Caterpillars in Tomatoes, Peppers and Basil

Livermore, CA

Hi! I have recently discovered my tomatoes, basil and peppers had huge holes in the leaves. I have pulled 3 hornworms out of my tomatoes, each of which was AT LEAST 3 in. long. I pulled one small caterpillar off my peppers. I haven't seen anything since, but I can tell there's still something eating the peppers and the basil. I was wondering what other options there are that are safe for all 4 of my plants.

Little Elm, TX(Zone 8a)

Handpicking every day is the best method. I had issues with hornworms on my tomato plants, but after a few days of checking and eliminating them I haven't seen any since. If you notice leaves being eaten and no hornworms in sight, then it could be a number of things such as slugs and grasshoppers. If it's slugs or grasshoppers just catch them and throw them in a jar of soapy water to kill them. The bigger grasshoppers are easier to catch by hand but the baby grasshoppers you will need a net. If you are grossed out by slugs like me just use chopsticks to pick them up lol. You can easily just catch any bugs that you don't like and put them in the soapy jar too. Just remember to close the lid.

This spring I started being proactive about organic spraying and grooming my plants and it's really made a difference in pest control. Early in the morning I clean the entire plant by just spraying with water from branch, stem to underside of leaves, and anywhere on the plant where I notice bugs. Then the next morning I use neem oil mixed with water or sometimes mixed with water plus soap and spray the entire plant. Never spray oil in the middle of the day when the sun is out. If it's going to be cloudy all day it will be less risky. I also keep tall weeds and grass away from my plants.

If you have a really bad infestation of ants for example first flood them out and clean the plant. If you notice aphids and can't get them off with water just use a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and gently clean the plant from the branches, stem, leaves, and underside of leaves. Then do the neem oil spray and then clean the plant the next day if you notice ants or aphids returning. If you have a lot of plants that have bad infestation it might be better to just pull them out so the infestation doesn't spread. This is why I recommend you over plant because some plants may perish to pest pressure.

I hope that helps. Good luck!

Livermore, CA

Thanks for the response! It was really helpful. The problem I'm running into, is that I go out and check the plants, but can't see anything. I've heard of some sprays with soap and cayenne. I'm concerned about spraying something like that on my basil. Any thoughts?

Little Elm, TX(Zone 8a)

I tried the cayenne and soap solution before on ants but those ants didn't care. They still walked around like nothing happened. The spray may work on some bugs to disguise the smell of the plant or keep squirrels from eating your plants. Bird seeds soaked in pepper is a popular option to keep squirrels away. You can spray the soap and cayenne mixture on your basil but do it in the morning and don't overdue it on the soap. Some plants are very sensitive to soap and may suffer.

Another organic solution is to mix diatomaceous earth (DE) with water and spray the plant. Do it on a dry day and make sure it doesn't rain the next day. DE will dry out the bug's body and slowly kill it. If the DE gets wet again after being on the plant it won't work. Make sure to wear gloves and a mask so you don't breathe in the dust particles. You will have to reapply every few days.

If you have plants in containers you can transplant the plants into new soil and new containers. This will help if the bugs are living in the soil. If you can't move the plants then you'll have to check the plants at least twice a day under the leaves, stem, branches, and on top of the leaves. If you have mulch nearby check it for bugs too. You won't find slugs if it's day time unless you look in hiding spots like under rocks, old wood, and mulch. They come out after a rain and early in the morning.

Have fun gardening!

Poughkeepsie, NY(Zone 6a)

Also use BT. It's an all natural, safe product that works.

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