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Control Corn Earworms and Tomato Fruitworms

Updated on November 11, 2012
Corn Ear-Worm
Corn Ear-Worm | Source

Growing a garden is a wonderful hobby. One of the things gardeners dread most is the damage caused by pests. Corn earworms and tomato fruitworms are one of the pests that will attack your garden. Here are some tips to help you take care of them organically.

The adults of this pest are large, yellowish tan moths. They have a wingspan of one and one half to two inches. The larvae are light yellow, green, pink, or brown caterpillars. They are one to two inches long. The caterpillars have white and dark stripes along their sides. The eggs laid by these insects are round and light green. They have a ribbed pattern and are laid singly on the undersides of leaves or on corn silks. These worms live throughout all of North American.

Adult moths will emerge in early spring in the south to lay eggs. These eggs will hatch in two to ten days. It is possible that the moths will migrate north and fly long distances before they lay their eggs later in the season. The caterpillars will feed for two to four weeks and then pupate in the soil. Ten to twenty-five days later the new moths will emerge to start the cycle over again. It is possible for the pupae to overwinter in the soil. However, the earworm pupae are not hardy enough to survive through the winters in the norther United States and Canada. The corn earworms can produce up to four generations per growing season.

These pests will attack corn, peppers, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, okra, peanuts, squash, and sunflowers. As their name implies, however, corn and tomatoes are their favored meals. They will start eating the fresh corn silks and move down the ear, eating as they go. On the tomato plants, they will eat the flower buds, chew holes in the leaves and burrow into the ripe fruit. It is much the same, though less common, on the other types of plants.

Minor infestations in corn plants can be controlled by opening the corn husks and digging the larvae out with a paring knife before damage is done. This is not adequate to control heavier infestations, however. Try planting corn varieties that have tight husks to prevent the larvae from being able to get inside.

Attractive natural enemies of the worms is also a good tactic. Wasps, lacewings and pirate bugs will help keep them under control. Attract these allies by planting pollen and nectar plants close to your corn and tomato plants. And, if there are lights that are near your plants, keep them off at night. This will help by not attracting the moths to your plants.

If you have a small garden and can manage it, inspect your plants frequently. Pick off the caterpillars by hand, if possible. You can also apply several drops of vegetable oil to the tip of each corn ear. Do this three to seven days after the silks first appear.

No matter what you grow in your garden, you do not want insects eating your produce. Hopefully, these tips will help you keep the corn earworms, also known as tomato fruitworms, from eating away at your garden.


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