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French Marigolds vs. Arizona Tomato Bugs: Myth or Reality?

Green caterpillar.

Don’t let caterpillars eat your lunch!

Arizona’s voracious tomato bugs (hornworms) can easily ruin your vegetable garden or crops. These large, brightly colored pests usually destroy plants by devouring their leaves. They prevent people from harvesting tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Fortunately, you can use several effective methods to stop this hungry caterpillar from pillaging your crops.

Flower Power

Organic farmers and gardeners often encourage people to repel hornworms by growing French marigolds. This plant has a strong odor that keeps caterpillars and whiteflies at bay. It also features attractive yellow and red flowers that can enhance the beauty of your garden. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Backwoods Home Magazine and several agriculture websites recommend this natural pest control technique.

However, messages on Internet gardening forums reveal mixed opinions about French marigolds. Some people report good results, but others complain that the flowers attract certain types of pests. Sadly, it’s true that this plant appeals to slugs and spider mites.

Other Methods

Consider using borage to keep pests off your vegetables and improve the soil quality. Cabbage worms and hornworms usually avoid this herb. Furthermore, its flowers attract wasps that kill hornworms. Borage reaches a maximum height of three feet and thrives in Arizona’s dry climate. You can easily grow it in shady or sunny areas.

Although braconid wasps and yellow jackets target tomato hornworms, some gardeners worry that these flying insects will sting them. Luckily, they aren’t this pest’s only natural enemies. Mother Earth News reports that human-friendly hornworm predators include ladybugs and the larvae of green lacewings. They only consume small caterpillars that have yet to fully develop. You can attract beneficial bugs by planting chamomile, asters, basil and thyme.

Removing Hornworms

If you have a relatively small tomato crop, you might find the time to remove hornworms by hand. They won’t bite or sting you. Some people kill these pests by dropping them in soapy water. An alternative is to collect the caterpillars and release them elsewhere. This bug becomes an attractive moth that resembles a hummingbird, according to the University of Arizona. It feeds on nectar and pollinates various flowers.

Professional pest control services can also help you banish unwanted insects from a home, garden or farm. Burns Pest Elimination has the expertise to efficiently remove any pest without harming your crops. We serve residential and business customers throughout the Phoenix and Tucson areas.