Garden being destroyed....

jenn2350April 16, 2012

This is my second year doing a raised garden bed and I'm about to the point of giving up already.

My plants have been in the ground for 4 weeks now since the last freeze. I have a 4x8 raised bed that I started from scratch last year with the best soil, compost, manure, etc.

I ammended it this year with new manure, compost, etc. and have been doing a foliar and soil drench weekly with fish emulsion, molasses, seaweed, etc.

All of my seedlings were doing great and looking strong, tomatoes and peppers had flowers and everything already...then one day I went to check on them and several plants had holes in the leaves and one tomato plant's leaves were completely chewed to stubs. All the flowers on pretty much every plant have shriveled up and died. I bought spinosad dust that was recommended from the plant nursery and dusted it, went searching day and night for anything that I could catch in the act.

I've found traces of poop on some of the leaves, but no active or night. I have found a couple small brown catepillar type things in the front yard, but none near the garden.

Even my onion leaves have been chewed down to the dirt...

Is there any hope to salvage anything...or start over at this point?

Last year I had big beautiful tomatoes that were almost about to ripen and then overnight all of them had huge holes eaten through them and most of the leaves were destroyed. I tried picking any that were just starting to blush and ripen in the house, but alot of them were destroyed in the still very green stage....

Last year we did find the huge green monster catepillars on all of the leaves and picked them all off....but we were barely able to salvage anything...

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zzackey(8b GA)

It sounds like a hornworm to me. They are the same color as a tomato plant and very hard to find. DH can rarely find them. I have much better luck. You have to take your time and look all around the plants. Sorry to hear you ar ready to give up! Alot of us had a rough year last year. I hope you find out what it is and keep trying to garden! The price of fresh veggies is outrageous.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 7:29PM
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Yeah, sounds like hornworms to me as well.

The trick to finding them is to get a handheld blacklight and look for them at night, as they fluoresce. That, or just break out the sevin spray. Give everything a good dousing in sevin and you'll kill the hornworms very quickly.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Richard (chuggerguy)

You might also consider BT.

I had lots of some kind of little moth(?) caterpillar worms feeding on my bush bean leaves and it seemed to me to really do the trick. It's supposed to work on hornworms too.

I was finding Tobacco Hormworms on my tomatoes awhile back.

They are difficult to spot. I usually find them by seeing droppings or their destruction, which they sure can do fast, like overnight.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 10:38PM
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The hornworms mainly eat the leaves, not the tomatoes. Do you have snails in Texas? They eat just about anything in the garden. You can catch them at night or early in the morning. If your tomatoes were eaten last year when they were almost ripe, it could have been larger critters, like possums or racoons. Grasshoppers also eat large holes.

Putting up row covers may be healthier (and maybe cheaper) than using lots of chemicals.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 11:21PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Yes, holes in leaves and leaves chewed to stubs might be two different problems... Like say slugs and deer or hornworms and rabbits. Holes in tomatos could be birds or voles or mice. And then flowers shriveling up to nothing does not sound like it is caused by a pest but rather the environment or cultural practices. All your fertilizing sounds like a lot to me, but I go very light on that and don't know how much is too much. I do know that plants that are fed a lot can attract more pests, or so I've read.

Oh, and as far as I know, hornworms don't eat onion seedlings, but I think cutworms may, slugs may, and apparently sometimes earthworms, according to another recent thread.

Fear not, it sounds like you are experiencing the normal spectrum of gardening challenges, and overcoming them is part of what makes those homegrown tomatoes taste so sweet!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 12:11AM
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Hornworms (probably) ate my tomatoes last year in the year-of-the-pest. Voles certainly ate the roots of many types of salad greens and my beets. Slugs ate cucumber plants, salad greens and all my pumpkin seedlings. (They left just stumps of the pumpkins.)

It certainly sounds like tomato hornworms are doing a good deal of the damage in your bed.

Cornell University has tons of information on pests and diseases. Two useful pages might be: and

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 1:01AM
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hey Jenn, Dont give up its a battle and you can win.
1) Beer in shallow dish to drown slugs
2) Spray some soapy water all over your plants

If I can handle the deer/stink bugs you can handle some bugs!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 10:03AM
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Just be careful with the soapy water - it can kill your plants really well!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 10:05AM
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    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 11:43AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Hi, Jenn
I garden in Mississippi. At least here, it's too early for hornworms. They usually show up in June or July. No doubt you had them last year, but this year? I'm not so sure.

I agree with sunnibel. I think you have more than one pest at work. If the holes in your leaves are small and round like heads of a pin or slightly larger that sounds like flea beetles. Did you, by any chance grow cabbage family plants in this spot last winter? If so, that's a very likely culprit. You will never see them, only their damage. The best way to lick them is to rotate your crops religiously. Never follow tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants with brassicas, and vice versa. For now, if you can live with some chemicals, you could spray. (Look for the mildest thing possible. Your County Ag Extension agent is a good source of information.)

