FREE: 10 Must-Know Tomato Growing Tips Get The Guide

Read our affiliate disclosure here.

Tomato stems are torn or shredded

by Ann
(North Alabama)

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 Spinosadicon. 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

Comments for Tomato stems are torn or shredded

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Aug 26, 2015
I don't think it's a worm(s) causing damage to plants. . .
by: Anonymous

Hi. Thanks for the reply to my previous post. Am pretty sure the problem isn't from a worm. We have a family of birds nesting on within 10 feet of the garden, and any caterpillars I've found in the garden (swallowtail and one small hornworm) have virtually disappeared the next day -- w/ bird poop noticed nearby, indicating the caterpillar/worm was a meal for a bird. Also, found one of the 5" long eggplants, still hanging from the plant, but the flesh half scooped out (w/tooth marks/scrapes). The plants almost appeared as if they'd been trampled, too. The stems and branches ripped up, half eaten, fruits gone. Also, the immature persimmons that disappeared were very hard, about golf ball size, and totally gone. Am pretty sure a worm couldn't gnaw through those (were about 20 young Japanese persimmons). Thanks for your interest.

Aug 11, 2015
Tomato Plants & Stems DESSIMATED !
by: Anonymous 2

I thought we'd have a good crop of tomatoes this year, b/c last yr something got to the fruit before we did (eating ripe and taking bites out of green ones). Well, this yr, things are MUCH worse. Some kind of CRITTER got into all the raised beds = even the beds that are raised up on legs to waist high (!) and ate all the fruits, and trampled the plants and tore up, shredded the stems, seemingly eating half of the width of the stems, shredding them -- leaving a waste land of dead tomato plant everywhere! We know there are rats in the area, and have seen opossums in our yard before. The area has a big problem w/roof rats, but the plants look so trampled and torn up, I'm thinking maybe it's the opossum(s)?? We don't have raccoons here. Hardly any squirrels, if any. NO tomatoes for us this year !!! And, to make matter worse, they/it plucked every single persimmon (the Japanese kind, that never make your mouth pucker) off our persimmon trees ! No persimmons this year either ! I'm fed up with the destruction to my garden. Need an Infrared, night-vision security camera to catch whatever it is in the act. Drat!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Tomato Pests.

As an Amazon Associate and Rakuten Advertising affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.