Burnett: Horn worm destructive to garden tomato plants

Congratulations to the Kelowna Garden Club and all who were involved in staging the annual Flower Show at Guisachan.

Congratulations to the Kelowna Garden Club and all who were involved in staging the annual Flower Show at Guisachan on Saturday, in particular the gardeners who entered their plants, flowers and arrangements.

The weather was hot and sunny which was very pleasant compared to what we have been experiencing lately.

I had a lovely group join me in the early afternoon for a walk through the Elaine Cameron gardens from a historical perspective. There is no question Elaine’s spirit was a part of that group.


Now the hot weather has arrived we should get some production out of our tomatoes, peppers and other sun lovers.

Keep in mind the hotter it gets and the more we water increases the need for plant nutrients.

Whether you are feeding with compost tea or a balanced manufactured fertilizer the need for more frequent applications is necessary.

Every year, I hear of a new way to support tomato plants, but I’ve never seen anything that beats the method used in our commercial greenhouses when I was growing up. The same method can also be used for cucumbers.

You need to have some kind of strong overhead support. I plant my tomatoes and cucumbers against my workshop on the south side so the over-hang of the roof provides it for me.

If your plants are out in the garden then strong overhead wire strung between two posts needs to be constructed.

Simply tie a loose loop around the base of the plant and tie the other end to the overhead support. Guide the plant around the twine as it grows.

You can have more than one support string for each plant to support a couple of side shoots but I advise three as a limit.

The great thing about this method is it keeps the fruit and plant off the ground, the fruit is more accessible, and it looks neat and tidy.

Mr. Tomato Horn Worm will soon be lurking in the tomato patch, and if you’ve never seen one of these monsters they can be quite startling. This type of worm is part of a fairly large family of moths, which include the tobacco horn worm. They get their name from the horn-like protrusion extending from the tail end of the larvae.

They will eat many types of plant material in the garden but without a doubt their favourite meal is any part of the tomato plant—stems, leaves and ripe or green fruit.

The adult moth is very large with a wingspan of three to four inches. Most often this moth is seen at dusk or at night flying around like a hummingbird seeking nectar from flowers and looking for a tomato patch to lay its eggs.

The eggs hatch into small horn worms which take about three to four days to reach their ultimate size. Even though a moth lays many eggs at a time only a few hatchlings reach maturity many having been a delicious meal for birds and other predators, which is why we normally only see one or two per plant.

This, however, is enough to do a lot of damage before detection. I remember as a youngster being paid a nickel to pick off and destroy the horn worms from my dad’s garden. With inflation, I’m sure the kids today would want loonies rather than nickels.

Kelowna Capital News