“I got worms!” Sure this is an often-quoted line from the film Dumb and Dumber, but you may also find yourself saying this when you notice your plants and other vegetation are being eaten. There are a plethora of different types of worms that can damage your precious fruit and vegetable garden. From the Tomato Hornworm to the Cabbage Looper, we have a guide on how to identify and treat worms and caterpillars. While all these creatures can be treated with safe chemicals implemented by your pest control technician, there are other methods you can try before calling us.
Tomato Hornworms: Found throughout the United States, these large, fat caterpillars feed voraciously on the leaves and fruits of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. They are typically green with a longhorn stationed at its bottom. Adults are sphinx moths: grayish-brown with orange spots on the body and a 4- to 5-inch wingspan. After overwintering in the soil in 2-inch brown spindle-shaped pupal cases, moths emerge in late spring to early summer to lay greenish-yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves. Caterpillars feed for about a month then enter the soil to pupate. Hand-picking and removing these caterpillars can be tedious, but chemical-free.
Cabbage Worms: These caterpillars are green large larvae with faint yellow stripes. Their texture is velvety with a little bit of fuzz. This is a common pest of cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and other members of the cabbage vegetable family. Do not be overly concerned if you see a hole in a leaf; plants can withstand much leaf loss without consequence. It is during seedling establishment or early head formation that plants will incur true damage to their growth and yield. These worms turn into white butterflies with light black, almost grayish, spots. You can manually remove them and their eggs. If you choose to use chemicals, consult the Cooperative Extension Services page of the Farmer’s Almanac.
Corn Earworm: The corn earworm (CEW), also known as the tomato fruitworm or cotton bollworm, is a pest of corn, tomato, cotton, beans, alfalfa, and tobacco. CEW larvae grow to be nearly 1-1/2 inches long when mature. They vary considerably in color from light green to tan, brown, pink, maroon, or nearly black, with light and dark stripes running lengthwise on the body, which is lighter on the underside. The head capsule is light brown. The larvae will feed on foliage, but prefer to feed on the more nutritious tips of corn ears, tomato fruit, and bean pods. The CEW moth, with a wing expanse of about 1-1/2 inches, is buff colored with irregular spots and markings on the wings. The front wings have a dark “comma” shaped spot that is more prominent in the males. Obviously, hand-picking may work. For corn, also try squirting half a medicine dropper of mineral oil into the tip of each ear of corn after the silks have wilted and have begun turn brown (applying oil earlier may interfere with pollination).
Cabbage Looper: Every region of North America hosts some form of cabbage looper. The caterpillar doesn’t have legs in the middle of its body so moves like an inchworm, with a “looping” motion. The larvae of a gray, night-flying moth, the looper chews ragged holes in the leaves of cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Later in the season, it bores into developing heads. There may be several generations per year. Hand-picking works, but ask your technician about BT Spray.
Pickleworm: This caterpillar is mainly a problem in the southeastern United States. It feeds on the blossoms, stems, and developing fruits of summer squash, and occasionally cucumbers and muskmelons. The adult moths emerge in spring after overwintering as pupae in semitropical areas such as southern Florida. They are known to be found sometimes in California. They migrate northward to lay eggs on leaves, buds, stems, and fruits of susceptible plants. After harvest, pull up and destroy vines, leftover fruits, and nearby weeds, all of which serve as overwintering sites for the insect. Plant as early as possible in order to harvest crops before late summer when damage is usually the greatest. Consider using BT spray.
Pests of home gardens are a hassle to deal with. Hand-picking and self-spraying methods can be tedious and even more frustrating if or when they aren’t fixing the problem. Always consult your pest control company in any case.