I planted some cherry tomatoes a few months ago. They were doing great. Then this evening I got a shock.
Surprisingly, all the leaves at the top of the plant disappeared. Just like that. In one afternoon. They were nice and healthy in the morning, and no longer there in the afternoon. And several young tomatoes have been chewed into, not all the way, but atleast through the ski, as if they have been nibbled on.
The plant and fruits lower down are intact. None of the other plants in the patch are touched (yet!).
They start at the uppermost branches that can hold their weight, and then they eat their way down the branch until nothing is left but the stem. Then they start all over, on another branch...
That's why you see it happening at the top first. Look closely at the very tips of your top branches, and follow each one down the stem very carefully. Harry is a master of disguise, and will freeze like a popsicle when you approach, so he's harder to spot. But, he's there, LOL!
P.S. Consider the poop. The larger the poop pellets, the larger the hornworm! I've pulled 'em off thick as my thumbs! But, they're harmless, and will hold on for dear life. But yank 'em. They'll either play dead in your hand, or wiggle and click and try to puff up to startle you into dropping him. Don't go for that! Hold on!
And, consider being kind and just chucking him waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay across your fence somewhere. Your season will be over by the time he crawls back over the fence. Or, an eagle eyed bird will take him to the land of the Hornworms!
I've looked left, right, center, and under, standing, bending and on knees. If these guys are there, they are doing a darn good job at staying hidden. In the meantime, the one proud cherry tomato plant continues to get bludgeoned.
I'm attaching a photograph of a nibbled cherry that I spotted today morning. Would this be the kind of damage these creatures cause?
I got a rather strange advice from Home Depot today. Their conclusion is that birds are are eating into the young tomatoes and advised I get a decoy owl to fix the issue. Is this possible? Birds pecking on young tomatoes?
Odd for birds to eat the leaves, though. Especially in the pattern that so closely matches the damage done by hornworms.
While a mesh can keep out the birds, the hornworms are now inside the mesh with the tomatoes, and the beneficial birds that might have hunted the hornworms cannot get in. Go hunting with some scissors or pruning shears. Yes, they are masters of disguise.
Did you ever see any poop on the leaves below the damaged foliage? I agree you have more then one issue. Bird will eat the fruit, a few things will eat the leaves. Tomato worms being at the top of the list. I have 2 plants ( out of 70 +) that have poop on the leaves. I found one small hornworm but due to the size of the poop they are getting bigger. The bigger they are the harder it is to pull them off, yuck!
On a very calm day you can stare at a tomato plant and when you spot motion of the leaves it is a tip as to where to look for them but they are masters of camouflage and repulsive to yank off - wear gloves.
I've not known birds to eat tomato leaves, but they do peck at ripe tomatoes. Squirrels are huge pests, but they usually prefer ripe tomatoes.
If you've seen wasps (not bees) buzzing around your tomato plants, they may have carried away any caterpillars you might have had.
I've used bird netting in the past, but will NEVER do so again. Two beautiful, harmless snakes got caught up in the netting, plus it trapped birds that I had great difficulty in releasing. I've also tried hanging CD's to frighten birds. After awhile the birds ignored them, but not until a huge build-up of aphids took over. Carolina Chickadees love to eat aphids, and they teach their babies where to find them.
My organic approach to gardening is to plant more than I expect to eat. I've been doing it this way for sixty years.
It's always windy here at least some breeze. Will red wasps take hornworms? I spotted a small hornworm first thing this morning but I don't see damage, just poop, so I'm not worried about it. I won't use the bird netting either for exactly the same reason, Honey. Too bad your husband ate some of the extra tomatoes you put out. Lol I think that's so funny, he was dumpster diving in his own yard!
I consider myself very fortunate that birds have never been a problem with any of my produce. Maybe it's my cats, I won't tell the birds that the cats are useless.
Lisa - most bees and wasps are beneficial insects. I like watching wasps cruising the garden, they are much better than I at finding caterpillars. Wish they would find the svc's before they burrow into stems.
A decoy owl has kept relentless vigil over my vegetable garden for nearly a week now. My tomatoes have remained untained over that period. All appears well for now (i.e. atleast till the birds get smarter, which I figure they will).
My take on it all is that I indeed did have a hornworm issue (you all nailed that one), which attracted the birds, who then started picking on the tomatoes after taking care of the worms (I've stared at the shrub for hours to look for these). The foliage is coming back, and the tomatoes are definitely healthier.