The Busy Gardener

Garden Pests

How to Get Rid of Hornworm Caterpillars Organically

Anyone who’s ever had a garden knows that pests can be a big problem. One of the most destructive—and hardest to get rid of—pests is the caterpillar of the tobacco hornworm moth. These voracious eaters can quickly strip a plant of all its leaves, leaving it vulnerable to disease and death. Luckily, there are some organic methods you can use to get rid of them.

Pick Them Off By Hand

This is probably the most time-consuming method, but it’s also the most effective. Check your plants daily for caterpillars and pick them off by hand, dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. If you’re squeamish about touching them, you can wear gloves or use tongs.

Attract Natural Predators

A bird snatches a juicy caterpillar. One less caterpillar to eat your tomato plant!

There are a few different predators you can attract to your garden to help control the caterpillar population. One is the braconid wasp, whose larvae parasitize caterpillars. Another is the trichogramma wasp, which lays its eggs inside caterpillar eggs, preventing them from hatching. You can buy these wasps at most garden stores, or you can attract them by planting certain flowers in your garden, such as dill, fennel, or cilantro.

Organic Pesticide Options

Make a Homemade Insecticide

If you’re looking for a DIY solution, you can make your own organic insecticide with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. Start by boiling 1 cup of water and adding 3 tablespoons of dish soap (any kind will do). Then add 1 tablespoon of Tabasco sauce (or any other hot sauce) and let the mixture cool. Pour it into a spray bottle and apply it to your plants every few days, or after it rains. The dish soap will degrade quickly in sunlight, so make sure to reapply it as needed.

Buy Ready-to-Use

If you don’t want to use chemicals, there are a few organic pesticides that will kill hornworms on contact. Neem oil is one option; just mix it with water (if a concentrate) and spray it on your plants. You can also use Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a bacteria that’s fatal to caterpillars but harmless to humans and animals. Just mix it with water (if a concentrate) and spray it on your infected plants.

In Conclusion

Hornworms are destructive pests that can be difficult to get rid of, but it’s definitely possible to control them using organic methods. Try picking them off by hand, using BT, Neem Oil, Homemade spray, or introducing beneficial insects around your plants. With a little patience and perseverance, you’ll soon have hornworm-free gardens!