I’ve heard chickens really, really think these are a great treat.

  14. Peter says:

    These little boogers got two of my celebrity tomatoes before I even noticed they were there! They’ve be ‘taken care of’. I feel like a garden mobster hit man!

  15. Gareth says:


    That will likely be cabbage worms (loopers) See any white winged Moths? look at the underside of your broccoli leaves for tiny green worms (caterpillars). Pull them off and squish them. I did this to a few and shortly 2-3 wasps showed up attracted likely by the smell of something squished out of the cabbage worms) and now patrol my garden they will work right next to my hands while I’m inspecting the leaves of my broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, then go about there business. They will even follow my hand while I pick the worms off leaf undersides and drop them where the wasps are able to jump on them. Now thats a beneficial biologic! 🙂 First day I picked and killed maybe 30-40, next 2-3 then none, though I’ve killed two white moths which were there to lays eggs, so the battle continues…

  16. Kerri says:

    Ugh. And I know neither of us wants to use nasty pesticides!

  17. Alexandra says:

    How disappointing! We have squash vine borer, so I can never grow zukes, which should be in every garden, in my opinion. My sister-in-law planted broccoli for me, but something is eating the leaves.