I agree with sunnibel that it sounds like you are overdoing the fertilizer. The best way to know is to get a soil test: also available through your Ag Extension office. It will give you a computerized readout that tells you exactly what your plants need to thrive. It will relieve your mind enormously. :)

Here's a couple of thoughts. There will always be a certain amount of insect damage on your plants. But you will find that in small amounts, it really does no harm. Experience will help you figure it out. Don't give up. The flowers that are drying up? It's possible that they have been pollinated and are getting ready to set fruit. They do dry up and disappear at that point, you know. Leave them alone and see what happens in a week or so. If it appears to be disaster take a sample of them with you when you take in your soil test.

As to your onions and things that have been chewed, it certainly sounds like rabbits....or possibly deer. Ask your neighbors if they see such critters about and have experienced plant damage. Check on your garden throughout the day (week-ends is better than nothing.) If it's rabbits, you'll see them coming and going if your keep a sharp eye out from a distance. If it's rabbits, the floating row covers can be a lifesaver. If it's deer, build a fence, or lacking that, I use the Scarecrow sprinkler system and if you keep its batteries fresh, it absolutely does work. I actually saw them at Walmart yesterday for the first time.

Don't give up! You will figure this out with time and it will be worth it. We promise!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 5:39PM
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I can't imagine growing a vegetable garden without a fence to keep animals out. I literally have rabbits pacing around my garden, waiting for me to maybe leave the door open, or for some plants to stick out of the fence, so they can eat it. Fencing takes care of the animal pests. As for bugs, well, my biggest problem is slugs, who chew holes in everything. Slug killer works, as do the beer traps, although beer traps attract yellowjackets too, and lord knows I don't want those hanging around. My first line of defense is what I like to call "my daily garden check". My daughters (4 and 6) love to get to go in the garden with me, where we give everything a once over. That way, any problems are quickly noticed.

Also, if your problem is rabbits, you'll find their little turds laying around. No, those are not raisinets, so leave them there.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 5:57PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

After dark, go to the garden with a decent flashlight. Focus on the garden from the moment you go out the door and turn on the flashlight. Watch for movement (rabbits, etc), then home in on the plants and see what is there that might be hiding during the day.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 1:05AM
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Thank you for the replies everyone...I finally found some of the little creatures and they were all over my onions and a few were on what is left of my tomatoes. They looked like black cutworms about 1 1/2" long and they were munching on everything. We had been going out when it got dark to check on the garden, but I guess they came out later so we finally checked about 10:00 at night and they were all over.

I have noticed this year they are even in the house and seem to be on everything outside. I don't know if it is from the horrible drought last year and the fact we really didn't get much of a winter or what....

Both years we have had an enclosure around the garden made with rabbit fencing, and this year we made it taller to also keep our dogs out. We also have bird netting because we have hundreds of nosy grackles always pacing around.

Some of the flowers have started to bloom again on the tomatoes, but as far as the onions go they don't look too good. As far as the leaves being stripped off the tomato plants, would those cutworms cause that damage? I thought it would be lower on the plant and not up high near the top leaves where this damage is...

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 10:00AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Good to know you're well barricaded against the vertebrates! 10:00 at night seems a good time to catch those bad insects in the act, that's when I do my bug patrols in midsummer too. Cutworms generally don't climb, is my understanding. That's why they can be foiled with a cardboard collar at the base of the plants. So I don't think that's eating you tomatoes. Have you positively IDed the black worms as cutworms? If they are something that can climb, them maybe they are the tomato pests as well.

Out of curiousity, I am wondering what the molasses you mentioned in your first post is for, and how dilute it is. Would the grackles definitely bother your seedlings? Because maybe they would help clear up your insect problems. Our grackles don't seem to bother even the youngest plants, but I know that different populations have learned different things as food. Good luck, seems like you're well on the road to figuring this problem out!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 11:00AM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

Well, some cutworms can climb. Cutworms have been devastating to our onions this year. They have also attacked the garlic but that seems to be bouncing back now. Collars for 200+ onions is impractical. I will most likely be treating BT mixed with cornmeal in the future. Dh head read trying just cornmeal, that they will overeat it and cannot digest it, thus dying but that must take an awful lot because I am still losing onions.

Hornworms can damage the tops of the plants, they can travel all over tomatoes. Once in a while I have seen them on peas, potatoes and eggplants. I have also found some with more of a bluish tint and there was actually a black one at a friend's house. Whenever you travel into the garden, check the plants. Always bring gloves with you so that you can remove it right away. The first time I saw one I did not have gloves and said I would get it after dropping my child off at school. I forgot and the next day there was extensive damage. Gardening is certainly not for the faint of heart.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 12:43PM
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Last year the grackles were doing some damage to the tomatoes that I witnessed firsthand. I found three worms last night that were at the top of my tomato plant, and it was the exact same thing I got off of the onions. I've looked online and black cutworms are identical to what I am finding, and they are climbing onto my tomatoes.

The foliar drench that I use is once a week(per my garden nursery)in the beginning and then biweekly as the bottle states and it comes in a bottle that I attach to the garden hose.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 3:57PM
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