Are you among the gardeners who make morning coffee strolls through your gardens? I am. Not only is this a wonderful way to begin each day, but you can observe so much by quietly wandering among your flowering and edible plants. Just you, a wakening cup of coffee, the birds, and bees and other pollinators. With sharp eyes and ears, and no other distractions, you pick up all sorts of details you might otherwise miss.
I often carry along pruners and a bucket to collect yellowing leaves, deadheaded plant parts, clippings and weeds.
This morning’s tasks included removing spent blossoms from the last of my blooming iris ensata (unknown variety),
the earliest of my blooming daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’),
and whatever spent blossoms I found on Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ and assorted annuals.
I tended to potted tomatoes, removing yellowing leaves and suckers on the indeterminate varieties. (Unsure how to prune tomatoes? Read Fine Gardening’s great article)
While tomato tending I spotted a couple of holes chewed in one small tomato leaf near the lower region of just one of my potted plum tomatoes.
Being curious … and knowing the telltale signs of trouble … I flipped the leaf over. There, munching away was a very young, quarter-inch long, hornworm.
There are no signs yet of other hornworms which, when mature, have voracious appetites and will defoliate a tomato branch overnight. But you can bet a ripe tomato I’ll keep a close watch for others.
I found just one hornworm last September, when it was quite a bit larger, had already had a good sized meal of one tomato branch, and had left its telltale droppings.
I’m leaving this year’s youngster alone for now – watching and waiting to see if parasitic wasps decide whether it’s a worthy nursery. If you see a full grown hornworm with multiple white oblong-shaped structures on its back leave it in place. A parasitic wasp … a garden beneficial … has chosen the hornworm as the ideal home and early feeding ground for baby parasitic wasps. This is good.
Inexperienced veggie gardeners may freak at the sight of their beloved tomato plants literally munched to stems by hornworms. Daily tomato inspections can prevent severe devastation. You have to check the undersides of each leaf and along each stalk since hornworms are really talented at blending into their surroundings. Control them with handpicking or … if squeamish … use my favorite icky garden creature control method. Partially fill a coffee or juice can with water then add a couple of squirts of dish soap. With a gloved hand, a wooden popsicle stick, a plastic spoon or similar tool, knock the icky creature – slug, caterpillar, Japanese beetle, etc. – into the soapy water. They drown.
But, before disposing of all hornworms take some time to really check this creature out.
They can be quite beautiful when viewed with the right frame of mind and with a photographer’s eyes.