Defending Against Tomato Worms

Your tomato plant is going to live a life of battling off all kinds of little pests and the threat of disease and fungi. Some particularly nasty fellows come in different varieties of ‘tomato worms’ as many call them. These are Bollworm, Cutworm and the smallest but worst of all – Root Knot Nematodes.

The first two varieties can be dealt with relatively easily if you see evidence of them attacking your plant.

Bollworm (or Fruitworm)

You’ll find this common caterpillar pest in vegetable gardens the world over, munching away on anything it can find. Tunnelling into the tomatoes and leading to rot. They resemble fat little caterpillars that change in color as they grow and mature – but will usually be green and so hard to spot on your plant.

If you find one yourself simply pick it off and if you see damaged fruit, pick off and destroy. For prevention the best are natural predators of the bollworm, of which there are fortunately many. Ladybirds are my personal favourite, as they fight off many other common tomato pests at the same time. Some other options are damsel bugs, lacewings, most birds, shield bugs and parasitic wasps.

Cutworm

These caterpillars are one of the biggest threat to seedlings. They get their name from the clean cuts they leave across seedling stems as they eat through them in the night. Often leaving nothing but a sawn-off stem as evidence of their midnight meal.

They strike when the plant is at its weakest – in the first 3 weeks of its life outdoors. But there are ways to safely protect your seedlings, precautions that are well worth taking. Mulching is a great start.

And you can erect a small defensive wall, or collar, placed around the seedling, which will stop them getting in. This can be made from aluminium or wax paper, and should be not less than 3 inches in diameter. Dug at least one inch into the ground to stop diggers, and rising two inches above to stop high-climbers. Make sure weeds are cleared around the area.

The Dreaded Nematodes

Root Know Nematodes are microscopic worms that can set up colonies in the roots of the tomato plants, creating little lumps or knots, hence the name. They weaken plants considerably when present, stunting the root growth and functioning, allowing other disease and fungi to strike the plant. And they can also spread their own viruses into the plant.

You can spot a plant afflicted by its stunted growth or premature wilting of the leaves. A general overall unhealthy look to it as the roots simply cannot suck up enough nutrients and moisture to promote normal growth and recovery.  If you find a poorly plant, uproot some of the roots and check for the final evidence – lumps on the roots.

Once they are present in the soil, nematodes are very difficult if not impossible to get rid of. Only sterilizing the soil can guarantee their demise, but that will kill all the goodness in the soil too.

The only real prevention of these little tomato worms is to rotate your crops and do it diligently. If you have the same crops of vegetables which are very susceptible to Root Knot Nematodes – like tomatoes – repeated over and over again, you are creating a wonderful habitat for them in the soil. And the nematodes will thrive.

Alternating in other plants and vegetables which nematodes don’t like will prevent colonies from ever getting established and keep your soil clean. Some examples are legumes, maize, anything in the grass family.

When it comes to nematodes –prevention is the only real cure.

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