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Tomato stems are torn or shredded
Q. Tomato plants in my raised bed are ruined by something that tears the stems. Tomatoes never get to mature and usually the plant dies from the damage. Bed is located inside a fenced yard. I know I have rats. Would they eat tomatoes and tear the plants? I continually set traps in garden shed. I have dogs and can't use bait.
A. Ah, there are all kinds of creatures that want to munch on our tomatoes and our luscious tomato plants. I can't blame them. But we gardeners nevertheless must defend our precious crops.
Many pests could be feasting on your tomatoes. Our best guess is that your plants are the victim of one of two tomato worms: either the tomato cutworm, if you notice this problem early in the season, or the tomato hornworm, which has been known to consume an entire plant in a single day.
The tomato cutworm gobble up stems of tomato seedlings. They work mostly at night to do their damage, cutting off seedlings at the soil line. You can take precautions against them, however. Place collars on tomato seedlings when you first plant them in the garden. Sink toilet tissue rolls, milk cartons, cups or cans into the soil an inch or two around the seedling. Or wrap newspaper or aluminum foil around the base of the seedling, extending up from the soil line 2-3 inches. Check tomato collars periodically to make sure are not knocked away from the plant by wind, water, or an overzealous gardener.
The tomato hornworm, on the other hand, attaches itself to the underside of a tomato’s leaves, making it difficult to find them right away. But they are unmistakable once you see them: a green, cylindrical, caterpillar-shape about 2-4 inches long. Battle them by handpicking them, applying a natural insecticide like Bt Thuricide (Bacillus thuringiensis, sold commercially as Dipel or Thuricide), or a chemical insecticide like Spinosad. You can also encourage the tomato hornworm's natural enemies, braconid wasps, by leaving their white eggs on the hornworm's surface when you find them there. The wasps will take care of the hornworm. You don't want to know how.
Good luck and happy gardening!
Your friends at Tomato Dirt
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